Reading time: 4min.

by Zara Mirza

Averts, adverts everywhere, not one is representative

Advertising is everywhere. Billboards, online sidebars, ‘cookies’, pop-ups, TV commercials and so on bombard us every single day. Subconsciously, these images are affecting who we are and who we strive to be. We relate to adverts and become persuaded that we need certain products in order to become better versions of ourselves, but how many adverts are actually representative of us as consumers? In terms of the fashion and beauty industry, most people would agree that we all would like to see more sizes for men and women being sold and more varied beauty products that can be used by all skin tones. The public want more variation in what they are being sold, but what does this mean for advertising?

There is a huge movement for people of different body types and skin colours to be featured more in big brands from Victoria’s Secret to Topshop. More specifically, plus sizes have become an important feature of most clothing brands now. This seems like an acceptable request from the public given that 45% of women alone in the UK are over a size 14. Logically, it would follow that not only would companies begin to supply this demand for more variety but also include this change in their advertising in order to show the public of their perceived acceptance and consequently, get our money. However this is not the case for the general advertising world. Victoria’s Secret has reportedly dropped in sales because of not succumbing to the public’s demand for more sizing, but has now begun to diversify their sizes more recently. There may be a steady increase in the variety of sizes and products made available to us, however this is not reflected in their campaigns.

Statistically, companies sell more products if they are being advertised on mainly Caucasian, very slender (or ‘lean build’ for men) and highly photoshopped models. Many companies that typically use these models have reported that they have tried to use more ‘wide-ranging’ types of people be it their size, hair type or skin colour, in their advertising but the overall sales never meet their targets as opposed to when they use the ‘average looking model’. Even when this industry uses the models they deem to be ‘perfect’ for attaining high sales they still feel they must Photoshop the model to an even higher standard of beauty. Female models are usually given smoother skin, hair extensions, fuller chests and are even ‘filled out’ to look more curvaceous than they are in real life.

A younger version of myself would look at these adverts and feel insecure that I could never achieve the same look as these models. As I have grown older, I understand that comparing oneself too often to images that have been so manipulated and ‘perfected’ is extremely damaging to a person’s confidence. The industry knows this, and thrives off humanity’s superficial insecurities. It is capitalism at its finest and ironically, it’s ugliest. Perhaps we gravitate more towards ads that portray unrealistic standards of beauty because it has been subconsciously reinforced for so long, through the use of repetitive and consistent messaging. Controversially, some argue this is by the use of ‘subliminal messaging’. Reinforcing the same restricted and illusionary view of beauty encourages us to seek out perfection that we cannot actually achieve in reality. Thus we buy more and more products in the hope we might narrow the gap between the models in the adverts and reality. When we perceive an artificially manipulated image, we automatically begin to compare ourselves with a fantasy that cannot be achieved, not even by the model. Although we are demanding one thing, we are buying into the exact opposite and perpetuating a limited view of beauty. As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. Are we just part of the problem?

Nevertheless, there has been an increase in more realistic body positive adverts, which can be seen in brands such as Dove or No.7. They advertise using people of all ages, skin colors, styles and body types in order to sell their products. As I see it, from a business standpoint this route is definitely successful; I do not know many people who do not own something from these brands.  From a sociological perspective, if this type of advertising became more widespread it could spark a new wave of self-acceptance for all types of people. Slowly but surely, these kinds of messages will hopefully increase and be reinforced over current prevalent concepts of self-doubt and low confidence. It all starts with us actively choosing brands with more positive and realistic goals. Only then advertising companies may realise that reform is necessary and begin to make sales based on self-love rather than self-hate.