We've all heard the mantra that you can never be too thin, rich or aesthetically perfect. Those ideals of beauty are most evident in the fashion and beauty industry. From an ad showing a model whose head appears to be bigger than her pelvis to promotions for hair products fronted by a glossy mane of extensions, brands are under attack for peddling unattainable and potentially damaging images of beauty to consumers, and seriously hurting the self-esteem of women who are very attractive in real-life terms.
Even Conservative leader David Cameron -- who is attempting to become Britain's next prime minister, not its next top model -- has been slated for appearing heavily airbrushed in a recent poster campaign.
Aspiration vs Authenticity
According to Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists, the message that women need to look better, do better and buy better is having huge consequences on the mental health of females. Consultant psychiatrist Dr. Adrienne Key points to the increasing amount of research that shows the media plays a role in the development of eating disorders.
While the latest catwalk designs shown at London Fashion Week are already yesterday's news, the debate on airbrushing in advertising, and in particular the use of unhealthily skinny-looking models and often heavily altered images of women is again a hot topic.
Britain's Liberal Democrats are lobbying brands running ads they believe encourage teenage anorexia. Jo Swinson, the party's spokeswoman on women, has said the presentation of an unrealistic 'standard' of what is beautiful means that young girls are under more pressure now than they were five years ago. "Airbrushing means that ads contain completely unattainable images that no one can live up to in real Ufe," she adds. "We need to help protect children from these pressures and start by banning airbrushing in ads aimed at them." It is difficult to see how such a gesture will have a real impact on the image of beauty portrayed by an industry that has effectively been selling "hope in a jar" for centuries. Olivia Johnson, partner at creative agency Hooper Galton and the brains behind the Dove "Campaign for Real Women," says the fact remains that women like to be sold a dream and as such are often complicit in the process. "The remorseless promotion of ludicrously thin women is damaging, but it's dishonest of the industry to say it genuinely believes a more realistic image women would be as successful." Anxiety and aspiration sell, and the "Campaign for Real Women," while a marketing milestone, has not fundamentally altered the landscape of fashion and beauty advertising.
Sarah Watson, planning director at ad agency DDB, says that there is a "creep of expectation that surrounds the ideal of how a woman should look, and the heavy use of airbrushing is a big part of that." How to address the issue remains problematic, with many brands and marketers skirting the issue or failing to genuinely engage in the debate. Ian Twinn, director of public affairs at ISBA, argues that everyone in the media has to take some responsibility for the body-image issue, not just advertisers. "Flagging up or putting warnings on ads is not the right thing to do," he says. "The vast majority of people recognize they are looking at an idealized form of beauty-the very essence of human nature is that people aspire to be something they are not.' Some marketers scoff at the idea of specifying when airbrushing has been used in advertising, but are / unwilling to go on the record; they are mindful, perhaps, of Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld, who recently hit the headlines after criticising "fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly." There are signs that consumers are tiring of the bleached-out, slimmed-down, dead-eyed model of feminine beauty embraced by many brands. The success of fashion and beauty blogs and sites dedicated to showing up poor manipulation of images reflects a genuine desire for authenticity. "Brands and models can't control their images any more -- untouched images are leaked and you can't hide," says Watson.
While focus groups may claim that women want to see more realistic images, many in the fashion and beauty industry simply do not believe this. For campaigners, concerns that the industry is merely paying Up service to the debate, without taking any real responsibiUty or wanting to change, remains the biggest hurdle. Magazines blame designers for sending out size zero samples, while brands say their campaigns must fit with the "aesthetic of the editorial." Privately, agencies say that aspiration -- al images have long underpinned the industry and, however unattainable they are, they sell. But at what price?You might also want to read...Fifty and FabulousA Superficial Search for Eternal Youth?