When it comes to cultural and societal values, media and marketing have strong influence. We’ve all come across advertisements, whether on television, on the Internet, in magazines, or on billboards that covey powerful messages in few words. After paging through an issue of Elle magazine, I came across one startling ad for a clothing line that omitted words and relied solely on a model’s presence in the clothes. While it appeared that the ad wanted to convey to an audience between 18-24 years of age a sense of self-assurance and confidence (supported by the body language used by the model), I saw everything but that. The ad was not striking because of the clothing or because of some pronounced sense of strength, but because the model looked sickly skinny, with a paleness that seemed to wash her into the background of the ad. There was no healthy glow to her skin; her hair was dull and disheveled. There was no smile sweeping across her face and her eyes were dull and empty, suggesting that she was tired and weak. The clothing she wore might have been appealing if she appeared healthier, full of energy, but in this ad, they contributed to a sense of lifelessness. To a person with greater self-esteem, this ad would not sell. It is possible, though uncertain, that for a person with lower self-esteem, this model and what she wore might convey some message of confidence or desirability.
I think the thinness of the model remains a cultural ideal; however, our culture also values happiness and vitality. The latter are not represented in this advertisement. This particular ad is contradictory as it shows a very thin model wearing name brand clothing (mirroring some of our cultural values) who also appears sickly and almost lifeless (counter our cultural values), sending a mixed message. I do believe that this ad is socially irresponsible because it not only gives acceptance to such thinness, it almost glamorizes it as it is modeled in the ad of a fashion magazine. Because of this ad, I think advertisements in media that include sickly thin models should be excluded altogether. We live in a society that judges us by our body size, promoting thinness even at the cost of our health and vitality. I find it ironic that ads, whose purpose is to seduce their audience into buying products, often feature severely thin models without any kind of facial expression or evidence of a vibrant spirit or life within them. How do these ads still sell? What’s so appealing? How are these still featured in the media? Maybe as a whole, we’ve lost sight of what’s most important: our well being. If we, as a whole, invested as much time and effort into nurturing our mental, physical, and spiritual health as we invest in constant self-evaluation against unattainable, unreasonable, and unhealthy standards, would these ads still serve a purpose? Would they still exist?