The Perfect Problem in Women's Media Portrayal
by Gelato on February 14, 2016 - 10:21pm
Famous, or might one say infamous, for their line of lingerie entitled 'Body' released a little over a year ago, Victoria's Secret reminded everyone once again of the one dimensional and homogenous portrayal of women in the media. The above original version of the ad had the words "The Perfect ' Body'" in its center and featured almost exclusively white women sporting the ever popular waif look.
Wearing alluring and playful expressions while being scantily clad (although seeing as this is an ad for lingerie I don't believe this can be helped) the models are part of a long tradition in advertising of selling the "ideal beautiful woman" (Cortese 59) or provocateur who "is a [...] hollow shell representing a female figure. Accepted attractiveness [being] her only attribute." (59). This long standing portrayal of women has lead to their becoming commodified; perpetuating their sexual objectification and increasing their feelings of shame and anxiety (61). When "more than half of all women are disgusted by their bodies" (Cortese 68), the problematic nature in which advertisements continue to set unrealistically narrow standards of beauty for women and the negative impact this has towards their mental and physical health is highlighted. The eerily similar body types presented in this ad are communicating a message to girls that there is one single perfect body. Victoria's Secret is not only selling the idea that their product will somehow allow these girls to achieve such a ridiculous standard, it also implies that "[women] will not be desirable to, or loved by, men unless they are physically perfect" (59).
The idea of bodily perfection as a baseline and not simply a fantastical ideal, as mentioned, negatively impacts the minds of not only impressionable young girls, but all women who have to face these ads regularly. Eating disorders, dieting and cosmetic surgery, while not an immediate consequence, are all glamorized and normalized as a result. According to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, bulimia and anorexia are estimated to claim between 1,000 and 1,500 victims a year (1). In addition to these alarming numbers, when breast enlargements are being offered as graduation presents and looking impossibly skinny is applauded by your peers (Cortese 64) there is cause for concern. By asserting that smaller is better or that slimness is perfect, ideas that women are 'less than' men and that they should take up less space are further defined. The idea of a perfect body not only dictates a mold women must follow, it also reinforces the system put in place that capitalizes off of this objectification. Teaching women to strive for thinness, western media is, dare I say it, reinforcing patriarchy. When depiction of women is nearly limited to being less than men and focused solely on the body it is no wonder that women's intelligence, power, personal thoughts and desires are trivialized.
The above criticism might seem like a stretch but this is not the only ad of its kind and there have been enough people outraged over both the conscious and unconscious statements in the 'Perfect 'Body'" ad that I will continue to assert the problematic nature of this advertisement. A petition that circulated the internet garnered over thirty thousand signatures and pushed Victoria's Secret to rework the slogan to be more positive. While still featuring the same set of super models, the new slogan is indicative that change is quite real and very possible in the world of advertising. Given the opportunity, I would have had the ad use women with a wide range of body types and backgrounds, all of which can be perfect, which has already been done by the all-girl "smart undies" company Dear Kate. It seems difficult to believe that a simple underwear ad can carry so much of a statement behind it, but what is unconsciously present in our media is often a very good sign of the structure that defines it.
Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Eating Disorders Among Girls and Women in Canada. 4th Parl., 2nd sess. Rept. 4. [Ottawa]: Parliament, Nov. 2014. Parliament of Canada. PDF. Feb. 2016
Cortese, Anthony. "Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising."Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, Third Edition (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008):57-89. Rpt in 345-102-MQ: Gendered World Views. Montreal:Eastman,2016,3-19.Print.
The Perfect 'Body' Oct 2014. Ed. Victoria's Secret. Web. 12 Feb. 2016. <http://media2.s-nbcnews.com/i/streams/2014/October/141030/1D274907109615....