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Curvy or Skinny? To Be, or Not to Be?

Published onDec 01, 2022
Curvy or Skinny? To Be, or Not to Be?

Curvy or Skinny? To be, or not to be? The societal standards of beauty have been constantly revised and refined throughout our history whilst women are expected to reshape themselves and their bodies along with it. Conventional stereotypes women fall into, especially regarding body image, are heavily reinforced by influencers who use advertising as an appeal to the consumerist mindset of their impressionable audiences. 

Advertisement for weight gain pill for women to purchase in order to gain wanted curves.

Wate-On advertisement endorsing a tablet that upon consumption would provide wanted weight gain.

“Skinny?” 1966 LIFE Magazine

Wate-On’s Message

Wate-On’s advertisement in the 1966 issue of LIFE magazine presents a degrading message reinforcing the idea that the primary concern for women should be their physical appearance. The advertising industry at this time viewed and reflected conventional gender roles while promoting their products to prospective audiences. The entirety of the ad is meant to appeal to the average feminine housewife, whose role in society was to look pretty, please her husband and bear healthy children. What the ad is promoting is a tablet that is ingested by women to help them gain “wanted weight”. The Wate-On company stresses the need for women to purchase the product by emphasizing that having curves is the only way for women to be desired and approved of by the male gaze. In trying to convince their consumers to buy the Wate-On product, the company shames women for not fitting the mold they deem as attractive, creating insecurities that allegedly only material goods can fix. 

Ethics and Advertising 

Unethical use of power is not uncommon within the loose confines of the advertising industry. Media platforms, specifically advertisements, are capable of echoing unattainable standards of beauty through the products they promote and the tactics they use to do so. Advertising companies act in their own best interest somehow setting universal values for the public regardless of the relevance behind their motives. They send the message to their consumers that it is necessary to assimilate to the standards they set by encouraging material acquisition as the way to attain contentment.

“Many ads present sex stereotypes to do with weakness roles of women suggesting women are constantly in need of alteration or improvement. Many ads portray women as confused, childish, contradictory, or generally in need of help. The message is that sexy women – the type men want– are easily manipulated, vulnerable, weak etc.”1

When crafting their ads industries disregard appealing to people's big picture values and play on our “physical appetites” to persuade us to purchase what they are promoting.2 While most don’t admit to the extent to which advertising affects their decision making and forms their identities, we can see it play out by analyzing the shifts between ads and beauty standards from the past to the present. 

Curvy or Skinny? The Deep Dive Into Constantly Shifting Beauty Standards

While we are aware of the shifting of beauty standards that have occurred throughout our history, what is oftentimes overlooked is that each image or idealized body expectation was created from the male perspective.

“In patriarchal societies a woman's body was historically her strongest survival strategy; male desires and marriageability influenced expectations regarding a woman's size and physical attributes.”3

Advertisements, especially the one produced by Wate-On, reinforced the idea of gender roles as they set and promoted conventional beauty standards formulated by men using women's bodies to satisfy their desires. For instance, historically, corsets were normalized, framing curves on a woman's body as being the norm since they were most desired by men at the time. Now photoshop now has overpowered this standard making skinny the new curvaceous and only further highlighting the lack of consistency within this in industry considering unethical practices.4 

Women’s Body Image

Advertising has trained humans to evaluate themselves by comparing their lives to others especially for women attempting to form their self-concept and identities. Studies have shown that the formation of women's identities, especially in terms of self-esteem, have been highly affected by the media's promotion of a stereotypical level of attractiveness. Women have always been classified within the advertising industry in the domestic sphere, objectified as sexual objects a lot of the time.5 This objectification sends the message to females that their main efforts should be focused on their appearance and that they should leave the rest up to the men. Like the Wate-On advertisement the entire industry has created and reinforced a false narrative for women, showing them in passive roles and objectifying their bodies, leading to the continuation of gender inequality within society. Movements such as Femvertising, female empowerment within the realm of advertising, have aimed to destroy stereotypes of women by giving pro-female messages, ignoring sexuality, and aiming to have women represented in media in an authentic way.6


Historically, stereotypical gender roles have plagued the advertising industry, coinciding with the inequality and differing expectations of varying genders still existent today. Overtime, media, and advertising industries have only grown more powerful, becoming a dominant source of information deemed credible in the hearts and minds of consumers. Public opinion has always been easily swayed by advertising messages, for women's visual appearances especially, thus as times have changed body image norms have shifted as well. The advertising industry exploits to maximize profitability and has left behind a legacy of unrealistic and ever-changing beauty standards women have grappled to meet for generations. The presence of gender stereotypes, unrealistic perfection of female body, and sexual objectification of women is still relevant within the advertising industry today.7

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