“Why I am getting so fat?”
“Why can’t I be like the girl in the magazine?”
“How is she so tall?”
“How does he manage to earn so much?”
The list goes on... So many questions, but not a single satisfying answer, thanks partly to the advertising we are exposed to. End result? Our lives have become more about ‘Why’ than anything else. We live in a world that cares more about our followers on Instagram than our scars. It’s true that media shapes our mind but are we absorbing the negative elements rather than the positive ones? For once, can a beauty cream appreciate all skin tones, or is it too hard for advertisers to sell products without making one feel inferior? A study conducted by the National Institute on Media and the Family reports that 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their body shape. This number grows to 78% by the time they turn 17 and 91% by the time they reach adulthood. All commercials, dramas and movies focus on appearance, so that along with fighting against patriarchal attitudes, women have to struggle against the ‘norms’ of society. If only for once our ads talked about bravery, women empowerment and educating the less fortunate, we would create a different world for our younger generations.
Instead, most of our ads focus on bringing three misconceptions to the fore.
1. Ignore women who are intelligent.
Beauty is not that fair skin tone or that perfect shaped body. Beauty is everything that made that girl strong enough to stand up every day and fight for what is hers. Yet, the beauty cream ads ignore girls with brains and focus on their fair skin tone. And you know what the worst part is? It is accepted by our society. If we could only let go of what it means to be beautiful on the outside and focus on our talents, passions and relationships and not the size of our waists or the colour of our skin, we would all probably be better off. Rita Ching, Deputy Executive Director, The Women’s Foundation, believes that beauty and fitness ad campaigns send a message that promotes the notion that slim equals beautiful as well as suggest that slim is the only beauty.
2. It’s a man’s world.
The most common concept ads portray is that women belong in the kitchen. If a woman works, or even thinks about anything else than her ‘home sweet home’, she is not a ‘homemaker’. This creates pressure among women to be ‘perfect’ all the time. How many times have you seen men in ads worried about their households, wives or children? Not too many, because it’s a man’s world. He can travel the world, hold meetings, be late because of piles of work and no one will judge him, but if a woman were to do any of this, it would take a lot for our society to accept. Although this mindset is changing, our ads hardly ever depict women as strong professionals. We see women dancing, clearing plates in the kitchen or waiting for an appreciative word from their mothers- in-law. Although there is no harm in this, can’t our ads for once show women as professionals and at par with their male counterparts? Where she can work and tries to handle the home (not as smartly as office work) but at least she tries. No superpowers for women!
3. Objectify, objectify, objectify – there is nothing wrong with it
“Cover your eyes, cover your eyes”. This is what you say when you see an ad that objectifies women. Advertising and the fashion industry have created a new type of woman who does not exist in the real world. The skinny one who has no wrinkles or scars, her eyes are dazzling and her skin, a perfect white. It's not just women who suffer as a result of this objectification. When men are fed an unrealistic idea of a woman (one that always looks perfect and is available to please them 24/7) they may have trouble forming any kind of relationships with real women because they expect them to be the same as those they see in advertisements.
All of this begs the question: why can’t men’s products (or in fact any item) be advertised without using a woman’s sexuality? Ads have made respecting a woman a challenge because they have been objectified to such an extent that even an eight-year-old feels that he or she can tease her about her weight or complexion and sadly, not many people find this to be wrong.
Advertising is by far, a powerful form of mass media. Sadly, advertisers are not selling products but depression, anxiety, fear of society and animosity – free of cost.
Danya Zaidi is a social media strategist at Hum Network.