It is the overall conclusion of this report that the myth of the perfect body image is perpetuated in society more towards females than towards males, and that it is presented in mainstream culture in more insidious and deep manner towards this sex. Generally people tend to see men being portrayed in mass culture as stereotypically having more responsibilities in terms of full-time employment and less responsibilities in terms of domestic duty and the need to be beautiful, which is more directed at women.
The guiding rationale behind research such as this is to hypothesize conclusions that are either held up or discounted by a group of existing studies, while keeping in mind the textual abundance that has provided similar studies in regards to comparison and contrast, and to seek underlying reasons that may develop into further hypotheses spurred by the research. Therefore the purpose of this project will be to further determine the relationships between gender perceptions and advertising, in relation to the concept of thebeauty myth in society. In general terms of quantifying judgment through analysis, the female adult body
as presented in beauty advertisements is judged more by society in terms of the punitive repercussions of a body image that does not fit into society’s parameters. For example, females in job interviews are subjected to more physical scrutiny than their male counterparts, and may not be hired if they are overweight, whereas males can focus more on the self-presentation of character without worrying overmuch about physical appearance, a state that may even be considered over-feminine. Also, most diet products currently available are marketed specifically for female consumers, to say nothing of
cosmetics and perfume, which reinforces the idea that women are being judged with more scrutiny than men in the society regarding the adult body in its relation to beauty products. “Research suggests that exposure to gender role stereotypes in advertising often influences gender-stereotyped attitudes (Signorielli, 1989). Results of a study by Kilbourne (1990) revealed that people, after being exposed to advertisements that depict women in stereotypical roles, showed significantly more negative attitudes toward women, especially concerning their managerial skills, than after being exposed to
advertisements that depict women in professional roles that require such skills” (Eagly et al, 2004). The lack of these skills seems to be conventional beauty advertising’s way of nullifying the impact of anything but form, which again points suspiciously towards assignment parameters mandating a text-only relation to the advertisements mentioned above. The mytical body image of the present society presented through beauty product advertising reinforces the ideas of male dominance and female subservience that are the traditional base of any patriarchal society. This can be seen in the society’s presentation
of both the adult male and the adult female body in terms of beauty myth: the man, the Adonis, is seen to be active, healthy, and natural. The female, the Venus, is seen (as in cosmetic and other beauty advertisements) to be passive, emotional, and artificialized. What is retained, primarily, is an allegiance to the unchanging and conservative ideals stressed by the body myth in the ad’s language, whatever it may be; it is increasingly difficult to concentrate on a single image in the present society as completely representative of a generalized sort of male or femaleness, much less so the multiplicity
of the masculine and feminine image. In the typical contemporaneous beauty advertisement aimed at women, the two forms of escape/conservative reinforcement are brought together, as one can see that consumers of myths would assume that the myths would be working closely with the reinforcement of a negation of imagination in the subconscious of the consumer. It may even be relevant to think of this mythicized cultural identification as the commodification of femininity by the beauty industry itself, but in doing so, we encounter the veil set up by male-dominated patriarchal religions and find Madonna, Eve, and martyred saints.
It is probable that we would be more judgmental of the body than of the gender identity, and place it first in our cognizance of a viewpoint of the individual, whether it be a first impression or a first-second. A woman possessing a beauty-industry standard of mythical body who acts very masculine, however, may be more closely judged by the present society than a man possessing a mythical body who acts feminine. This is difficult to determine with total accuracy, as there are less prominent butch females than there are effeminate males in the current mass cultural presentation of the mythical body in beauty ads.
The main argument of this paper is that gender roles as supported by beauty ads in popular magazines represent a sort of gender identity status quo. At the same time, throughout the continuing history of print media, gender roles were seen to have changed drastically. As Coontz (1992) states, “‘Women’s roles were redefined in terms of domesticity rather than production, men were labeled “breadwinners” (a masculine identity unheard of in colonial days), children were said to need time to play, and gentle maternal guidance supplanted the patriarchal authoritarianism of the past’” (qtd. in Patch,
1999). Where women used to be socially defined, if not necessarily as independent and powerful individuals in a matriarchal society, at the very least as capable producers, they became defined with the advent of the nuclear family and the rise of advertising’s primacy as domestic keepers who provided the dominant father figure with support, raised the children, and were also defined by their conspicuous consumption of time- saving household gadgets and beautification products. Men were suddenly jettisoned into the role of the breadwinner, in which they were seen to be at odds with the world to
provide their families with the only means of support. Gender roles and parenting roles changed significantly with the industrial advent of the nuclear family, as reflected in beauty ads of the time. We have seen in this report that in general terms, raters do not view women negatively in comparison with men as a social group. We can then go on to introduce more dependent variables into the equation than relatively simple assessments of emotion and attitude in raters to broad social categories provide. This is, when other variables are introduced into this general positive assessment, new resultant patterns of behavior can
be seen to emerge. In a study that is key to this project, “Understanding the Context of Unbalanced Domestic Contributions,” the authors (NiCole Swearingen-Hilker and Janice D. Yoder) make a more specific assessment of raters’ attitudes towards male and female roles regarding domesticity. The authors find that college-aged raters are more prone to see fairness in a disproportionate amount of domestic duties being relegated to the female in a hypothetical married couple. The authors also make an important discussion of the hypothetical nature of the survey discussed and the resultant relative ease with which it
promotes gender egalitarianism. Still, the findings contribute to a sort of subtle sexism in raters that expresses itself in terms of the perceived female role’s entitlement: “When a woman is undercontributing, she is evaluated as less entitled, as well she should be, but the same is not true for an equally undercontributing man” (Swearingen-Hilder and Yoder, 2002). This attitude could be argued to be influenced strongly by advertising, particularly the image and language promotion of the submissive mythical body female in beauty advertisements.
“Exposure to gender role stereotyping in advertisements is related to negative attitude toward women and stereotypical ideas about how they are supposed to behave and the roles they are supposed to occupy within society (Kilbourne, 1990). In addition, it is related to more accepting beliefs of sexual aggression against women (Lanis & Covell, 1995), to rape myth acceptance, and to negative attitudes toward feminism and the Women’s Movement (McKay & Covell, 1997)” (Lindner, 2004). These are still pervasive elements in society, despite increasing contemporaneous moves towards gender equity.
Ideas of desire have changed substantially to reflect the current situation regarding male and female bodies, and many thinkers posit that this change, especially in its relationship to the female body, began in the 1920s. During this age, many women found themselves more free than ever in terms of showing their bodies as personal expressions/identity badges, but with this increased freedom came the price of a greater amount of self-consciousness and a narrowing of the sense of body image as perfection. That is, the idea of perfection narrowed as more of the body was exposed, and conversely
hygiene developed along the lines of idealized representations of slim women with smooth legs and immaculate skin. “What American women did not realize at the time was that their stunning new freedom actually implied the need for greater internal control of the body, an imperative that would intensify and become even more powerful by the end of the twentieth century” (Brumberg, 98). The idea of desire now has become sanitized so that the base of desire becomes cleanliness in the traditional beauty image advertisement. In males, desire is typified differently: the promulgation of a physically
capable, dangerous, and brash paradigm of machismo relies more on superficiality and volume than on passivity and intelligence, or necessarily hygiene. Society has come to desire the male body its conqueror in an active role, while the female body is relegated to a position of passivity that is held up to similarly self-immolating standards of unattainable cosmetic perfection. Also, the desired female body is to respond feelingly and emotionally with itself in a culture that demands its submission, while the male body is to be more resigned within its own trope. “It is clear that there is an asymmetry in our
present society between… the relatively continuous relation of female homosocial and homosexual bonds, and… the radically discontinuous relation of male homosocial and homosexual bonds” (Sedgwick, “Between,” 699). Therefore, we can tentatively state that modern day society comes to desire the female body as presented in conventional beauty ads through its stability or position of passivity; this being tentative due to the wide range of identities available under various subjective conditions, not excluding androgynous and transgender images which challenge the notions of the dominant society and its
cultural manifestations. From a feminist point of view, the material aspects of mass culture are less important than the way that mass media influences the development of gender roles and reinforces gender stereotypes through advertising. It explores how the media may influence individuals in terms of the gender roles that they play in life, and how these roles function for different segments of the media’s audience. Generally, the mainstream is lauded less in terms of progress than alternatives that attempt to represent women and other oppressed groups are presented in opposition to the mainstream.
The mass-presentation of culture is presented and explored in a different way in feminist narratives than it is in narratives that take the machinations of the beauty industry more exclusively into account, whether they are positivist or not. Feminist interpretations tend to spend more time exploring social and gender roles that are perpetuated by the object of culture rather than examining the object itself in a social and political setting that focuses on the history of industry as progress or stated objective. The presentation of mass-culture (advertising) becomes more important from a feminist
viewpoint as a perpetuation of gender stereotypes that are reinforced, although both ways of looking at mass culture can be complimentary in their separate regard of the symbiotic relationships between mass-presented culture and identity. Feminist scholars simply focus more on gender issues, including the exploration of mass media representations of submissive and dominant gender paradigms in beauty ads “related to negative body image in women, to an increase in weight concern, and to the development of eating disorders (Posavac et al. , 1995). In other words, these images are associated with the way
women are treated, looked upon, and feel about themselves, with the kind of behavior and appearance that is expected from them, and, even more generally, with our ideas of what constitutes masculinity and femininity in our culture” (Lindner, 2004). This shows both specific and general issues. There is an abundance of textual dissertation concerning gender, identity, body image, and other issuances of definitional standards that often defy the status quo and change the way in which we think about what it is to be a woman based on social identity
as construed or directed by mainstream beauty advertising. These essential qualities that define gender are harder to determine the more we explore the boundaries that have been set up, in many cases, as no more than cultural myths that represent the continuance of a socio-economic class system. The desirability of the male and female adult body is more often than not a culturally determined paradigm that has shifted perceptibly from that of previous epochs; many current scholars use the Victorian period of England as an example of diametrical
opposition to our current social trends, but even without a standard by which one can judge the current condition in terms of opposition, it is clear that there are contrasts and comparisons to be made between the mythical body image in terms of male and female perspectives. As a myth is often a traditional, supernatural impetus for social control through a vision of the impossible supporting the mundane, it is no surprise that society’s mythical body image as propagated through conventional beauty ads escapes the majority in terms of possession.
By exploring the idea of this image, however, in terms of its contrivance, ramifications, social constructionism, and its support of gender stereotypes, we can approach an understanding of how our culture defines male and female images of perfection. Brumberg has found that in relation to beauty ads “Almost all” of the adolescent girls interviewed “admitted that they did battle, on a daily basis, with what therapists in the eating disorders world call ‘bad body fever,’ a continuous internal commentary that constitutes a powerful form of self-punishment” (Kessler and McKenna, 196).
This may be the main impetus for going to great lengths to have a body that meets or approaches the mythical. BIBLIOGRAPHY Brumberg, Joan Jacobs (1997). The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New York: Vintage. Calhoun, Craig, Light, Donald, and Suzanne Keller (1997). Sociology. New York: McGraw-Hill. Eagly, Alice H. , Mladinic, Antonio, and Stacey Otto (1991). Are Women Evaluated More Favorably than Men? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, pp. 203-216. Kessler, S. J. and W. McKenna (1978). Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach. Chicago: University Press. Lindner, K.
(2004) Images of women in general interest and fashion magazine advertisements from 1955 to 2002. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Patch, Diana W. (1999). Rethinking the Nuclear Family Model. www. celf. ucla. edu/celf04-patch. pdf. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (2001). Between Men. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, ed. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell.. Swearingen-Hilker, NiCole, and Janice D. Yoder (2002). Understanding the Context of Unbalanced Domestic Contributions: The Influence of Perceiver’s Attitudes, Target’s Gender, and Presentational Format. Sex Roles, 46, pp. 91-98.