Beauty and body image in advertising 14 pages

Beauty and body image in advertising

It is common knowledge among the advertising world that publicity sells. In order to achieve a high degree of profit in the globalized world, the most interesting and eye catching advertisements usually impact the targeted public and achieve their goals in promotion and selling. However, more and more people are becoming reluctant to certain products precisely because of the sometimes aggressive and even offending publicity. From this point-of-view the present paper argues that the perception of women’s body and their comparison to HAMs (highly attractive models) have a negative influence on the advertising efforts for particular products.

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The structure of the paper takes into account precisely the impact HAMs and the meaning of the concept have on the advertising world and on the society at the same time. Part I takes into account the different perspective women have on this matter in terms of racial lines. More precisely, it focuses on the way in which black women as opposed to white women perceive this advertising process which includes HAMs.

Part II targets the actual phenomenon of beauty as part of a wider process of identification in the society and in particular at the work place. Usually, it is considered that beauty is a matter of self-esteem; yet there is research in the field to point out that women labeled as being attractive are more likely to be perceived more productive.

In part III, the consumer behavior is analyzed to take into account the fact that all things considered, women tend to become less responsive to advertisements presenting very attractive women. This is the result of a comparison process and an inevitable decreased self-esteem.

The concluding part restates the main idea supported by arguments. This points out that indeed, women’s self-esteem as well as the aggressiveness of the advertising world tends to determine the consumer to become more reluctant in terms of the choice for purchasing.

Literature review

There are numerous studies which deal with this particular issue, from different areas of research. In this sense, an important study on the issue of beauty as the underlining factor for self-esteem and the way in which perception is constructed as a social phenomenon is Murray Webster’s “Beauty as status,” published in the American Journal of Sociology. The author tries to point out the essential role beauty plays in the society and in the professional life, regardless of race and gender. Furthermore, another study supports this belief. Thus, Markus M. Mobius and Tanya S. Rosenblat in “Why Beauty Matters?” published in the American Economic Review offers a better perspective of the economic implications of beauty especially at the workplace.

Another important resource for the paper is Amanda Bower’s “Highly Attractive Models in Advertising and the Women Who Loathe Them: The Implications of Negative Affect for Spokesperson Effectiveness” published in the Journal of Advertising. This article clearly points out the implications of the spokesperson for the advertising campaign she is part of in relation to the targeted consumer. Moreover, the author stresses the psychological effect attractive women have on less attractive women or women with low self-esteem and how this effect projects in the success of an ad campaign.


Part 1 — perception of advertising HAMs across racial lines

There is a wide perception on the fact that white and black women have different views on certain aspects of life which eventually include self-esteem and personal issues. This may be the result of different backgrounds. Some of the most famous fashion icons are white. Examples in this sense range from Coco Chanel to top fashion models such as Cindy Crawford or Claudia Schiffer. While Coco Chanel was not considered to be a beauty in the traditional style, Cindy Crawford or Claudia Schiffer have inspired top designers and, years after their retirement from fashion, are still the symbols of famous fashion brands such as Guess or Yves Saint Laurent. By comparison, the African-American enjoyed Naomi Cambell as one of the most successful models in fashion history. Yet, given her spirited nature and the controversies surrounding her career, she may be seen as just the exception to confirm a rule of white supremacy in the fashion world. Thus, while white women have rarely been the clear subjects of oppressive treatments, black women in the community experienced difficulties and hardships which offered them a different background experience. From this point-of-view, there are opinions which suggest that issues related to self-esteem, such as anorexia, bulimia are most often disorders associated with white women rather than with black women, and thus white women are more prone to influences from advertising than black women

This discrepancy, according to research, is not just a reality of today’s world. The aspect of commercialization of the social, economic, and political life is visible throughout generations and race lines. Dia Sekayi points out in this sense that in fact the spirit of commercialization affects all generations, regardless of culture or age (2003). However, she argues that children and teenagers are most affected. Indeed, this is a natural reaction to the way in which children in particular are attracted by visual and audio advertising as an innovative element of communication. Even so, black children are less likely to be influenced by them, as opposed to the white children community. This can be explained by a constant inferiority in terms of incomes on an average calculation. Therefore, it can be argued that the young generations of black people are less likely to experience this influence of commercial advertising.

The discussion on the way in which HAMs (highly attractive models) influence the self-esteem through advertising is even possible because there have been numerous studies to conclude that women, through their nature, tend to consider the HAM a reference point for its own body image and aspect. This is one of the main reasons for which fashion icons such as Christian Dior or the Victoria Secret House have been recently trying to include fashion models which have different sizes. A need for a more curvy fashion was considered, seeing that all too often the constant comparison of health women led to eating disorders or behavioral changes. More precisely, it is mentioned that “in studies on the United States and other countries, unrealistic beauty standards are often implicated in low self-esteem and unhealthy behavior among adolescent girls. Scholars in fields such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, and public health have addressed this topic, placing teenage girls’ perceptions of their bodies in the context of cause (impossibly thin and perfect media images of women) and effects (i.e., low self-esteem, rampant dieting, eating disorders)” (Casanova, 2004)

Regardless of the general effects the advertising world has on the self-esteem, there is a difference across racial line. Not all races behave the same. There is a different cultural and social background which enables especially young adolescent girls to adapt the influences of the advertising world to an already existing set of values. In this sense, a study made on teenagers from Ecuador pointed out the fact that the influence of advertising is less important than in the case of the white teenagers. In this sense, “these young women openly espouse ideals of beauty quite similar to (and in some cases identical to) the Caucasian prototype, while tending toward less rigid judgments of beauty in everyday life as well as supportive peer interaction” (Casanova, 2004).

The consensus among researchers is a clear understanding that the role of culture plays a major part. There is a clear predominance of white supermodels and white women were able to compare themselves more to the ideal white Caucasian woman appearing in famous fashion catalogs than black women. This is an important aspect because it offers a perspective on the way in which the perception related to the physical appearance of models plays a part in influencing the perception over one’s own body. The predominance of white models transformed what in most cases is an isolated image into one which is the standard beauty for the common white Caucasian woman. This in turn influences the way in which self-esteem is created and the way in which people eventually relate to the advertisement.

The difference in perception lies therefore in the cultural lines. Women and teenagers from different cultures or races tend to create a different female community. The example of the African-American is obvious in this sense. They tend to value more the uniqueness of the female figure rather than its measurements or size (White, 2004. This is also due to the different perceptions of beauty. For this reason, women of color are predominantly curvier and tend to consider this as a sense of pride. By comparison, the ideal white woman is usually a small size. Therefore, the line across races allows black women to become immune to certain HAMs and even reject HAM figure as a beauty standard.

Part II — beauty as a social and economic factor

The term of “beauty” is rather difficult to explain as well as that of “attractive.” Despite the fact that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” social and economic norms and standards make a clear difference between women in particular when it comes to their tagging in the society. There is a clear cut idea that the attribute of “beautiful” or “attractive” is also synonymous to higher rates of productivity.

Beautiful women are considered to be better assets for the companies and employers tend to perceive them as being more open minded and better communicators (Mobius and Rosenblat, 2006) There are those who consider that discrimination based on physical appearance is similar to that related to race and sex (Webster, 1983). More precisely, Webster argues that “attractiveness effects usually derive from the structure of the society. Beauty or its opposite often function as a status cue; that is, when it activates patterns of widely shared cultural beliefs it is a status characteristic just as race and sex are, meeting the same defining criteria and having most of the same sorts of effects as those other status characteristics” (Webster, 1983). Therefore, as stated before, beauty is an element which is clearly related to the society and the community. The difference between the reactions of black women as opposed to white women is also different in this situation.

Beauty or the lack of attractiveness also functions at the level of the employer. In this sense, women who are considered attractive are also viewed as better communicators and more productive at the work place. This is largely due to self-esteem. (Mobius and Rosenblat, 2006) Studies have pointed out that there is a difference between the perception employers tend to have in regard to attractive women. This is not because of the image, but rather to the message it send across. More precisely, the study conducted by Mobius and Rosenblat point out that if there were a choice between an attractive and a less attractive woman to offer an increase in the salary or employ one of them, the employer would chose the more attractive individual. The explanation is again related to self-esteem and the message the employee send across. People with self-esteem tend to be more communicative, open minded and team player. By comparison, persons with low self-esteem tend to become isolated individuals, which is counterproductive.

The importance of self-esteem is crucial for the relations inside the society. It demonstrates confidence and most importantly availability. Despite the fact that in terms of job assignment this reveals availability, inside the society it implies confidence. In this context, the role of advertising is crucial because it offers the image of any product in the world.

Part III — effects of advertising on consumer choices

The use of highly attractive models is justified from a marketing point-of-view. The main idea behind the strategy revolves around the issue of selling. It is common knowledge that a beautiful body is more likely to sell a product such as a lingerie outfit or a perfume than an overweight person. From this point-of-view the use of HAMs is very common especially in the high fashion business. However, researches have pointed out that this method of advertising and selling has down sides.

As presented above, the role of self-esteem is crucial for the way in which an individual performs in the society and in their professional life. People can be judged on the way in which they dress, speak, and behave. This in turn is a reflection of the self-esteem projected in the outer environment. However, the self-esteem, especially in women represents a very sensitive issue because it relates most to the physical appearance. More precisely, Amanda Bower points out in one of her studies that “young adult female respondents reported that they compared themselves frequently with models in clothing, personal care, and cosmetics ads, and approximately one-third reported that these ads made them feel dissatisfied with their appearance. One study found that approximately 90% of white junior high and high school girls feel some level of dissatisfaction with their weight, leading to more than 60% of white teenagers dieting at least once in the past year” (Bower, 2001).

As presented above the use of comparison is mostly seen in the white population and this often results in eating disorders of dieting (Striegel-Moore, 2003). However, the self-esteem which is constructed in the early years of childhood and adulthood often influence the way in which women perceive themselves throughout their life. Therefore, the constant comparison with HAMs may determine their perception on physical appearance. This in turn can reflect in their consideration of beauty, standards, and choices.

The use of beautiful models in the advertising world has offered substantial results and is a path that most of the advertising people will continue to take. However depending on the reactions certain advertisements generate, the public can change its choice. In this sense, there has been a wide negative reaction to the amount of advertisements on different television channels which eventually reduce the rating of that channel. In order to have a better picture of the way in which the consumer’s choice influences the mass communication channels, Kenneth Wilbur’s study points out that when the quantity of the commercials was reduced, the television ratings for one channel increased by 20% (Wilbur, 2008). This comes to point out that regardless of the nature of the commercial people tend to be reluctant to be constantly the center of the advertisements.

The constant comparison to a certain model has determined a different perspective projected on the elements of comparison. This may lead in the best case to the rejection of the spokesperson which is the HAM and in the worst case to the actual denial of the product being advertised. As opposed to the reactions from the African-American women who reject the ideal but do consider the product, the white women have a tendency of denying the object which is most visible. From this point-of-view it is important to consider the way in which HAMs affect the efficiency of the advertisements.

Despite the general belief and spoken rejection, there is no clear cut evidence to support the belief that the use of HAMs for advertising has decrease sales (Bower, 2001). At the same time however, the studies conducted in this sense point out to the fact that the presence of HAMs in the advertisements clearly determines women to undervalue their own characteristics. Furthermore, there are scholars which conclude that the results of sociological studies point out the tendency of women to reject the products and the commercials because the ads using HAMs “deflated the self-image of potential customers when they compared themselves to models” (Chia-Ching Tsai, Chih-Hsiang Chang, 2007). Even so, there is no clear cut evidence from the marketing departments of major companies to support the idea.

Despite the lack of evidence, it is a logical assumption to consider true the assessment that one may refuse a product which is associated with an individual that provokes anxiety, disorders, or discontent. As stated above, self-esteem is crucial for the performance of a woman in particular. When this self-esteem is shaken by constant comparisons with ideal figures, it is rarely the case when these women tend to believe the advertisements and purchase the item.

To offer an additional perspective on the issue, the fact that a negative impact on the purchasing desires is not yet obvious in precise official figures, constant studies in this area reveal that some products may actually benefit from the HAMs associated with the products. In this sense, for instance, in terms of body shaping mechanisms, women are more responsive in buying the respective product if a HAM is associated with the product (Harrison et al., 2001). However, this is not necessarily a rule. This can be the result of the same process of comparison and low self-esteem. However, the purchase of fitness products for instance suggests an intention to actually improve a certain level of self-esteem. Therefore, the difference from previous processes is that instead of rejecting the product, women tend to embrace it and thus purchase it. While the advertising campaign was effective, the same sociological process of low self-esteem applies.

Given the pros and cons in relation to this aspect, advertising companies may relate to a different solution. The use of beautiful models may have its risks, from a sociological point-of-view. However, a possibility is to use average, beautiful females that may represent a more viable model for the everyday woman. In this sense, Bower underlines the possibility of using normally attractive models that women can relate to. This would somewhat discourage the need for comparison because the ideal would be much more attainable (Bower, 2001). At the same time it would limit the possibility of women identifying themselves with ideals that are unattainable and would also protect the product from any negative feelings from the potential consumers.

The denying of a product as a result of the advertisement or its quality is a similar process as the one promoted in terms of women and their discrimination based on physical appearance. The messages sent across have a sender and a receiver as the process of advertising is a communication process. In this sense, while women are perceived in a certain way by employers on the basis of self-esteem and their capacity to portray a certain type of communicational skills, the same applies to products which are perceived on the basis of the advertisements being constructed. Baker suggests that the reaction of the consumer in reference to a certain product is completely legitimate and plausible. Thus, the focused and rational consumer would surely reject the element which fails to provide comfort and self-esteem.


It is rather difficult to point out precise figures to establish the way in which the use of HAMs impacts negatively advertising efforts. There are no clear statistics in this sense especially because this would be a great endeavor given the wide variety of customers. However, from a sociological point-of-view, given the large number of studies conducted in this sense, it is clear that the women’s self-esteem is highly affected by the presence of HAMs on various ad campaigns. The inevitable reaction of the consumer is on the one hand to compare itself with the ideal figure of the ad, and on the other hand to exclude the actual product from their purchasing choice. Some studies however consider a difference between using HAMs and using normally attractive models for the ad campaigns. The impact on the consumer would be more limited and less aggressive.

Works cited

Amanda B. Bower and Stacy Landreth. “Is Beauty Best? Highly vs. Normally Attractive Models in Advertising.” Journal of Advertising Vol. 30, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 1-12

Bower, Amanda B. “Highly Attractive Models in Advertising and the Women Who Loathe Them: The Implications of Negative Affect for Spokesperson Effectiveness.” Journal of Advertising. 2001. Available at

Chia-Ching Tsai, Chih-Hsiang Chang. “The effect of physical attractiveness of models on advertising effectiveness for male and female adolescents.” Adolescence, Winter, 2007. Available at

Dia Sekayi. “Commercialism in the Lives of Children and Youth of Color: Education and Other Socialization Contexts” Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 72, No. 4, (Autumn, 2003), pp. 467-477.

Erynn Masi de Casanova. “No Ugly Women”: Concepts of Race and Beauty among Adolescent Women in Ecuador.” Gender and Society, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jun., 2004), pp. 287-308.

Gail Harrison, Biljana Juric, T. Bettina Cornwell.”The Relationship of Advertising Model Attractiveness and Body Satisfaction to Intention to Purchase an Exercise Product.” Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 2001, 217-222. Available at

Kenneth C. Wilbur. “A Two-Sided, Empirical Model of Television Advertising and Viewing Markets.” Marketing Science. Vol. 27, No. 3 (May – Jun., 2008), pp. 356-378

Markus M. Mobius and Tanya S. Rosenblat. “Why Beauty Matters?” The American Economic Review Vol. 96, No. 1 (Mar., 2006), pp. 222-235.

Michael J. Baker and Gilbert a. Churchill, Jr. “The Impact of Physically Attractive Models on Advertising Evaluations.” Journal of Marketing Research. Vol. 14, No. 4 (Nov., 1977), pp. 538-555.

Murray Webster, Jr. And James E. Driskell. “Beauty as Status.” The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Jul., 1983), pp. 140-165

Smith, Dakota. “Black women ignore many of Media’s beauty ideals.” Women 2004. Available online at

Striegel-Moore, Ruth, et al. “Eating disorders in white and black women.” The American Journal of Psychiatry. July 2003. Available online

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