There's a bit of a "chicken or egg" argument about certain marketing tactics. The dual argument will go as such:
"The media just give us what we want. We fear being unattractive or appearing old, and they prey on those already existing fears with weight-loss products and wrinkle creams."
"The media makes us think that being old is a bad thing. By rarely portraying women over 40 in big productions, or women who are more than a size 2, they make us think that being old or fat are bad. We get that message, then advertisements and other marketing tools drill it in by selling us products to solve a non-existent problem."
I admit myself, I am not sure which camp I agree with. Both seem plausible to me. Some will bring up evolution as a way to say that the desire to appear young and healthy (aka, not overweight) is bred into us. The more you look to be between 18 - 35, the more likely you are to be fertile, the more attracted potential mates are to you.
(Of course, I could perhaps buy that for the 'old' argument, but considering overweight and even obese women were literally idolized in the past, I'm not sure about that particular side of the argument. )
I used to have a client who was a big advertising executive. I was always fascinated by his job and we'd spend time in between squat sets talking about his work. He told me one day about one of his biggest challenges in marketing. His company had a client trying to sell a television that was much more expensive and vastly inferior to their competition. Off to a great start, right?
He detailed to me about one common advertising tactic: present your product as a solution to a problem, regardless of if your particular product is actually a better solution, or even if that problem is an actual problem. They made a marketing campaign that promoted this particular TV as stylish enough for your wife to approve putting in the living room, but with a picture great enough to capture every bead of sweat on your favorite quarterback's face.
And, it worked. They sold the majority of their stock and even outperformed their competition - who recall, had a superior product for a cheaper cost.
Does that sound familiar? You can probably think of a few products and commercials you've seen use that same tactic. Here is a completely made-up problem used to sell deodorant for example:
How have we managed for SO LONG to live without a special deodorant to deal with the super-special STRESS SWEAT? That one was just an obvious example. What about cellulite? Another made-up problem with no 'solution' to date (aside from losing overall bodyfat), but that doesn't stop some of the most ridiculous advertisements I've ever seen from stepping in to "help":
Anyway, all of this is building up towards a discussion on an article I found in Self this month titled "Old Talk is the New Fat Talk." I took the liberty to snap a few quotes from it that I found particularly controversial:
I'm going to go ahead and get a couple of issues I have about this out of the way that don't have to do with the content of the article.
- Right before this article there were 5 pages dedicated towards how to look hot after you finish your workout.
- Before that there was an article about how you should really consider using sandwich bread instead of a pita pocket for your lunch so that you could save yourself 50 precious calories.
- And earlier in the magazine was a page dedicated to the #1 exercise to get a flatter belly, as if such a thing could even exist.
Now that doesn't mean the content of this article isn't worth reading. After all, the author of this could have nothing to do with whatever else is put in the magazine. Maybe she's as disgusted with the surrounding content as I am - who knows? But don't the editors see the irony? In reality it probably doesn't matter too much. Just something to point out.
But let's take a look at some of those quotes:
"Now women are viewed as sex objects for a much greater portion of their life span."
Why is that? Is it true that in the past when you hit your 50's you went from sex-object to dignified elder? Or did you simply drop off the face of the earth, as many women in entertainment do now? Which is better? Here are some stats I took from a documentary (Miss Representation - starting at 0:58:00). I tried to find their source but couldn't - I've emailed them to try and get where the stats came from, but here is what they claim:
- Women in their teens, 20's and 30's comprise 39% of the population.
- Yet, they are 71% of female characters on television.
- Women 40 and older are 47% of the population.
- Yet are only 26% of female characters on television.
"Thanks for that Madonna."
Is it that Madonna has somehow retained all of her youth naturally, or has she had to use a liberal amount of photoshop in her promotions to appear young so that we will still recognize her talent? Is it really her fault?
"Here's the deal: You're gonna obsess, whether it's about gray hair or cellulite or something else entirely."
Why would you even write that? Why on EARTH should you just accept that you're going to obsess about your appearance? Doesn't that sound like something you should, I dunno, work on?
Here we have a magazine that perpetuates our obsession, attempting to normalize that obsession as though it's just human nature to worry about whether you have thighs that touch or not, or whatever the latest body-flaw obsession is fashionable these days.
"...if you truly don't like the way you look or feel, use your vanity to inspire you to take steps towards a healthier life..."
What if you take those steps towards a healthier life and still don't end up as the perfected ideal you are presented, which is likely going to happen? You're perfectly healthy, but still have cellulite, as normal human beings tend to have. According to Self, whelp, you're just doomed to a life of fruitless obsession.
So, Self, I get what you're trying to say. It's unhealthy to obsess over these pointless little things. It's normal to age, it's normal to have cellulite. But apparently they have reached the conclusion that worrying about these things is simply an inevitable consequence of being female.
They do a pretty good job of perpetuating that.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. What really causes these impossible ideals? Do marketers use liberal photoshop because if Madonna didn't look picture perfect we wouldn't buy as many of her albums? Or were we conditioned by the same marketers to expect that ideal so that the idol in question seems more awesome to us?
Are we given wrinkle creams because we inherently don't want to look old, or are we told not to look old and thus given wrinkle creams? Does it matter which came first? Should it make our strategies for overcoming this different? What do you think?