The Impact of Advertising on Body Image and Self-Esteem

We’ve all heard that advertising lowers both body image and self-esteem. But, typically, there is not a lot of information as to why those negative results are experienced. I’m sure that it is not because people who create advertisements want you or me to experience negative body image or feel bad about ourselves! Nonetheless, the link persists. Here’s why.

In order to sell products, advertisements strategically create images, that may not be what they seem, in order to provoke emotions, alter beliefs and shift attitudes and perspectives. This results in consumers perceiving a need they may not have had before and that can be met or remedied by the product being advertised.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that many ads fit into one of the following themes:

  • “See how (compared to the model in this picture) you are lacking in (something)? In order to be like this model, you need to improve. Then, you too can be (happy, beautiful, confident, adventurous, whatever the model is). To improve you need (product).”

  • "Our product is for you (parents, teens, kids, animal lovers, old people, cool girls, tough guys, athletes, etc), You are a person who is or could be (happy, safe, loved, popular, adventurous, cool, healthy, successful, etc), You believe in (family life, getting rich, being the best, taking care of yourself, winning, looking good, working hard, having fun, etc). You want (beauty, popularity, power, wisdom, fun, energy, balance, time, health, comfort, etc) therefore you need our product."

The implicit message in these ads is that beautiful people have beautiful lives, or that happiness can be purchased. In imparting this message, media is saying “these things can be yours...for a price.” And the ads are saying it over and over again. The average person sees 40 – 50 million altered images in advertising by the time they are 60 years old – that is hundreds per day! What is not so prominently shown is the editing that goes into promoting these images of perfection. In order to be a part of many advertisements, images are edited to be unreaslistically proportioned, completely symmetrical and literally without flaw.

Many people internalize these messages and spend massive amounts of time, money and energy trying to emulate the images that they see. Given that the images are fake, this is an impossible task. As more efforts are undertaken, the consumer becomes increasingly frustrated as he or she buys product after product and tries diet after diet, all in the hopes of attaining something that never existed in the first place.

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