Self and Societal Image

One thing that all advertisements have strived to achieve since the 1950’s (and even before) until now is to alter individual self and societal images. We as a society and as individuals all see advertisements everyday. However, depending on who you are and depending on the intent of the creator, advertisements are interpreted differently between one person to the next.

In the 1950’s, women were obsessed with their body images. Advertisements published during this era targeted women who were willing to buy any product, no matter how crazy it seemed, that would allow them to look slimmer, to lose weight, and to look more appealing to men.

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Advertisements like this one made women fear being left by their husbands for other women due to their weight. Out of the two women pictured in this advertisement, the one attracting the gaze of the spectator is the slimmer one. She is obviously the object of desire here. This advertisement also presents the myth that women are only beautiful if they are thin as well as the myth that men are only attracted to slim women and would willingly leave a heavier women for a slimmer one. The representation of heavier women in these advertisements made it something that was unappealing and should be changed. 

Following the concept of advertisements used to degrade women, the advertisement pictured above represents the ideology that women are less capable of doing things, like driving, successfully like men. This ad says that it is up to men to fix their wives’ dumb mistakes.

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Even in modernism, despite attempts to break traditional norms, advertisements still show that men have power over women. This advertisement for Gucci Guilty men’s cologne shows actor Chris Evans being lusted over by a random woman. She is seen weakly hung over him, showing that Chris is the one in power here. This power relationship between the two subjects is distinguished between Chris staring straight into the camera while the woman is only focused on him.

In between the era of the 1950’s until the 2000’s, some shockingly racist advertisements such as the one pictured above were published. This advertisement from NK Fairbank Co. depicts a white child asking a black child why his mom doesn’t wash him with Fairy Soap. The semiotics present in this advertisement (as well as in other similar ones) revealed that society had a collective understanding that unlike white children, children of color were not privileged enough to be cleansed with Fairy Soap. This gives into the meaning that black children were dirty just because their mothers didn’t wash them the same way. This instilled negative self image in black children and the black society as a whole.

It’s clear to see that vintage advertisements for beauty were more geared towards white women and the advertisements for almost everything were geared towards white men. However, advertisements produced now seek to promote more equal and inclusive self and societal images. Advertisements such as these pictured below are all-encompassing, including all types of individuals, no matter what size, race, or gender and representing them on a level of equality.

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