I’ve been reading and watching a lot of videos lately about women’s image in media and advertising, the kind of stuff that feature pictures of models/actresses before and after Photoshop. There are many of them about, and I’ve made a little bibliography page with links to some interesting examples.
In debates about self-image and advertising, especially for women, ‘idea’ and ‘perfection’ is almost always mentioned: “airbrushed to perfection,” “displaying an ideal we can never live up to,” “I feel like I can never be perfect enough”. Even if the commentators acknowledge that we’ll never achieve these examples of perfection, I feel they don’t talk enough whether we’d actually want to.
(A little side note, I feel that talking about both the media – as in TV, Film, Magazines – and advertising as two separate things is clumsy. They are, generally, the same thing when you’re talking about negative social constructs, so I’m going to refer to both of them as simply ‘advertising’. And when I say TV, I don’t include ‘realist’ dramas or documentaries. The dowdier it is, the less I’d include it under advertising.)
Are these examples actually ideal or perfect in the first place? Whose ideal is this? Why is someone else telling me what I find attractive? Why do many argue over who is or isn’t attractive when the obvious answer is EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.
The OED says perfection is: “a state of complete excellence; free from any imperfection or defect of quality; that cannot be improved upon; flawless, faultless.”
For ideal, it states: “Existing as an idea or archetype; relating to or consisting of ideas in the Platonic or theological sense.”
Society desires that which is rare or difficult to obtain. The ideal in the Western society is constructed from looks or features that only a small percentage of the population actually have (and I’m talking about people who have many of these features – long slender legs, flawless skin, symmetrical faces that adhere to the golden ratio, a well-proportioned body shape that shows denial in the face of surplus food available), coupled with some kind of weird Arian supremacy crap that’s still hanging around (blond hair, blue eyes, tanned). Real women’ in this context, refers to the rest of us who have only a few or none of those rare features.
People often argue for more ‘real’ women to be used in advertising. But, if advertisers don’t even want to rely on the women they actually hire for their adverts (because models are real people too yeah?) then why would they even consider ‘real’ women.
As human beings, we always need to strive to better ourselves, to reach a state of complete happiness. In a colloquial sense, we love the idea of perfection and the ideal because it’s our final destination. However, Buddists know that it’s never the destination but the journey that counts because no one can be happy unless they accept incompleteness in their lives. So, perfection and ideals are just things to ponder about whilst wearing berets and smoking French cigarettes. Like the OED says, perfection and ideals don’t actually exist other than in the mind.
Advertising tells us what our ideas of perfection and the ideal are and remind us we are incomplete and flawed. Then they tell us that perfection and the ideal can be had, they are within your grasp because money can do ANYTHING! By buying product X, you can be complete.
The unobtainable ideal is the basis for most of our capitalist society. If you ever were able to reach a state of completeness and flawlessness then you wouldn’t need to buy most of the shit they’re trying to sell you. They HAVE to start doing freaky things on Photoshop so that your subconscious is repeatedly told ‘This is what perfection is’ – the bar is eternally moved away from you.
Advertising needs to KNOW who you are before it can successfully sell you anything, and considering the wide breath of humanity, it’s easier to tell you who you are. Why bother having a profile box with age-ranges in it if society is all going around acting how they want? Damn it, tell these people instead how the 18-24 age bracket is supposed to act.
Because advertising is telling you what perfection is, many are very confused over what their own ideas are, if they can even remember that they have them. Who do we actually find attractive or not? People waste a lot of time trying to deal with the conflicting realities in their head. Some men try to look like Brad Pitt, depressed because they fail and some women say “Well, he’s no Brad Pitt!” All of them trapped in the assumption that Brad Pitt one of the Gods of Perfection and Ideal.
But Brad Pitt is just Brad Pitt. I don’t particularly find him attractive, so if I was ever confronted with someone who felt bad about their looks who said, “Well, I’m no Brad Pitt,” the statement would be akin to saying, “Well, I’m no office chair.” If you find him attractive, then good for you, but unless you’re Angelina Jolie there’s nothing you can do about it. If he worked as an office finance administrator and smelt of eggs, you may not be so enamoured with him.
When people say “all men like big boobs,” it hardly takes into account all the men that prefer small boobs, and all men that don’t care for boobs at all. And the person saying that statement knows deep inside isn’t true, because it is often followed with “and if they say they don’t, they’re lying”.
So, when people protest that real women need to be in advertising, they’re kidding themselves. Firstly, unless the advertisers want to pitch their advert, ala Dove, on being ‘real’ then they won’t go anywhere near real people. They don’t even go near ‘perfect’ people. What’s the point in selling you stuff that will complete you?
And this ideal that advertisers are selling us, do we even want it? What is it we are actually obtaining? How much of their ‘perfection’ links up with ours? How can we actually buy into perfection and ideals when these things are so personal. The answer is not to have more ‘real’ women in advertising, but to re-educate ourselves about humanity and about our own ideas of perfection. To focus on media education for everyone and to remind ourselves that we will be incomplete and flawed until we are dead.
Edit: Yeah, I’ve just remembered: You are more than welcome to discuss what you think about the topic! Especially, do you have any links to studies, articles or websites that discuss something similar?