Media images in advertising and self-image

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 3

In this chapter, Martin and Gentry argue that young women’s self images and self esteem are effected by ideals presented in advertising while young boys tend to think in different terms.  Cottle, on the other hand, says men are quickly catching up with women in terms of trying to adhere to media images of attractiveness.

Martin and Gentry bring up the current debate over how advertising may create and reinforce a preoccupation with beauty and physical attractiveness for women.  Young women are exposed to images in ads of supermodels who are an unattainable standard of beauty and get stuck in a cycle of hating them and wanting to be like them.  The authors review several studies which seem to show a difference in young males.  While self esteem tends to go down for female adolescents, it goes up for males; while young women tend to think of their bodies as exterior objects, boys tend to think in terms to utility.  The authors created a study in which girls in grades four, six and eight were asked to view ads and compare them in terms of self-evaluation, self-improvement, and self-enhancement.  The results supported the hypothesis that self-perception and self esteem can be adversely effected, though self-perception goals may change over time (in fourth grade, the goal is to be bigger; later, the goal is to be thinner).

Cottle, on the other hand, sees media-imposed vanity growing in men.  More men are having plastic surgery done, surprising numbers of men purchase treatments like facials and manicures, and magazines with helpful articles about being fit and attractive, like Men’s Health, are raising their circulation.  Not only are muscles becoming a requirement, but the right hair and clothes as well.  This has little to do with health and fitness.  Overall, Cottle sees gender equality coming not in terms of women empowering themselves, but with men joining in their purchase-inducing insecurities.

I think the question in the chapter’s title (is emphasis on body image in the media harmful to women only) hasn’t really been debated.  The first piece is a sociological study that I’m not sure I understand, and though it mentions some literature saying boys have different body image concerns than girls, the study doesn’t address that difference.  They could have done a much clearer study if they had gone with that subject.  If fourth grade girls compared themselves differently to models than fourth grade guys, for example, you could investigate those differences and look for causes.  But this study doesn’t seem to come to much, and I’m not even sure when and how they measured self-esteem drops, unless they assumed an unfavorable comparison was equivalent.  And the second essay, though it makes good point about men being convinced to meet a media mold of attractiveness (and buy their products), doesn’t really get into the harm of it.  More guys getting manicures is not necessarily indicative of lower self-images.