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Unrealistic Advertising Images Cause Negative Body Image Issues in Teenagers

Shreya Mehta
Ms. Park
English 106I
April 9, 2015
Purdue University

Authors Note
Shreya Mehta, English 106I, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Shreya Mehta, Krannert School of
Management, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47906
Contact : mehta54@purdue.edu


Advertising has a very persuasive nature and can have both positive as well as negative effects.
However, the negative effects of advertising overshadow the positive ones. One of such effects is
health related issue in teens which are an indirect result of advanced editing, constantly
bombarding teenagers with a certain ideal body type. Therefore, in order to show the
ridiculousness of the current acceptable norms of beauty, the argument for my paper is how do
the unrealistic advertising images cause negative body image issues in teenagers and what are the
possible solutions to this problem. Furthermore, the purpose of my paper is to find solutions and
all the negative effects that teenagers face due to false advertising of body images and excessive
use of an 'ideal' body image. Finally the goal is to convince my audience to stand up and call for
action against such advertising immediately in order to change the views of the society and be
more accepting of the way different people look.

Key Words: Advertisements, Teenagers, Food Disorders , Insecurities.


The Effect of Advertisements on Teenage Psychology
Teenagers constitute a very big part of the market and they are highly impressionable.
This fact makes this market segment highly viable as advertisements tend to have a very strong
impact on the developing teenage brains. Their understanding of the media and its effects is
limited due to their immature nature. The work of marketing organizations shows that teenagers
are extremely important to companies marketing. They have the power to influence teenagers
families to change their spending patterns and brands. Being a teenager myself, Ive grown up
with insecurities about my body and have had friends who starve themselves in order to achieve
a perfect size zero. These insecurities have been impacted by these stereotypes the media creates.
Furthermore, these companies think that promoting such unhealthily thin models as the
unattainable idea body type is what increases the product consumption. Everyone, including you
must have looked at an advertisement or a photo in the magazine/newspaper at some point in
your lifetime and thought about how it would feel to have the perfect body shape. Therefore the
aim of this paper is to find out whether these unrealistic advertising images cause negative body
image issues in teenagers and what are the possible solutions to this problem.
Research Review of Negative Effects of Advertising Ideal Body Images
In order to be successful at achieving these marketing goals, the media companies design
advertisements that portray certain images to their young and impressionable minds and take
advantage of their nature to believe everything that the media projects at them In an article by
Eric Wilson (2009), he uses examples of marketing by using heartless retouching (Wilson, E .
2009. p.1) that plays a big part at how females are being visually defined today. Such
advertisements are aimed at teenagers by media and can be seen in the use of fifty percent of the


space in teenage magazines for advertisements. Commercial breaks on popular teen television
shows are also constantly used in order to target teenagers. These advertisements impact the
teenagers psychologically, that is on individual basis as well as at a group level. At the individual
level, the impact on teenagers includes influencing the buying decisions of the parents and
family while at the group level these effects are seen in terms of the change in attitude, thinking
and actual behavior of the teenagers. Due to the group impact of these advertisements, teenagers
who think that a particular product is good, further influence other teenagers to buy those
products. Clay, Vignoles and Dittmar (2005) have also found similar results. Their research has
shown a direct correlation between body image and thin ideal images that are portrayed in media
and advertising. According to these researches, the superficial and unhealthily thin models
influence the teenagers into thinking that this is what male or female self worth should be based
upon. As a result of which, a decline in self esteem and body satisfaction is seen.
Moreover, there were some similarities seen in an article by Harriger, J.A., Calogero,
R.M., Witherington, D.C., and Smith J. (2010). We see that in particular advertisements relating
to fashion, beauty and lifestyle have the most powerful effect on how teenagers think that they
should look. Teenage girls get heavily influenced by the advertisements shown in womens
magazines as they are their source for information pertaining to the latest in beauty products and
fashion accessories. Over the years advertisements have progressed towards increasingly thinner
models, both male as well as female. Advertisers believe that these so called ideal looking
models sell products. Teenagers are insecure about the way they look and advertisers target this
insecurity by bombarding them with images of perfect looking models which makes them
dissatisfied with their own body shape. This results in the increase in psychological disorders in
teenage girls. Similarly, in an article about Body Image and Advertising, (2000), it was seen


that promoting such unhealthily thin models as the unattainable ideal body type is what increases
the product consumption.
Furthermore, in an article based on by Maria Chang (2009), talks about the unattainable
concept of beauty using images of unhealthily thin models which are further air brushed and
photo-shopped, impact teenagers the most and they are constantly striving to achieve these body
ideals. Cynthia Hanson states that,Advertisers should determined in their use beauty stimulates
or manipulates consumers...this research and regulatory activity may show that the use of more
accurate and representative portrayals of women in advertisements will help alleviate this
problem, particularly for younger females who are struggling with new physical and
psychological identities as women (as cited in Chang,(2009) p. 150).They are constantly trying
to fit in even though there are psychological dangers of trying to attain these stick thin figures.
Even teenage boys are feeling pressurized. Today media is targeting males as having a lean and
muscular physique and a disorder called exercise bulimia has emerged which involves
excessive working out and exercising. The increase in eating disorders, use of steroids and
cosmetic surgeries are also directly a result of the images shown in the media. According to an
article by Naomi Weinshenker, (2014), such a negative effect of advertisements seems to be
spreading amongst the pre teen girls as well. They assert in their article a quote by 12 year old
girl, that The best body is the one that embraces ribs, skin and bones, and that's the only thing I
care about. (as cited by Weinshenker, (2014), p.1). This only proves to show how much change
is needed in not just our advertisements but the way our society accepts a particular ideal body
Call to Action


With the secondary research that Ive conducted over the past couple of weeks, I have
found that this in fact is a serious problem in our society. Year after year, this issue seems to be
spreading, as there has been an increase in number of pre teens as well as male teenagers who
have been effected by such advertisements. However, as my interviewee, Hannah pointed it out,
that our society tends to ignore and overlook this problem by treating it lightly. With her first
hand experience in this issue, she suggests that one of the solutions is to Take the Risk. It
means that the companies need to take a risk and believe that their products will sell even if they
do not stick to the current norms of the advertising world. In order to overcome this problem,
there are solutions which involve increasing awareness of the electronically altering procedures
used in these images. In support of my argument, many researches have proposed solutions to
solve this matter. (Chang, M (2009): Harriger, J., Calogero, R., Witherington, D., & Smith, J.
(2010): Mehairi, S. (2013)). Firstly, one of the solutions is to create laws that can be made
mandatory for advertisers to specify the alterations made regarding the body shape and size in
any particular advertisement or image. These laws should be taken into action along with the
relevant advertisements immediately. Secondly, it is imperative for the parents and the
community to realize how such advertising is having adverse effects on the minds of their
children. The psychological health of our future generations is much more important than the
sale of consumer products and efforts should be made by the media companies along with our
society immediately.



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Chang, M. (10 Aug 2009) Walking a Thin Line- celebrities, mass media and eating disorders.
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Clay, D., Dittmar, H., & Vignoles, V. (2005). Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent
Girls: Testing the Influence of Sociocultural Factors. Journal of Research on
Adolescence, 15(4),451-477. Retrieved March 24, 2015, from

Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising (2008, December 11), Healthy Place. Retrieved
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