If you thought the data on women’s media and self-esteem was confusing already, just wait until you read what this study has to say.
According to a survey conducted by the Warwick Business School, idealized images of thin models can make women feel either better or worse about their own bodies, depending how said images are presented.
When the conventionally attractive model was not featured prominently, the majority of participants did what you’d expect them to do: they felt worse about themselves via subtle psychological needling, and better about the product. (Because maybe, subconsciously, they thought it might help them be more glamorous?) It’s basically a corporate version of negging, and it has been around for as long as advertising has.
However (and this is more interesting), when the beautiful woman was front and center, the women reacted negatively towards both the product and the woman. According to researcher Tamara Ansons, this is because the blatant, in-your-face ads were so intensely and obviously damaging that they triggered a “coping mechanism” in the women, i.e. scorn, that was supposed to keep the ads from ruining their self-esteem forever.
This has implications for advertisers (like “get sneakier, advertisers!”) but because I’m a human, I am more interested in its implications for humanity. Basically, what this study is telling me is that the imagery in ads is a constant assault on our self-image, which we either combat by looking down on other women, or fail to combat by passively allowing it to wound us. Don’t you wish there was a third, better option? So do I, but I don’t think anyone has invented it yet.
So the next time you see an ad that threatens to make you feel bad about yourself, I suggest you read this (very easy to follow!) essay on socialist feminism and ponder all the ways in which patriarchy and capitalism conspire to keep women down. And then, of course, try to do something about it, because we can’t just walk around feeling like victims all the time.
Photo: Miu Miu