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How Advertising Affects Body Image

Attention is given to how various characters in programs are portrayed based on their body types.

From hairstyles to body shape to shoes on our feet, advertising tries to persuade us that to look our best, we must have the body that society now considers ideal. Someone asked the other day, “If Barbie is such a popular girl, how come we have to buy her friends?” While we often say that the inside is more important than the outside, far more is invested on average to change our exterior than our interior. Advertising directly influences this behavior.

Advertising can be direct and indirect. When we watch television, the commercials are designed to pump up the expectations on what our body should look like. The programming does this just as much, but without saying it. The characters with the more desirable body shapes tend to be more popular, smarter, and richer than their more average-looking friends. This is true even in the “reality” programming.

Very few overweight people are portrayed as smart and capable people. This is not true in the “real” world. When average people are seen, it is almost always in a “poor them” situation. Shows like “Average Joe” are intended to say that people are always disappointed when others do not live up to their expectations when it comes to appearance.

Eating disorders, plastic surgery, fad diets, and strange exercise regimens only highlight the fact that society has tended to buy into this philosophy . Diet pill sales are perennially high because people are trying to attain a body image that is more a quirk of nature than a realistic goal.

This is not a new phenomenon. Sales of corsets, girdles, and padded clothing have been a staple of society for a very long time. However, movies and television have created new avenues into the psyche of those who can be so influenced. Desirable shapes for women have gone from the hourglass to the “Twiggy” styles and everything in between. The same is true for men. Their body shapes have been a little more stable, but even that has changed from the body-builder’s physique to slender and toned.

It is hard to escape the media blitz on acceptable body shapes. When celebrities allow their bodies to migrate to more of a natural shape, ads of their unglamorous nosedive are plastered everywhere we look. These bodies are only maintained by careful eating, heavy exercise, and liposuction. These aspects are never on display. We are only allowed to see the finished product.

The moment that they are not able to maintain that unrealistic pace, their bodies rebound into the range of average. We are told to pity and possibly mock their slide into mediocrity. This reinforces the advertising world’s definition of body shape. Many are driven to not fall into the same pit that caught the celebrity. It takes a great deal of personal restraint not to be overly influenced by the force of these ads.

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