The Constraints on Women

As women, we’re bombarded with messages which tell us what we should look like and how we should act.  American national surveys have shown that half of the nine year olds in the United States begin worrying about their weight.  SlimFast is complicit in contributing to this epidemic.  The company makes drinks which are supposed to replace meals for the purpose of losing weight, according to its advertisements.  SlimFast’s target audience is clearly women since its commercials portray women as the ones aiming to lose weight.  Weight-loss advertisements targeted towards women often lay out common hegemonic standards that women must compare themselves to in order to attain what is perceived by society as femininity.  If you open up a magazine, chances are these feminine standards will be used; an advertisement I ran into last week shall be discussed in this blog.

Refer to this picture throughout the blog.

I found the advertisement to the left in People magazine; it’s a picture of two figures atop a wedding cake, one a man and one a woman.  The scene itself is stereotypically associated with women and goals that they should attain.  Women from a young age are expected to look forward to their wedding day.  This expectation is emphasized through Disney movies and Barbies.  Many toys, such as Barbies typically bought by young girls, have dolls dressed up in wedding gowns.  Disney princess movies focus on this idea of “finding true love” so that everyone can live “happily ever after.” The advertisement I found is not any less complicit in using a wedding scene once again, but this time to reel women into buying their product.  The scene is clearly that of a wedding.  Marriage/family is known to be a lifelong expectation for women, as opposed to getting a head start in a career.  It places the importance of a woman’s life on attaining a partner (a man). This man in the ad fits society’s expectations: he’s taller and gently rests his hand around her shoulder, which exudes not only a sense of protection, but also ownership.  Women are expected to give their all to find a man to marry, while men are expected to provide for their wives once married.  This creates a power dynamic in which men have economic and emotional power in heterosexual relationships; women are there to please.  This is further emphasized in the purpose of this advertisement – a signal boost for a weight loss drink.  Maintaining an ideal weight (or lack thereof) is a conventional way in which women are supposed to please and attract men.

This picture links to an article explaining the unrealistic portrayal of Barbie dolls.

The use of dolls is notable because dolls are often understood by young girls as the ideal form of beauty to which they must conform.  Though it’s convention for these figures to be placed atop wedding cakes, it’s clear that photographing the figures as opposed to real people is purposeful.  Barbies are known to have unrealistic body proportions.  Had they been real people, they wouldn’t be alive because of their unrealistic weight, impossibly thin waist, and lack of ribs.  In this ad, however, the woman doll is almost perfect; the only “issue” is her weight.  Instead of suggesting that she buy a wedding dress that fits her, the advertisement sneakily argues that she should aim for a wedding dress she cannot fit into …yet.  This is conveyed by the rip in the woman’s wedding dress, revealing her thong.  Therefore, the advertisement is arguing that the average woman can be the perfect bride (as shown by the doll) if they lose weight (which is shown by the tear in the dress).  The tear represents the flaw in this ideal woman. Thongs are a sexier undergarment in our society and suggests that this woman is doing what she can to please her man, short of losing weight.  In addition, the text at the end says “Need to lose a little weight before your wedding?”, forcing women to think about their weight and not giving the option for a middle ground.  Had the text said “Would you like to lose a little weight before your wedding?” a woman could easily think that this is not something she would like to do.  The word “need” suggests that there is a weight or size goal she needs to meet and she either has or has not attained it yet.

The use of colors in the advertisement is purposeful.  The white dress often symbolizes purity/virginity.  This contrasts with the red thong peeking through the dress’s tear, repeatedly a symbol of passionate seductiveness.  This demonstrates the expectation for women to be innocent, loyal, and virginal wives to their husbands, but daring and sexy in bed.  Women are supposed to maintain a balance between these two contradictory ideals set by society in order to not experience backlash, such as being called a slut or prude.  The exposure of the thong is meant to be an embarrassment for the woman.  Women are supposed to be sexy, but not in public.  The consequences of being overweight thus extends far beyond having a tear in one’s dress.  In addition, the woman is not even facing the camera.  Her head has a veil on it and all we see is her back and ripped dress. The advertisement conceals her identity and makes the focus of the frame on the tear, exemplifying that her body is what is important in this world.  This objectifies the woman in the photo and emphasizes that in a world with beauty and femininity standards, her accomplishments and personality mean little in comparison.  It also shames the woman, for perversely revealing her thong because she is not skinny enough to fit in her dress.

All of these aforementioned details subtly convey who the target of the advertisement is, the purpose of the advertisement, and common gendered assumptions not only made in this ad, but in society as a whole.  Images like this are pervasive, hence the reason why women are more likely to have eating disorders.  Also, ads like this foster dominance in men and encourage passivity in women, contributing to rape culture/abusive relationships.  Therefore, while the advertisement explicitly forces women to think about their weight, there are underlying implications in this picture women (and men) subconsciously perceive, leading to dangerous societal problems.

Maybe by eradicating the disparate gender roles we set up for women and men, whether it be in beauty ideals or definitions of excellence, we can get one step closer to eliminating these issues.