Thursday, May 22, 2008

Behind the Scenes at Cosmopolitan: Mixed Messages (Blog Post #2)

In this day and age, if you open up a magazine geared toward young females, it is likely that the first page will be an advertisement. The second page, the third page, and the fourth page should be advertisements as well. The trend probably continues until the table of contents is located. In one particular Cosmopolitan magazine, there was page after page of advertisements, until I finally found the list of articles on page 23 (not that the articles are free of marketing and bias either). Every single one of the advertisements sold either a make up product, clothing line, skin care product, or hair care product. There is no wonder that women in society are so obsessed with looking good. Not only are the advertisements selling products and putting beauty on a pedestal, but they are also sending conflicting messages to women, about who they should become, and how they should act. “Blend in and stand out” is the catch line for one make up advertisement. “Sexy vs. Skanky” is the headline of another article, which tells women what is “acceptable” and what is “over the line”. The content of magazines and their advertisements send several conflicting messages to girls about beauty and behavior and pressure them to fit into the “ideal” female mold, which is unattainable.

An article by Higginbotham helps portray the messages that magazines like Cosmopolitan are sending, “Several months’ worth of Teen, Seventeen, YM, and Sassy left me with a blur of contradictory messages about how to navigate life as an adolescent girl. The sum of it is this: be pretty, but not so pretty that you intimidate boys, threaten other girls, or attract inappropriate suitors, such as teachers, bosses, fathers, and rapists; be smart, but not so smart that you intimidate boys or that, god forbid, you miss the prom to study for finals; be athletic, but not so athletic that you intimidate boys or lead people to believe that you are aggressive, asexual, or a lesbian or bisexual; be happy with yourself, but not if you’re fat, ugly, poor, gay, disabled, antisocial, or can’t as least pass as white (Higginbotham, 1996, p. 96).” Although the collage that I have created does not show every single one of these conflicting messages, I tried to incorporate as many as I could. One advertisement bears the words, “Philanthropist or sex kitten? Now you can be both,” telling girls that they should be sexy, but smart. Another favorite is the advertisement for cologne, with a man, that bears the slogan, “Do you respond when called upon?” This advertisement sends the message that women should be submissive. However, most other advertisements in this magazine encourage women to “make an entrance” and “look downright dangerous”. Another contradicting message is that, even though most of the magazine sells beauty products and gives beauty tips on how to stand out, one clothing advertisement displays a quote, “I love wearing this dress like this because it takes no effort. You just put it on, and you automatically look pulled together.” So even though Victoria’s Secret tells you that “the sexist women in the world wear Very Sexy makeup” another advertisement tells girls that all they need is a “little black dress.” It is no wonder why females are never satisfied with their appearance. The ideal female is impossible to attain.

Although the ideal “look” is impossible to attain, females do not know that. They see advertisement after advertisement and article after article of women who appear to be “perfect”. What these same women do not know is that the models are airbrushed and photo shopped to look this way. Companies are trying to sell their product by showing their audiences that the product will make them look “perfect”, the way they want to look. One advertisement for Diet Coke, actually digitally created a woman to advertise that Diet Coke is apparently like a “diet” and will help women become slender. These images are not real, and certainly not possible. Hesse and Biber describe in chapter three of their book how the situation works. “Most women feel their bodies fail the beauty test, and the American health and beauty industry benefits enormously from continually nurturing feminine insecurities. If women are busy trying to control their bodies through dieting, excessive exercise, and self-improvement, they are distracted from other important aspects of selfhood that might challenge the status quo." In the words of one critic, "a secretary who bench-presses 150 pounds is still stuck in a dead-end job; a housewife who runs the marathon is still financially dependent on her husband. (Hesse & Biber, 2007, p. 63)" These advertisements are not helping women, but harming them instead. Women are being sucked into a glamorized world where they try to become someone who they are not. As a result, the rest of reality may fall apart because the quest for such beauty is endless and threatening. In an advertisement for sexual lubricant, the slogan reads, “The best thing to happen to sex since love.” In a world ruled by appearance, love does not exist because women have morphed into sex objects. Another advertisement reads, “Tantalizers. Finally, faking it is better than the real thing.” This encourages women to be someone they are not because it is better. There are also pictures with a man with multiple girls, showing that the heteronormative lifestyle is no longer “in”. These messages are not positive and are harmful to women by sending them on a downward spiral to dissatisfaction.
Hesse & Biber, (2007). The Cult of Thinness. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Higginbotham, A. (1996). Teen mags: How to get a guy, drop twenty pounds, and lose your self-esteem. Learning Gender, 93-96.

1 comment:

Jessiebg said...

The collages turned out great.
Your thesis is also on target with the readings you cited and the aim of the post based on the title.
The 2 readings just need to be cited in MLA format!