Advertising: How it Affects the Minds of Young Girls

Advertising that displays an idealized, thin model works on the mind of women to make them want the product and desire to be the woman in the advertisement, according to a new report from the University of Manitoba and University of Michigan.

Girls need to realize that what they see on television and in magazines has been dramatically altered.

“There’s still an avalanche of negativity pulling down our girls and young women; according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, roughly 70 percent of girls in middle and high school, and even as young as fifth grade, say idealized images of women in magazines guide their sense of the perfect body,” Stacey Rowcliffe, women’s advocate and author of “Female Fusion: Different Flowers from the Same Garden,” said.

Rowcliffe reports that an international study discovered that when we see certain images on television and in magazines, we start comparing ourselves to the people in the images.

“Unless we are educated otherwise, it tends to have a negative effect on our own internal self-esteem when we start comparing ourselves to other people,” Rowcliffe explained.

The study found that more than 60 percent of girls will avoid an activity because they feel bad about their looks and 23 percent won’t go to a beach or pool because of an issue of how they perceive themselves.

How can we fight this? Education. Through Rowcliffe's series of self-esteem workshops for fourth to seventh graders, she strives to undermine the effects such media has on young girls.

“In the workshops I am doing, I am trying to teach them to be realistic,” she declared. “First of all, don’t compare yourself to what’s in the magazines. You are beautiful the way you are, and build off who you are, because that is special and unique. If you are going to compare yourself to something, and I recommend you do not, but if you are, compare yourself to something that is real or realistic.”

During these workshops, she discovered lack of education was key. Many girls were unaware of how these advertising images can be manipulated and Photoshopped into a highly idealized version.

“It does have a negative effect if they don’t realize the reality of what they are seeing,” Rowcliffe explained. “They are always going to have that stuff in magazines, that stuff that is out there, but once you realize how to look at it in a healthy way, and establish that you yourself are beautiful and learn not to compare yourself and realize what you are looking at may not realistically be what anyone could look like.”

In the sessions, she shows the attendees a video of a model coming into a shoot and showing the process of what that model goes through to look that glamorous and beautiful. Girls learn how they modify images, perhaps lifting an eyebrow or removing blemishes on the skin to make it look perfect.

“They are trying to sell something, so they are going to be making it as pleasing as they can, so that is what they are doing here,” she tells them.

Advertisers work on our minds because we want to look and feel good, Rowcliffe said. At heart, they are trying to sell a product. Girls may see a mascara ad, say, and want long eyelashes like the model has. But in most of these ads, the models are wearing fake lashes. Thus, education means letting the girls know that it is not truly possible to have lashes that look that way.

“Certain things are expected of us. We learn at a young age that being beautiful is an important part of a woman’s identity,” Rowcliffe said. “Advertising ties into that, that need we are told we need to be this person … so that is how it attracts women. But I think that women on their own can realize, their own growth and education, that beauty is not just surface. There is another layer of beauty, the deeper part of who you are and how you conduct yourself … So really educating yourself and understanding what beauty really is.”

“As we get educated, we are more realistic,” Rowcliffe maintained. “We are more aware. So when we look at something, we are not as affected as we used to be.”

The girls are encouraged to create a “boost book”: a book that boosts their self-esteem when they are feeling down. They fill the book with things that make them feel good.

“They are going to have rough days when they don’t feel good about themselves. This book is meant to be theirs, something they have created that they can go to and either write in or look at just to boost themselves back up,” she said. In her book “Female Fusion: Different Flowers from the Same Garden,” women share their stories for the benefit of others, detailing how they overcame challenges in their lives. Rowcliffe even interweaves stories of women in the Bible and celebrity tales.

“Surround yourself with women who are going to positively support you and uplift you,” she advised. “Find women who are really positive and uplifting in your life, that truly have your best interests and are supporting you. Then you can talk through what you are going through and work through it to connect with people, be more positive and build bridges instead of walls.”

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