Throughout my first semester at university, I’ve struggled to grasp the concepts of media and communication. I found it hard to steer away from the effects of the media and write about how a certain issue is portrayed in the media. I think it’s easy to make assumptions about how everyone is effected by the media and how they read an image.
In my previous posts, I’ve discussed body image and how it’s presented in the media. I think the main issue with body image in the media is that the public seems to blame the media for how they look and how they see themselves. This is called a moral panic. Although the media could be the cause for eating disorders and self-esteem issues, it is hard to obtain substantial evidence to link reading magazines and developing anorexia, for example. Even I was tempted to write about how the media makes us think only a certain body image is acceptable. However, this is not the case. Although the media might play a small part in our way of thinking, it does not make us think a certain way. The truth is, we are all free thinkers. So why are we so caught up in this moral panic? Is it easier for us to blame something else instead of ourselves? The most interesting thing is, the media plays off this panic by releasing more media to “calm” us. An example of this is the Dove Real Beauty Campaign that I wrote about in one of my previous posts. This campaign is an answer to fashion magazines and advertisements that use slim models in order to sell their products. They argue that this is not the “real” woman, and aim to show girls and women that the “real” woman comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. This targets most women, and it intends to help women accept their bodies. This, however, is playing on the moral panic as the campaign is not only about assisting women to rethink their idea of beauty. It is also about advertising. Throughout the whole campaign you can see the Dove symbol everywhere.
As well as this, many of the Dove products at the time were renamed as beauty products. In this way, Dove has come up with a cunning marketing strategy, by going against the grain of the standard advertisements in order to target the everyday woman. By using the moral panic, that magazines are causing unhealthy body image, to their advantage Dove is attempting to make people think that the brand is on their side. This isn’t to say that the campaign was also about rethinking the idea of beauty, but I don’t think they were unaware of the marketing advantages of the campaign.
Generally, I find that the media is using body image to sell. I explain this in one of my blog posts; that the media uses a woman or man that people aspire to be in order to sell their product.
It seems that advertising companies are using these models as symbols in order to evoke a somewhat emotional response from the reader. For most people the models represent a person they want to be like, and the product as something that will make their life better. People are almost always searching for something that will magically improve their life. What people don’t realize is that what they are looking at is in fact just a girl holding a product. But the audience takes meaning from it, which determines whether or not they buy the product. This is called the signifier and the signified.
Take this image for example, being an 18-year-old Australian female would most likely interpret this image differently from a middle aged man. When I look at it I see a young and sophisticated woman who is not only beautiful, but rich as well. In my eyes she has everything that I could want, which makes me want to have the product so I can be like her. However, a middle-aged male might interpret this differently depending on his personal context. He may see this image as a bored-looking young woman who has nothing better to do than sit in a corner or mirrors in front of a camera. There are so many possibilities to how people can see an image that it is impossible to determine whether or not the image actually makes people feel bad about their body. Obviously this image is targeting people in my demographic, as it may not appeal to other groups of people. Although every person is looking at the same picture, what they see is completely different depending on their context. How do you read this image?
Overall, I’ve learnt a lot about the media’s representation of body image, but I think I still have a lot to learn. I began my blog talking about how the media puts pressure on women to look a certain way, without any evidence whatsoever. In general, I found that the media used body image to sell and collect revenue through moral panic and through targeting certain demographics. One thing is for sure, I don’t think we’ll stop debating what the “right” body image is for a long time.