KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This week, FOX4 is challenging everyone to be authentic with our #RealMeKC series. But it’s hard to do that when decades of advertising have told us we’re not enough, that we need that hair product, that perfume or that face cream, to reach the new standard of beauty.
If history tells us anything, the power of marketing is something even our grandkids will have to deal with.
Time is money, and the hours you spend scrolling social media or shopping online accumulate. The data company Statista says the United States is the largest advertising market in the world, bringing in $240 billion in 2019. Dr. Jenny Lundgren, provost and professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, says while those ads churn the economy, the “image” they oftentimes promote can affect our perception of beauty.
“Those industries that have been driven by economic factors have in many ways without women’s awareness convinced them that they need to change to fit into a certain mold,” Lundgren said.
It’s a strategy that dates back to the 1940s. Long before social media gave us a platform to share pictures of our own life, photographers captured the essence of American culture for “Life” in magazines, reflecting men and women’s changing roles.
During World War II, images of Rosie the Riveter inspired women to join the war effort and be the breadwinner, sparking a new age of feminism. But that freedom came at a price – too expensive for the economy. Men returned, images of the independent Rosie disappeared, and the obedient “housewife” replaced her.
In Naomi Wolf’s book “The Beauty Myth,” she writes:
“In the face of a great social upheaval that was giving women responsibility, autonomy, state-run child care, and good money, the advertisers needed to ensure that there would be a market left for their products. The magazine needed to ensure that their readers would not liberate themselves out of their interest in women’s magazines.”
More than 70 years later, the ‘’housemaker’’ ads have faded, and a bold new look has taken over.
Salome Wilfred is a doctoral student for clinical psychology at UMKC. She says it’s impossible to avoid today’s beauty standard.
“I think if you look at any social media, any Instagram, the models that are usually seen as beautiful reflect that thin body ideal. on top of the thin body type, lighter hair tone, straighter hair, specific curl pattern,” Wilfred described.
“So when you’re constantly being fed that through Instagram, through television, through movies, it’s natural whether you intend to or not, internalize that whether you’re black or white. And perpetuate that through your actions.”
A recent Forbes report says Americans are exposed to up to $10,000 worth of ads every day, making them an inevitable part of our daily lives.
But the image many women, and men, try to emulate is someone who’s not even real. In an interview with Time in 2018, actress Blake Lively said 99.9% of celebrity images are photoshopped. Lauren Pusateri, a professional product photographer in Kansas City, says getting that perfect look takes weeks of planning, a team of people and tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.
“If you flip through a magazine and there might be an editorial production of a movie star or something and maybe they’re shot inside and outside,” Pusateri explained.
“There was somebody who scouted those locations, there was somebody who worked on wardrobe for multiple weeks. There were people up top, saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that. There are just so many people who have eyeballs on that to make sure it looks as good as it possibly can.”
It begs the question: If all women are the target demographic, why don’t more ads represent all women? Some brands have done this successfully.
The most well-known might be Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign that launched in 2004, promoting self-confidence in women of all shapes and skin colors. Sales for Dove jumped $2.4 billion to $4 billion over the next 10 years, and Dove became the number one preferred soap brand in the United States.
And although more companies are promoting beauty equality, there’s no escaping their bottom line.
“I do think there will be changes, but I think if you just look at history, which is typically the best predictor of future behavior for people or societies, there’s always going to be that competition and that sense of pressure and also the economics behind it. Someone is always trying to sell something,” Lundgren said.
In another #RealMeKC story, FOX4 chats with local influencers about the power of social media, and how they’re using their platform to make positive change.