Make-up can cover many flaws. Photoshop can do even more by correcting skin tone, changing hair and eye colour and even making the photographed figure look slimmer.
Advertisements featuring actors or models are known to have a psychological effect on our self image, after all who will object to looking as beautiful, young and skinny as the advertising model?
While beauty is in the eye of the observer, beauty advertisements have helped to develop certain standards and perceptions that not only affect our self image but also our lifestyle. For example we have all seen ads for a fragrance showing explicit sexual acts. Or ads for male beauty products that hint at submissive gender relations (usually the man is confident and dominant). Many other examples can be found in the link to the “Love your Body” presentation bellow).
Whereas these ads simply try to sell a product, the message they deliver to girls and women, as well as to men, could be harmful and unhealthy.
Studies conducted in the US on body image found that only 2% of women feel happy about their appearance, while 88% of women would consider plastic surgery. Even more disturbing, 86% of nine-year old girls have had a diet at least once, and 79% of girls with an eating disorder developed it before reaching the age of 20.
These figures must be taken into consideration when speaking of beauty in advertisements.
Balancing the commercial needs of a company with the well being of the consumers, particularly women and children, can be reached through true commitment of the beauty industry to healthy commercializing. This topic was discussed at length in a special seminar hosted in the European Parliament on 14 November by fellow colleagues Britta Thomsen and Barbara Matera.
The seminar included speakers from the European Women’s Lobby and Cosmetics Europe, which represents beauty companies like L’Oreal and Estee Lauder, who explained how guidelines on responsible advertising and voluntary self regulation can lead the way forward.
I truly welcome the discussion and awareness to the strong links between the beauty industry and our self image. In my opinion advertisements should aim at being sincere with the consumers and representative of our society. A face lotion cannot make us look 20 years younger and a body cream will not give us a smooth glowing perfection of skin.
Another important element adding to the equation is consumers’ education. If we are successful in changing the beauty stereotypes of consumers, beauty companies will have to adjust the way they commercialize their products.
Gladly, some progress has been made in the past years. Just compare the so called “Heroin chic” trend that dominated the fashion world in the 90’s with beauty advertisements of recent years which feature real women. The Dove campaign for “Real Beauty” and Ultimo underwear “Real Women” provide some examples.
While much work is still to be done, the change in discourse and attitudes on beauty in advertising is certainly a positive step in the right direction…
Greetings from the European Parliament
Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
Cosmetics Europe Guiding Principles on responsible advertising
The ABCs and Ds of commercial image of women (part of the “Love your Body” campaign)