It’s not great secret that fashion ads portray women and men unrealistically, promoting unachievable standards of beauty and reinforcing stereotypical codes of gender identity. This week one story is getting a fair amount of play, as a Christian Dior ad featuring Black Swan actor Natalie Portman has been banned in Great Britain for being airbrushed. At first it seemed that the British Advertising Standards Authority was irked at the ad featuring Portman promoting a mascara, accompanied by the boast that the product delivers a “spectacular volume-multiplying effect, lash by lash.” But it turns out that rival L’Oreal cosmetics first noticed the ad and filed a complaint. As The Guardian reports, ironically L’Oreal has been one of the biggest offenders in controversies over airbrushed and exaggerated beauty ads in recent years, with ads featuring Rachel Weisz and Penelope Cruz banned. And last year L’Oreal ads featuring Julia Roberts, for Lancôme foundation product Teint Miracle, and Christy Turlington, for Maybelline foundation The Eraser, were found to be have been digitally enhanced.
Western advertising of this kind promotes body images that everyone is expected to want, but no one can ever achieve. The message is that if you don’t look like this, you’d better do something about it. You’d better buy something, or risk losing status, romance, or friends. This not only pits women-against-women and men-against-men, but it also contributes to the maintenance of systemic gender norms that punish those who fail or refuse to conform. One particularly grim report on this appears on Psychology Today’s article “Worse than Hating Your Body: Hating Your Face.” For a more generalize discussion of social exclusion and gender norms, see Worlding.org’s “The Bully Society.”
In a video released today entitled “Reshaping the Beauty: How Do Beauty Standards Impact Self-image,” Al Jazerra’s The Stream takes a look at the issue: “They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but based on Western media portrayals a beautiful woman is usually 180 centimetres and weighs 50 kilograms. As women and men on the covers of magazines become thinner, eating disorders become bigger. So, do you associate being overweight with being ugly? And does this standard dictate non-Western perceptions of the ideal body?” See also, The Media Education Foundation’s excellent “Beauty Mark Body Image & the Race for Perfection.”