I came across this ad / poster when one of my friends posted it on a social networking site. I found it really offensive but thinking beyond the gut reaction, I really did not know what disturbed me more – the ad itself or the fact that people would actually fall for the ad and that the ad would have its desired effect.
There has been so much talk about women being objectified and that this is one of the prime reasons why crimes against women are not showing any signs of decreasing. At all. Women are, after all, portrayed as “things” that can effectively be bartered, sold, bought, misused, beaten up, discarded or enslaved. The ad agency which put up this poster or ad or whatever is not really to blame per se. They are just doing what they do best – put a finger on the pulse of the populace and exploit the same to the maximum. As far as the media goes, they have never really been at the forefront of holding on to things like ideals, morals or scruples, have they ?
Recently, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America. Someone did rightly point out that had she been competing in India, she would have been considered too dark to even make the cut. In a country where people live by the adage that “beauty is everything” and that “skin colour is what determines a person’s worth in society”, it is not surprising that one sees these remarkably nauseating pieces of publicity.
Think about it – one simply cannot refute the fact that advertising is a huge industry. Their job is to ensure that a certain audience is reached and the message passed on – irrespective of whether the message is right, wrong, insensible or something that makes absolute sense. Advertising does not go into these details. But the problem arises when one thinks a bit deeper and realizes that advertising does a lot more than just sell products or services. They create stereotypes. They sell values, they sell images that society eventually associates with adjectives like “beautiful” and these in turn, create a set of values (however flawed) that are associated with self-esteem and self-worth. To cut a long story short, ads do pander to sections of the society in passing on a message but what they end up doing is toying around with the human psyche, sometimes irreparably so.
Take countries where skin colour is a huge issue. Fair skinned people are still revered and put on a pedestal while dark skins are instinctively looked down upon by a large portion of the masses. There is absolutely no basis to this bias except for the fact that this is something that has been handed down generation to generation. This particular ad also takes a dig at fat women, as it points specifically towards fat women or overweight women. It associates fat or overweight women as the ones that would “have to beg someone” to marry them. It creates the notion that if one is not slim and trim by societal standards, if one does not pander to and fall in line with the stereotypes created by society, then one stands a good chance of being “rejected” as a life partner or a soul mate. Sad truth is that most of the population in India, even today, will fall for such inane drivel.
Yet again, I cringe to think of the number of adolescents who might possibly be taking this ad to heart. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because they are the inexperienced and thus, are very easy pickings. They are particularly easy to influence and manipulate. They are easily swayed. As adolescents, they are at an age when they are in the process of learning sets of values and ideals, they are at an age when they are developing a sense of self-image and concepts of self-worth.
Adolescents are impressionable and peer pressure definitely exerts its influence at that age. Ads like these work like magic in reinforcing cultural stereotypes that have, unfortunately, been handed down, generation to generation. Such ads are also especially dangerous when one looks at eating disorders in adolescents, which are alarmingly on the rise.
The other thing that these ads do is perpetuate the image of women as housewives or sex objects. Women are expected to remain slim and trim, thin even, without scars and blemishes, without wrinkles or without stretch marks which have, in the past, been touted as “undignified” on a woman. Women and girls are usually exhorted to conform to these images, they are pressurized into emulating the models or actresses in these aspects and are expected and pressurized into feeling guilty if they do not qualify by the societal standard of “beauty” or “slim”. Their self-worth, their self-image, their self-confidence levels are all inextricably interwoven with their looks and what society expects from them in terms of looks. Advertising agencies and ads may not directly cause these problems but they definitely contribute in creating an environment which validates and endorses the marketing of women’s bodies as a means to an end.
The scary prospect lies in the fact that many a women take these stereotypes to heart and in the process, pretty much scarily establish a set of false definitions which people take to heart and follow, thus leading to a new set of behavioral patterns, which make the false definitions seem true. (Ref : Robert Merton's study in 1948 wherein he coined the term - self fulfilling prophecy). If one is to dismiss ads simply as a film on television or a piece of paper or poster, one is severely undermining the seriousness of the impact that advertisements have. Advertising still remains one of those “necessary evils”, a pretty powerful one at that and undoubtedly one that immensely affects the way people view themselves, the way people relate to other people in society. What ads like these do is create self-doubts, affect self-image and in the process, subjugate awareness that might otherwise have eventually led to some action which could have led to changes in societal attitudes over a period of time.