Analysis of a 1910 Corset Advertisement and the Harmful Effects of Women's Advertisements
It’s no secret that the modern advertising industry plays on, and contributes to, and profits from women’s insecurities. For example, a woman might have previously not been insecure about her weight. However, once she sees numerous advertisements promoting losing weight and being thin, she might think that her current weight is not ideal. Unfortunately, she might even think that she needs to lose weight and be thin in order to be considered beautiful.
An advertisement in 1910 that was done by the Spirella Company encouraged mothers to buy corsets for their daughters. This advertisement tried to convince mothers that they needed to invest in quality corsets for their daughters because corsets, according to this company, were just as essential as food and exercise to a young woman's development.1 Additionally, the Spirella Company argued that girls needed corsets in order to develop well because as they grow older they don’t have as much time to play and take care of their muscles.2 Therefore, the Spirella Company urges mothers that corsets are necessary to help their daughters' bodies.
This advertisement creates a major insecurity for women. The insecurity that this advertisement creates is for the young women who are being told that their mothers need to buy them corsets because their muscles are not going to be strong or develop properly as they get older if they do not have a corset. Young women would not be insecure about the development of their body and their muscles if they were not told by this advertisement that they need corsets for their bodies to develop well. Another aspect of corsets is that they constrict women’s bodies and force their bodies to be extremely small. Therefore, this corset is also promoting thinness in young girls without directly saying this message.
Creating insecurities for women that were not previously there is prevalent in modern advertisements as well. For example, episode 4 of Killing Us Softly highlights how women are subliminally or outright told in advertisements to lose weight in order to be beautiful.3 An ad featured in this episode said that the woman in the ad would never have been married if she hadn’t lost 49 pounds.4 If women were not being told to lose weight by advertisement companies, then they would most likely be happy with their weight. Around when women are 8-10 years old they seem to be fine with themselves but once they hit adolescence they start to feel bad about themselves and part of this is because of the ads that are pushed at them.5 The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every day and will spend 2 years of their life watching television ads.6 Advertisements constantly forcing down the throats of women that they need to be thin in order to be beautiful is not always explicitly stated in the advertisement. Much more often, there are subliminal messages in advertisements that show women in sexual settings with promiscuous clothing that focus on their bodies.7 The bodies that are used in these advertisements are extremely thin. A quote from Advertising Age in Killing Me Softly 4 states that “Only 8% of an ad’s message is received by the conscious mind. The rest is worked and reworked deep within the recesses of the brain”.8
Unfortunately, having extremely thin models for advertisements is not an accurate representation of the general population that for the most part does not match this body composition. Fewer than 5% of the general population has the extremely thin body type that is displayed in ads.9 Episode 4 of Killing Us Softly emphasizes how unnatural thin model body types are because a model who was used in many modeling campaigns suffered from anorexia and died while she was still modeling.10 Also, the models used in ads are not even real as photoshop is used on all the images.11 Therefore, women are compared to a beauty standard that sets them up for failure as it is unattainable. The American Psychological Association released a report that said that girls exposed to sexual ads at a young age are more inclined to have eating disorders, depression or depressed mood, and low self-esteem. Eating disorders are an issue that is prevalent in our country. Numerous advertisements showing the importance of thinness for womanly beauty are not helping this issue. There would possibly be fewer women afflicted with eating disorders if they were not told by advertisements that the only way to be beautiful, loved, and adored is to be thin.
In the United States, “thinness” is the definition of physical female beauty. Americans usually presume advertisements to exemplify the social norms of society. Therefore, it is common for women to compare themselves to the models that are used in advertisements. To be feminine in the United States, a woman is expected to be attractive, unaggressive, nurturing, and emotional. Furthermore, a focus on physical attractiveness is what makes up the definition of femininity in the United States. Beauty is a social construct. Throughout every time period, the ideal body shape for women has changed. Marilyn Monroe’s fuller body was seen as the ideal body for women in the 1950s in the United States. However, this ideal body was soon replaced by emaciated models in the 1960s.
In order to stop the harmful effects of advertisements, advertisement companies need to stop forcing insecurities onto women. The Spirella Company’s corset advertisement forced the idea on young girls that they should feel insecure about their bodies' development and thus need a corset. Additionally, corsets constrict women’s bodies and would as a result push women to want to and need to be thinner in order to fit into their corsets. Advertisements in the contemporary world objectify women and tell them that they need to be thin in order to be beautiful. Attractiveness is considered the most important part of a woman. Therefore a large emphasis is placed on women to measure up to the models in advertisements. Mainstream media needs to work to have more diversity in models in their body type, race, etc. in order to make women feel more comfortable with themselves. Finally, advertisements need to stop making women feel insecure about themselves because the effects have been and will continue to be detrimental if this strategy continues.