Thursday, March 17, 2011

Knowledge IS Power

As girls who then become women, we find ourselves looking for answers our entire lives. For validation of our selves. As girls, we look to others we come across to help in our quest. We learn early that advertising is pervasive in our society and are told its a ‘good way’ to get answers. Without knowing it, from the time we are taught to speak, we are influenced by ads. By the age of 6 we know all about McDonald’s happy meals and flawless Disney characters. By the age of 10 we already have conflicting senses of self. Magazines play a big part in our intake of ads at this age. Take a look at the cover above for American Girl. Marketed to girls from age 8-12 years old, we are already being told what we should and shouldn’t look like. The girl on the cover has makeup on, her skin is air brushed and her teeth are flawless. Girls this age simply do not look like this normally. Cortese says, “What kind of representation does advertising produce? It creates a mythical, WASP-oriented world in which no one is ever ugly, overweight, poor, toiling, or physically or mentally disabled.” (p52)

Then we grow and move on to teen magazines. Magazines like Seventeen, Cosmo Girl, Teen Vogue, ect. All work on the insecurities girls have at this age. Marketed to girls 12+ (per their own media kits), these magazines strive to answer questions they themselves have created. Their headlines and cover stories include teasers for “How to create your best body,” “how to get sexy hair,” “hooking up tips for dating,” “tips to look amazing” and “how to get strong and sexy”; all supported by the ads they publish. Who would have thought that there was so much wrong with us that needed to be fixed by that age?!? Magazines would have us believing we have to keep reading so we have the information to change everything that is wrong with us.

As Cortese quotes Berger in his essay on advertising (p62), “The promise of the ad is not just ‘you will have pleasure if you buy our product,’ but also, ‘you will be happy because people will envy you if you have this product.’ The commercial images steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product.” These ads tell us everything from wearing tampons will make us luxurious; to which TV shows to watch that will teach us relationship etiquette. Then there was the famous Ralph Lauren ad that was stretched and airbrushed to the point the model was anorexic and unhealthy. Was this how girls were supposed to look to be sexy, beautiful and desirable?

With knowledge, however, comes power. Things are changing. When starting Ms. Magazine, Steinem says, “(Advertising) still is as potent a source of information in this country as news or TV and movie dramas (p112).” In 2008, the YWCA funded a report on teen spending toward beauty products and cosmetics. The report, Beauty at any Cost, noted U.S. women spent an average of $100 each month on cosmetics and beauty products. The report went on to state that same $100 a month, if saved and invested for five years, would pay for a full year of tuition and fees at a public college. The YWCA USA Chief Executive, Dr. Lorraine Cole, said “We believe that the obsession with idealized beauty and body image is a lifelong burden that takes a terrible toll on all young girls and women in this country (” The Girls Scouts Of America used this report to begin their positive campaign ads that run in teen magazines today.

We all know about the successful Dove beauty campaign. Using actual women in all sizes and shapes they truly exist in. The public support for this courageous campaign was so overwhelming that Dove continues to expand it.

The body shop is another great example. They have begun to put out their own self-esteem campaign that runs in teen magazines. It directly attacks advertising and tries to get girls to think about the reality of things as opposed to the impossible beauty in ads that surrounds them.

Even Axe, who’s extremely sexist ads we have seen over and over, has begun to see the light. This ad ran in teen magazines. Even though Hillary Clinton has a ‘hard, non-sexy’ image, the fact that they have at least begun to acknowledge females as more than scantily clad sex objects speaks volumes for the company.

There is even a new teen magazine who’s tag line reads “Because you are more than just a pretty face.” Where was this magazine when I was growing up? Their mission statement ( is an extension of what Steinem was trying to do with Ms. Magazine: “Teen Voices envisions a world of equality and opportunity for all girls, in which we are a premier center for positive teen girl-produced media. With the support of an intergenerational network, we provide a space for girls to become competent, confident, and courageous leaders for change.” They are even supporting The National Conference For Media Reform this April in Boston. With more magazines and media awareness like this, we should begin to see a shift in how women are perceived and in return, treated in society.

Knowledge is power.


  1. I completely agree that we need to show kids while they are young that ads are not realistic. The more aware we are as consumers the more quickly things will change.

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  3. It actually amazes me that the media can boldly persuade women into believing that their image is not "socially-correct." Thus, the notion of the robot-girl is born, or the idea that our women become the embodiment of what advertisements preach is the ideal woman: The perfect skin complexion, the thin-corset waistline, the irregular breast-hip-waist ratio, and the list will just continue to go on and on. I love that you incorporated teen magazines focused on self-esteem campaigns and that reality represents the true beauty of American society; not what the ads portray. Great post Steph!

  4. You make great points Stephanie!
    Educating people, especially young audience, is key!!!
    As you stated, "Knowledge is power."
    Great post!