How the Media Portray Stereotype


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Case Study #31 in our textbook talks about a problem that surfaced many decades ago but is still a very prominent issue in regards to media and marketing; the question of what “beauty” is. Most make-up or hair product commercials seen on television and billboards in today’s society features striking models with fancy clothes and loads of make-up. Their hair is professionally done and they’re almost always unnaturally skinny. The major debate when it comes to this representation of women in advertising is whether or not this depiction of women gives everyday girls and young women false interpretations of what they should look like.

Dove, a personal care brand, launched one of the most successful and controversial marketing campaigns ever before seen back in 2004. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was designed to change society’s apparently restrictive idea that beauty was one sized: small. The campaign aimed to show women (and men as well, for that matter) that beauty could come in all shapes and sizes. The advertisement line featured six women of different sizes and ethnicities, wearing nothing but white underwear. The pictures received no editing or touching-up, though famed portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz took them. It was a risky strategy in that Dove was risking becoming the “fat-girl” brand, according to skeptics and critics. However, the campaign ended up increasing firming product sales by 700% and was overall thought of as a success. Following the campaign, Dove launched a few other programs to spread their message. In an effort to reach a younger female population with their campaign, they started Uniquely Me! With the Girl Scouts of America, to further promote a change in the portrayal of “beauty” in advertising. Also, Dove created a website,, where women could seek out information about products as well as discuss beauty and body image issues with other users. Most recently in 2010, Dove began The Dove Movement for Self-Esteem. This program gives women opportunities to mentor younger generations and give them proper guidance on what it is to be beautiful.

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So, let’s begin to break down the Potter Box process of analyzing the ethical characteristics of media, specifically advertising and the depiction of women and “beauty”. The facts are that media and advertising have continually increased the sexuality of their ads since the 1980s, and that the vast majority of women featured in personal care product advertisements, or advertisements for anything for that matter, are taller and weigh less than the average U.S. woman. Statistics show that magazine ads made 47% of girls want to lose weight; only 29% of whom were actually overweight for their body size. Furthermore, in a study done by Dove, a staggering 72% of 10-17 year old girls said they felt pressure to look beautiful. There seems to be an overall idea that advertisements feature models that are unrealistically beautiful, and force an idea on women that they should strive to look “perfect” like the women in the ads.

So now that we understand the basic facts about the issue at hand, we can begin to think about what kind of moral values are in play here. Perhaps the most important thing to think about is what kind of ethical values we’re teaching the young girls and women that see these advertisements. Is it right to instill the image of an ideal beautiful woman as being 7 inches taller and 23 pounds lighter than the average woman? My answer would be a resounding “no”. Although this strategy of advertising appeals attractive to the eye, it seems to have had a dramatic impact on society and what exactly a woman should look like. This impact includes making young girls feel pressure to be beautiful, and lowering their self-esteem about the way they look. Those definitely do not seem like things that most people would want their kids to be worrying about at such a young age. We can also look at the logical values. Why must advertisements only feature stunning bombshells that are extremely good-looking? It’s not like these are the only people buying that particular product. Virtually no matter what product is being sold, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ethnicities are potential customers, so why not use them in advertisements? Wouldn’t that be more logical and realistic?

There are two principles that are both very related to this issue, so I’ll go ahead and make a case for both. Mill’s Principle of Utility says that we must seek out the most possible happiness for the most possible number of people. This is basically the message that Dove was trying to communicate with their Real Beauty Campaign. Instead of objectifying women in ads and enforcing a stereotype that all women are blond and thin, they sought to increase the self-confidence of women around the world so that women can be 100% comfortable with their own body and not have anyone forcing opinions on them about what they should look like. Dove wanted to stop the misinterpretation of body image in advertisements in order to stop persuading healthy people to change themselves and the way they look just because of something they saw on a billboard or in a magazine. Confucius’ Golden Mean also has to do with this subject as well, and here’s why. Sure, it’s no breaking news that sex sells. Hundreds of studies can back up the fact that a more attractive model in an advertisement is more appealing aesthetically. However, when images are so extremely altered and touched-up, it gives a false representation of what that model actually looks like, and female readers then feel that they need to look like an unnatural looking person. This is where a balance between the two extremes is greatly needed. Marketers need to find a way to balance using realistic models that aren’t all one size, while still incorporating that sexual characteristic that seems to work so well in ads.

The loyalties in this issue mainly consist of the women the advertisements are targeting. Is it right to show these women, your customers, that you think this is what a woman needs to look like, in order to use your product? Isn’t it more appealing to tell a woman that she is beautiful just the way she is, but that perhaps the product could help with a few minor details? It’s important that these personal care brands find effective marketing strategies that can encourage female customers and make them feel comfortable with their body image, while still providing a good reason to purchase the product.

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