The Hidden Messages of Advertisements: The Pressures of the Superficial
“What is Sexy?” a Victoria’s Secret ad asks me while I watch TV. As I continue to watch, the answer is quickly made obvious when 5'11 super models who weigh less than 100 pounds appear wearing close to nothing, while teasing the viewers with sexual moves and seductive looks. Though this commercial is set up to sell me the latest intimate collection of Victoria’s Secret, to me the commercial sells much more. That is: thin, sex, and an image most girls like me desire to possess. However, the possibility that I will look like those Victoria Secret super models on TV is close to none, forcing me to face reality. Reality meaning a 19 year old girl who has to admit to herself, your face will never be flawless, your body will never be perfect, and you’re bound to encounter a blemish or two even on your good days. So what do I do to dismiss those flaws? I buy Victoria Secret.
This type of response that I made to the Victoria’s Secret ad is largely due to what TV commercials are meant to achieve: to make the viewer react in desire and admiration. At 19, I’m the most vulnerable consumer with these type of advertisements. Being a girly-girl, I live for fashion, make-up, and the latest celebrity gossip. Though normal, I sadly also have a fascination for the beautiful, rich and famous. I don’t relate at all to these people I see on TV, yet to leave my life for awhile and view another’s interpretation of life, gives me an outlet to emotion whether its envy or pity. I too want people to react to me the way I did when I saw those super models seductively selling me Victoria Secret. Like most Americans I want to be envied; as Jack Solomon, author of “Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising,” explains, “the competitive nature of democratic societies breeds a desire for social distinction, a yearning to rise above the crowd” (211).
In America we are taught early on that as American citizens we are born equal. Equal in rights that is, but socially? I think not. If I walked in the room followed by a Victoria Secret “Angel,” most likely my presence wouldn't be quite as heavily noticed as hers. And why? Well, duh, because she’s a supermodel, whose work revolves around spreading the message of sexy and untouchable, while the rest of “normal” people fantasize.
So when you ask me, “Why do I want to be those super models?” Because they’re distinct from the rest of the world by beauty and because they can make people react in awe and jealousy. A trait many of us wish to possess.
These are the very desires advertisement companies feed off of. “American companies manufacture status symbols because American consumers want them,” says Solomon (411). Models that grace the teenage fashion magazines look as if they haven’t even met the 0 mark in pant size. A doctor may suggest that this model is malnourished and in desperate need of help. That may be the case, but advertisements seduce viewers like myself to look at the model with fascination and lust. Take Calvin Klein ads for instance. Kate Moss, a model with the weight of 100 pounds and who’s height measures 5'8 is advertising Calvin Klein’s fragrance for men called Obsession ("Kate Moss' Calvin Klein Ads"). Moss’s face is flawless, and her pose is sensual, but her body is sickly thin. That however does not phase me because though she looks like she hasn’t eaten in a week, the fact that she is posing for a fragrance for men called Obsession gives me the idea that this is the image that men obsess about. These images are the very reason why I look in the mirror, lift up my shirt, and feel the weight of insecurity eating me alive. I don’t think advertisement companies think of the overall message they bring with their ads. Yes Kate Moss is selling a fragrance, but to me, a common consumer, she is selling an image. An image that’s unhealthy but looked at as sexy, and to many, sexy is more important.
As a result of the advertisement schemes TV brings, the way I think has been tainted. What made me, me? TV has always been in my life. It’s always been that window of entertainment that gave me a sense of amusement, relaxation, and an opportunity to see the world without leaving my couch. Unfortunately it also gave me falsified information that I feel I can never reverse. Even today, talking about these social issues, I know being a size 0 is unhealthy. I know that skipping meals so I can emulate the image of a Victoria Secret model is sad. Still, I will always think thin is beautiful, and will most likely live by life thinking Victoria’s Secret is the company to make you look sexy.
Advertising isn’t just selling products anymore, its seducing vulnerable young minds like myself to think in a superficial way. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, authors of “Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising” explain, “Indeed, advertising is not just show and tell. In effect, it’s a form of behavior modification, a psychological strategy designed not only to inform you about products but also to persuade you to buy them my making associations between and certain pleasurable experiences or emotions that may have nothing to do with the product at all-like sex, or a promise of social superiority, or a simple laugh” (144). As a result of the seducing promises of advertising, girls everywhere including myself will always wish to be a size smaller then they are, will always look at Victoria’s Secret models as saints, and drastic measures may occur to reach that desired look. I know the image companies portray on advertisements are hardly true. In reality these models aren’t flawless from head to toe, and being recognized as an image of beauty, I’m sure their insecurities are no different than mine. It doesn’t matter though.
To me, it’s not the girl I want to be, it’s the reaction I want to make people feel when they look at me. It’s the image I want to possess, the response that I want to occur, and the status symbol I want to obtain. If it was sexy to be smart or obese, most likely Americans in time will be snacking on doughnuts and inventing themselves into bookworms. When you think about it, this type of reaction is quite ridicules, just like starving yourself to fit into a certain image is. Problem is, this ridicules thought is reality.
Today, to fulfill my ideal of beauty, I spend money on tanning, my style is very girly yet in some cases seductive, and my favorite thing to shop for is make-up. Some days, I’m probably a walking advertisement. However, my ideas in terms of style and beauty have derived from advertisements. So the fact that im wearing what I see on TV is no coincidence.
Take my makeup for example. I purchase a lot of my cosmetics from the Victoria’s Secret company. It’s not that their makeup works better then other cosmetic lines. Instead, according to Solomon, it’s the image it brings and the hierarchy that goes with it, “The object itself really doesn’t matter, since it ultimately disappears behind the presumed social potency of its owner. Semiotically, what matters is the signal it sends, its values as a sign of power” (412). Victoria Secret sends the image of Sexy and desirable through its models. Wanting that image as well, I buy their products to show that I too can be desirable and sexy.
As long as we are able to fantasize and have the ability to see, advertisement companies will prey upon us. They will give us the message that they can bring our fantasies to reality. These images will then bring insecurities which advertisements companies will in turn feed off of, because “if dream and desire can be exploited in the quest for sales, so can nightmare and fear” (417).
Solomon, Jack. “Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 409-419.
Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. “Brought to You B(u)y: The Signs of Advertising.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 141-150.