The campaign theme for this year’s International Women's Day is #BalanceforBetter, a campaign aimed at achieving a more gender balanced world. This doesn’t just apply to work environments but balance in all aspects of life.
With this in mind we wanted to have a look at how women have been perceived by the media throughout the years, how it affects them and share some of the brands that we feel are really trying to push for progress in celebrating women and in turn creating a more gender balanced world.
For what feels like a lifetime, women have been belittled across all media outlets, whether it has been comparing them to men, sexualising their bodies or telling them how they should look, they have forever been put down in one way or another. Brands in particular have been criticising women in order to sell products from as early as the 1950s.
Take a look at some of the ads below to see just how far (or not) we have come.
Brands have been using both sex and women to sell products for years, with the saying ‘sex sells’ being a leading justification and a phrase heard often in the advertising industry. According to research carried out by John Wirtz, an advertising professor at the University of Illinois, it seems that sex, in fact, does not necessarily sell. He carried out a meta-analysis to see how sex in advertising affects our purchasing intentions - the results? Well, there was zero effect. Yes, the men in the study said they liked the sexualised adverts, but simply enjoying the visuals was not enough to make them think about making a purchase.
Sexual objectification of women brings forward a number of issues that are becoming more and more prevalent. Whilst depicting women in such a provocative light on a mainstream scale these views can be taken as gospel and can reinforce bad behaviours towards women to a mass audience – even reinforcing that age old ‘boys will be boys’ attitude, that is starting to be questioned in some media today.
The above example from Co-op really throws the issue of casual sexism into sharp relief, even as recent as 2017. Women have often been depicted as ‘less than’ and adverts have been visualising that for as long as many of us can remember.
Casual sexism is sadly something that the majority have become accustomed to, with it happening so often and so blatantly. Whether it is comparing them to men, in both knowledge and physical ability or telling them they should be in the kitchen, it is high time brands abandoned this narrative.
Ah the age-old fat shaming! Prevalent both then and now. Brands are still putting out incredibly damaging messages - still to this day, but just in a much subtler way, but never the less, it is still happening.
Since when has ageing been frowned upon? Apparently… always!
There seems to be some kind of societal idea that ageing is something women should fear, something that they should stop in its tracks and avoid at all costs, and as the images above show, this attitude has been around longer than we care to admit - even showing women who are not 'aged' by any stretch of the imagination!
Looking back, women and girls have been spoon-fed this ideal from a young age, starting from Disney movies such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella, all of which toy with the same storyline of an older woman stealing the youth from a younger, supposedly “more beautiful” character. Following this comes TV programmes such as Channel 4’s ‘How Not to Get Old’ and BBC’s ‘How to Stay Young’ again promoting this idea that ageing is to be avoided.
The short answer is no. Women are mocked, sexualised and belittled all across the media, and sometimes, by other women. One example that got a lot of attention comes from a Daily Mail journalist who decided to pit two women against each other on the front cover. The cover (below) was labelled sexist, offensive and moronic and quite rightly so!
Instead of commenting on the difficult decisions these female political leaders were actually discussing, the Daily Mail depicted them as nothing more than body parts. The headline is offensive in its own right, but the fact that a woman wrote it makes it all the more distasteful.
Society has always romanticised young, thin women. Of course, it is safe to say, that beauty standards have changed significantly throughout the years, with today’s being some of the hardest to live up to. Not only that, but many are physically impossible without the involvement of a cosmetic surgeon.
With every possible media outlet slapping photos of flawless, skinny models with abs of steel in our faces it is hard not to aspire to. It is no secret that publications retouch their images, but to portray a physical appearance that is mostly unattainable is detrimental in so many ways - glorifying ‘assets’ such as the thigh gap, or super sculpted abs, when in fact these particular things are scientifically impossible for some.
A 2016 survey that was conducted by Girl Guiding revealed some fairly shocking stats on how young girls think and feel about their appearance.
Here are two stats in particular that really stood out:
51% of girls aged 11-16 felt that they should lose weight.
66% of girls aged 17-21 feel that they are not pretty enough.
Now, we cannot thrust the blame solely at the print, online and TV media, as social media also has a role to play in today’s beauty standards, however if statistics such as this are not a reason to start celebrating and advertising more realistic body types, then what is?
One magazine that recently stepped up to champion a body type rarely seen in print media was Cosmopolitan. Plus-size model Tess Holliday graced the cover in a gorgeous emerald swimsuit. To many, this was considered disgusting and was said to be ‘promoting an unhealthy lifestyle’, but to many more, this was utterly life-changing and a real turning point.
Both Cosmopolitan and Tess found themselves at the centre of a media storm following the cover. But for many this was seen as a step in the right direction for women’s magazines in terms of diversifying the meaning of beauty, and Cosmo were hailed for embracing larger bodies.
Cosmo is not the only one to have embraced this attitude, many other reputable brands have followed suit and begun shining a much more positive light on women in attempting to empower them, championing all body types and ethnicities and finally representing women in a way that feels relatable to all.
Missguided began by cutting out the Photoshop process and instead uploaded all product images with no retouches, showing off the models stretch marks. It wasn’t long until customers were praising the brand for representing real women with real “imperfections”.
Missguided subsequently launched the #MakeYourMark campaign starring nine women – models, body-positive activists and bloggers, with the aim to encourage women to love themselves, but most importantly to reject what the world perceives as perfection.
Nike recently released it’s ‘Dream Crazier’ ad narrated by Selena Williams. The advert touches on how women have been looked upon in sport.
If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, we’re delusional. When we stand for something we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just plain crazy.
Dove released a short film back in 2013 in which they aimed to highlight the difficulty women have in recognising their own beauty. They conducted a social experiment where an FBI-trained forensic artist illustrated the women both from the women’s description of themselves and then from the description of a stranger – the results were thought-provoking. You can watch the campaign ad here, and their message 'You are more beautiful than you think' is thrown into sharp relief with the results.
A powerful campaign by Always with the intention of keeping girls confident throughout puberty. The campaign saw a number of videos, all of which flipped the saying ‘like a girl’ from insult to compliment, by showing just what girls can really do, as well as reminding them that failure can be used as fuel to keep going and keep learning.
These are just a handful of many brand campaigns fighting to make a difference to the way in which girls and women are seen, heard and talked about across the media.
It is clear that marketing now has to move at the same pace as society. As of June 2019, adverts that endorse harmful gender stereotypes, for both men and women, will be banned - so it will be interesting to see how these new ASA regulations are tackled by brands. It would be great to see this trend of more compassionate messaging grow and the issue of equality stop being an ‘issue’ and more of a reality - to a point where a simple hashtag like #BalanceforBetter will not be necessary, it will just be.
As a brand you have a responsibility to be fair and inclusive and to make sure that both your marketing and advertising demonstrates this. In order to avoid making big mistakes that could cost your brand reputation, it is key to make sure you are aware of what is going on in society, where the sore points are and what your audience is particularly sensitive to, as considering these points will ensure you are putting out relevant, inclusive and fair advertisements that will attract positive attention from all demographics, engage your audience and increase your brands reputation.
To show your support this International Women's Day to the #BalanceforBetter campaign, you can share your #IWD2019 message on social media, along with a photo of yourself in the below pose, to create a strong call to action to encourage other to take part in the #BalanceforBetter movement! Make sure to also tag @ZazzleMedia on Instagram and Twitter so we can see just how many of you have been inspired to take part by this blog.
Find out more about International Women's Day and #BalanceforBetter here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/
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