The Beauty Standard in American Society
By Ashley Hofmaster
For my theme I have chosen the idea of the beauty norm in our society. I have chosen this theme because I am surrounded by it every day at work. I have worked at a hair salon for over three years and beauty is something most people are focused on while getting their hair, nails, and skin done. I also picked this for my project because it is interesting to see how the beauty norm is changing and how it affects girls while growing up. Young girls are being brought up in a culture that is constantly talking about everyone’s appearance. The beauty norm is very selective and leaves out so many women, which is problematic when looking at it from feminist theory. The mold is getting harder and harder for people to fit, especially with the lack of representation in race, gender norms, and age.
Victoria’s Secret- Tell Me You Love Me Commercial
This commercial is from Victoria’s Secret during the holiday season. In this commercial there is a lack of representation from women of color. This is problematic when women of color see the ad because these products are not being marketed toward them. Victoria’s Secret is marketing to white and light skin females. This ad is also just marketing to a certain body type. Most women have thin waists, nice hips, bigger busts, signs of six-packs; which is not true for all the women who wear their products. The women appear to be young, which defines Victoria’s Secret projects only marketed for a certain age group.
The women in this ad are also marketing to the male gaze. The subliminal message is basically saying to men to show that you love your girl get her Victoria’s Secret lingerie for Christmas. This is also enforces heterosexuality in society by how these women are just appealing to men.
Cover Girl Outlast Lip Shine Ad
This is an ad for Cover Girl’s Outlast Lip Shine featuring Kerri Russell. Kerri Russell is in her late thirties and in other pictures of her online she appears to have some wrinkles and look closer to her age. Cover Girl must have photo-shopped the things that show her real age out of this particular photo to “market better”. When a company does this it shows the people viewing the ad that this beauty is achievable with their products, but it is not because of the photo-shop techniques the company used. It also shows that Cover Girl is speaking to a certain age group of people. This image shows how real beauty can only be achieved if you are in your younger years because wrinkles are not accepted.
Snow White Halloween Costume Image
This is an image of a Disney Princess Costume for Snow White. This image is problematic because it showing a children’s movie character dressed seductively for a Halloween Costume. All Disney Princesses are seen as beautiful, but this image takes the childhood beauty and makes it sexy for teens and adults. A child could see this image and then change their attitude of what beauty is in Disney. Disney has also been problematic for the lack of representation in each of their princesses. The majority of the princesses, including Snow White, are white. This shows younger girls that in order to be a beautiful princess their skin has to be white.
Maybelline Dream Liquid Mousse Commercial
This commercial features Adriana Lima, who is a famous Victoria’s Secret model and a spokeswoman for Maybelline. This particular commercial is selling the Dream Liquid Mousse cover-up. This commercial is problematic because it is showing how the company is trying to market how only people that use their product will have flawless looking skin and then be perceived as beautiful. This shows women that in order for them to be beautiful they need to cover-up their skin with make-up. They say in the commercial it is an “airbrushed look”, which is true because of the editing that goes on behind the scenes. Some women do not understand this and still try to achieve this point of beauty, but it is therefore impossible because it is done with technology. The reality of beauty is being destroyed by advertisements and the market community. “Interestingly, we do not see representations of “real” people in advertisements, but rather we see representations of people who “stand for” reigning social values such as family structure, status differentiation, and hierarchical authority” (Jhally, 200). In this piece, it shows hierarchical authority in terms of race because of the lack of representation. There is a single clip with someone of color. This is a problem because it shows that women of color are not perceived as beautiful by this company.
Tom Ford Beauty Ad
Tom Ford Beauty sells a number of different products to men and women, including a beauty and cosmetics line. Many of the ads shown for Tom Ford Beauty are a man and a woman in similar positions like this. The man’s eyes are always on the woman, and her eyes are always on the viewer. This shows how the gaze is playing throughout beauty images and how the active men and passive women relationship is being withheld in Tom Ford’s ads. This also shows how heterosexual relationships are the only types of relationships acceptable in the beauty realm. Therefore, this image promotes normative beauty values that have been adapted by our culture.
Another problem with this beauty ad is the way the man is posing. His hand seems like he is almost getting ready to strangle the woman. This shows how violence against woman can be shyly promoted within beauty ads. The woman in the image seems to not care this is happening and just giving into him. “Men survey women before treating them. Consequently how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated” (Berger, 49). It seems in his gaze he is surveying her, and by where his hand is placed he is not going to treat her right.
Analysis of the Texts
These images and advertisements work together by showing the beauty standard in American popular culture and society. Each of these texts shows how different brands and companies portray beauty. Within each image there are particular problems that are displayed in the study of feminist theory. Although, these images also share similar problems in the way the message is portrayed. These texts show how the lack of representation in race and age, and how the gaze functions in the American ideal beauty image.
One of the first things to note about all of these texts is how the majority of the women in them are racially white. There is one instance where someone of color is represented, like the quick scenes in the Maybelline commercial, but it lacks the overall representation. This is problematic with beauty because these companies are enforcing through their ads and images that beauty is mainly seen in a white women. “When most black people in the United States first had the opportunity to look at film and television, they did so fully aware that mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy” (Hooks, 108). These images portray white supremacy in the beauty world and leave out people of color. If a person of color is to see any of these images they will have difficulties relating with the women inside them and feel misrepresented in the beauty world.
For a long time beauty has discriminated age. Most beauty images feature a woman who is in her teenage years to her mid-to-late thirties. If there is an image of an older woman, like Keri Russell in the Cover Girl ad, then they are retouched to look younger. This sends the idea that Keri Russell’s age is not favored in the standard beauty norm. The Victoria’s Secret commercial, Disney costume ad, Maybelline commercial, and the Tom Ford ad feature women who look to be about the same age. In the Disney ad it is interesting because this is being marketed to older girls, even though the character itself is marketed to young girls. When girls are shown images of these princesses they see how beauty is supposed to be applied at a young age. The ways ads portray beauty is selective in age, which is wrong.
The gaze is something to notice about all of these images of beauty. All of the women are looking at the audience in each of the images. We can infer that the intended audience is men for the majority of the images as well because of how the women look at the audience. The Tom Ford ad is probably the most striking image of gaze because it deals with the male gaze as well. Bell Hooks states an interesting point in her article titled “The Oppositional Gaze” about how there is power in looking. The man is looking at the woman and the woman is looking at the audience, which shows the power relationship the man has over the woman. Even though the products they are trying to sell in Victoria’s Secret, Cover Girl, Maybelline, Tom Ford, and the Halloween costume are directed at woman, they intended viewer is a male. This is true because of the way the women look at the camera and how made-up they are.
Berger, John. “Chapter 7.” Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin, 1972. 49-52. Print.
Cover Girl. Cover Girl Outlast Double Lip Shine. Digital image. Cool Spotters. N.p., 2007. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.
Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End, 1992. 107-17. Print.
Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” The World and I. N.p.: n.p., 1990. 199-203. Print.
NEW Dream Liquid Mousse – Maybelline Commericial. Perf. Adriana Lima. YouTube. YouTube, 27 Mar. 2009. Web. 06 Oct. 2013.
Poison Apple Body Shaper Snow White Adult Womans Costume. Digital image. EBay. EBay, 2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.
Tom Ford. “Monthly Archives: September 2011.” Salmaglamour. Word Press, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2013.
Victoria’s Secret: Tell Me You Love Me. Dir. Michael Bay. Perf. Adriana Lima. 2011. YouTube.