Media Monday: Appearence and Education

Cheryl Ainslie-Waldman

I recall seeing a television advertisement whose structure and message I strongly disagreed with during the back-to-school months.  I most likely saw the television ads during football games, and I believe their target audience was elementary school-age children and their parents.  The ads were for K-Mart and depicted male and female children between the ages of 7 and 10 wearing makeup and strutting on a school bus and into a school building as though they were models on a catwalk.  Specifically, the commercial advertised back-to-school clothes and accessories from K-Mart.  I believe that the overall message of the commercial was that success in elementary school was directly related to how physically attractive and well-dressed students were.

I find the message of the commercial repugnant.  Although I am not yet a parent, I have memories of being teased in elementary school because of my own appearance and dislike the thought of any child experiencing such unpleasantness.  I also found the message to be in complete contradiction with the concept of education.  A student’s shade of lip gloss or matching clothing set would have little—if any—influence on how she performs in spelling, geography, or mathematics.  There is an element to academic and personal success that may depend upon one’s hygiene and general appearance, i.e., maintaining high self-esteem and effective interpersonal relations, but the notion that children must be attractive models on their first day of school is ridiculous.

Possibly, the commercial attempted to inspire excitement in children for the return of school.  I cannot say for sure without speaking to its creator.  I felt angry and uncomfortable when viewing the ad, and it was shown repeatedly for several weeks.  This ad has made it less likely that I will expose my niece, nephews, and future children to commercial television.  I feel that the advertisement was socially irresponsible and may result in decreased self-esteem in young children who may compare their own appearances to the children in the commercial.  In the long-term, this ad and similar ads may undermine elementary school education by encouraging attention to physical appearance over academics.

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