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Essay on A Beautiful Ideal: Advertising as Proscriptive, Not Merely Descriptive

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A Beautiful Ideal

Contrary to the popular saying, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty and beauty ideals are delicate representations of their respective societies’ unique social, political, and economic beliefs. Definitions of beauty change throughout history, and across cultural and geographic lines. As a result of the hegemony of the modern male in society, the standards of beauty are often reflected and observed through the objectification of women. While there is no penultimate standard of beauty, an analysis of the representation of beauty exposes beauty ideals as manifestations of advertising and consumer culture.
Advertising directly affects beauty ideals through the reinforcement of gender hierarchies. Mass media and advertising are responsible for the creation of the images that represent beauty standards. As Jean Kilbourne states in her movie Killing Us Softly 3, “To a great extent advertising tells us who we are and who we should be” (Kilbourne). Advertising determines the standards that people strive to achieve in society. Reflecting the male hegemonic standard, a binary opposition is established where men are portrayed as active, strong, controlling, and independent in advertising. In contrast, women are displayed as passive, weak, controlled, and dependent. This opposition is best represented through Sut Jhally’s description of hands in advertisements. He says, “Female hands are shown not as assertive or controlling of the environment, but as letting the environment control them… when women are shown holding something it often looks as if the hand is just resting there…In contrast the masculine touch is powerful and assertive… Instead of tentative the male touch is utilitarian, controlling, and b...


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...ently change, however since their inception they continue to serve as reminders of modern society’s masculine hegemony. Advertising and mass media influence the collective conscience of men and women. The advertisements manipulate individuals into accepting standards that are intrinsically invested in maintaining the male dominated social hierarchy. In turn, a beauty culture emerges that provides the means for individuals to achieve these ideals. Furthermore, the transition of western society into a consumerist culture where individuals define themselves by their purchases only strengthens the existing beauty ideals. Individuals who deviate from the norm suffer. Therefore, it is important to recognize the depth and affect consumption and advertising have on beauty ideals, and more importantly how those beauty ideals affect individuals throughout society.







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