The Other Side to Media’s Unrealistic Depictions of Beauty

Apologies for the break in posts over the past few weeks.  I’ve been cooking up a whole new aspect to my blog!  Stay tuned for the upcoming changes.

Courtesy of Numero Magazine

I was flying back from Paris last week and picked up the August issue of Numero magazine in the airport.  Though my French is terrible, my eye sight isn’t, so I relished in the magazine’s beautiful imagery.  But nothing blew me away as much as the amazing spread by Sophia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello.  Of course the photography was gorgeous and the fashion beautiful.  What stopped me in my tracks, though, were the striking images of young and older women (see pic above).  Despite my heavy load, I knew I had to carry that magazine with me all the way home.  This photoshoot elated me.  And it confirmed what I’ve been believing for a while.  Let’s not fear and reject media outright for it’s shaming of men and women.  Instead, let’s find ways to uplift it.

As a young strategic planner at DDB in the 90’s, I couldn’t escape all of the famous quotes from legendary ad man and founder, Bill Bernbach.  As you’d expect I barely remember most of them but a few have stuck.  One that has influenced me throughout my career, and frankly kept me connected to the marketing and advertising business as long as I have, was this:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Today, media, especially social media, is often vilified for projecting unrealistic, negative, stereotypical imagery of people.  And it can lead to the vulgar sides of society: body shaming, poor self image and crazy standards.  As a mother of girl entering puberty, I’m acutely aware of this.  Plus, I often catch myself measuring my looks against these standards.

But can we recognize the opportunity the media affords us too?

For better or for worse, we are visual creatures.  We are drawn to imagery, especially images of people.  Moreover, we are fundamentally attracted to beauty — beautiful people, beautiful images, and beautiful things.  Of course we have different interpretations of beauty.  But the truth they appeal to us… greatly.   And because we’re that much more likely to focus on a picture or video than sit down and read an essay, or listen to a pundit speak, we are likely to let these new notions of beauty and self-expression penetrate.

We could just bemoan today’s media or we could use our tendency towards beauty, and the media that leverages, it to “uplift”society, rather than “vulgarize it.”

How?

First, let’s use the plethora of imagery to spark a conversation with our kids.  We can ask them how they feel about it and how to view it all with a realistic eye.  Through that conversation we may venture into much larger issues of body image, aging, and confidence.

Second, we can influence media to push for more inclusive imagery.   And it’s happening already!  Media is starting to hear us.  A recent article in Digiday references the numerous examples from beauty and fashion magazines that are now reflecting the many different forms of gender, ethnicity, body type and age.

Finally, because we know we are attracted to such imagery, the world of beauty and fashion can be a vehicle for even greater social change!  This same article gave us two great quotes, one from Jenny Bailly, Allure’s executive beauty editor, and the other from, Cat Quinn of Refinery29, which summarized this well:

“Beauty is a great vehicle for driving conversations about social change, because it’s accessible to everyone,” said Quinn, of Refinery29. It’s a topic that many argue lends itself easily to the bigger picture. “When we talk to Halima or [trans model] Andreja Pejic, or [boy beauty star] James Charles, or a young woman on a reservation in Montana about hair and makeup, we’re also having intimate conversations about where they’ve come from, what they believe in and how they interact with the world,” said Bailly.

Let’s not expect to shield our children entirely from the imagery around us, or even poo poo it.  Plus, we all know they find ways to see to it anyway.  Instead let’s embrace the imagery.  Let’s use it as a forum for discussion, and even encourage our friends and our kids to let media outlets know what they want to see projected.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of social media?  Everyone has a voice :).

What's Influencing Our Attraction to Beauty? Our Visual Diet


Forbes published a fascinating article, Can Media Help Shift  Our Beauty Ideals Back in a Healthy Direction?  The story challenges our long-standing beliefs that our attraction to beauty is largely culturally based e.g., we admire thin people because their thinness is a reflection of wealth.
Instead, the article cites a study conducted by scientists at Durham University in England that proves how over-exposure to certain imagery determines cultural norms.  When people were shown many images of overweight or thin women over time, their views of attractiveness changed.  The more the subjects were exposed to thin women, the more they found them attractive, and the more they were exposed to overweight women, the more they found them attractive!
While this study depicts we human beings as quite impressionable, there’s a silver lining here according to the article.  If the media can be accused of manipulating us with constant exposure to harmful images, then, they can easily expose us to healthy images and help us change our expectations of ourselves and others.
I believe it.  Media — advertisements, articles, fashion spreads, and all — have the power and the duty to make a positive impact on our lives.  As the legendary ad man, Bill Bernbach said over a half a century ago, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
Let’s not eschew the media for their use of harmful portrayals of people, but rather, encourage it to feed us a diet of healthy visuals.

What’s Influencing Our Attraction to Beauty? Our Visual Diet

Forbes published a fascinating article, Can Media Help Shift  Our Beauty Ideals Back in a Healthy Direction?  The story challenges our long-standing beliefs that our attraction to beauty is largely culturally based e.g., we admire thin people because their thinness is a reflection of wealth.

Instead, the article cites a study conducted by scientists at Durham University in England that proves how over-exposure to certain imagery determines cultural norms.  When people were shown many images of overweight or thin women over time, their views of attractiveness changed.  The more the subjects were exposed to thin women, the more they found them attractive, and the more they were exposed to overweight women, the more they found them attractive!

While this study depicts we human beings as quite impressionable, there’s a silver lining here according to the article.  If the media can be accused of manipulating us with constant exposure to harmful images, then, they can easily expose us to healthy images and help us change our expectations of ourselves and others.

I believe it.  Media — advertisements, articles, fashion spreads, and all — have the power and the duty to make a positive impact on our lives.  As the legendary ad man, Bill Bernbach said over a half a century ago, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Let’s not eschew the media for their use of harmful portrayals of people, but rather, encourage it to feed us a diet of healthy visuals.