Women in Advertisements Vs. Women in Real Life: An Analysis On How Female Bodies Are Portrayed In Media

“That will be $58.95”, the petite cashier wearing a bit too much makeup tells me as I take out my wallet. “Wow”, I think to myself, “I know I will regret buying this later…” I close my eyes as I put on the incredibly expensive bra from Victoria’s Secret.  I’m attaching the hooks slowly, not wanting to open my eyes. “Maybe this one will make me look like them”, I think with just an ounce of hope. I open my eyes. No. I still look the same. I will never have the body I should have; the body every model has. But does this mean I don’t have a beautiful body? After all, what type of body really is the ideal for females? When I look around, rarely do I see women with the same bodies as models in advertisements have.  If I were a young woman during the 1950’s, I would have the perfect body. So why isn’t my body considered “ideal” today? After looking at ad after ad, and seeing how models’ bodies have changed throughout the decades, I see a pattern. Not only does the media’s portrayal of the ideal female body change over time, but the expectations become higher as well, thus making it more difficult for women to achieve these desired body images. This, in turn, presents an unrealistic portrayal of female body types in society.

To begin with, we see how much the ideal body image for women has changed over time. In the 1940s and 50s, the desire to have curves and a big bust was very popular for the majority of women. “The 1940s caused a new slimmer body image for high fashion women but still called for a curvier frame for average women” (Redar). For example, Marilyn Monroe was a model and actress, and was considered to be the sexiest woman during her time. People found Marilyn Monroe incredibly beautiful because of her full breasts, very curvy hips, and voluptuous thighs and buttocks. Her body was consistently shown in magazines throughout the 1950s and 60s (Vintage Everyday). Because of her astounding beauty, many females strived to look like her. Marilyn Monroe had the body every woman wanted during this time. As a result, companies began creating products for consumers to use in order to have bodies like Marilyn’s. For example, Poundex, a weight-gaining supplement guaranteed weight gain by consuming their product. They state that being thicker will gain one “pep and popularity” and “puts firm, attractive pounds and inches on the very places you need it!”. In addition, by calling for “1,000 Skinny People”, the creators of Poundex are implying thinner people are unattractive compared to the rest of society, thus they must use their product. This ad is the complete opposite of ads we see today. Rarely do we see weight gaining supplements in stores; shelves are filled with weight-loss supplements.

As the 1960s and 70s approached, society’s view of the ideal female body image changed within our culture (Redar).  Curves became less desirable, and a toned body was emphasized more in models. An example of this is Wonderbra’s ad with Eva Herzigova, a famous model, published in the 90s. In this ad, Eva is wearing nothing but underwear and a Wonderbra (the first push-up bras ever made). The only words in the ad are: “Hello Boys”, implying that by wearing this bra, women will attract more men. This new sexualized image of women required them to be less curvaceous in the hips and bust, but still with large, perky breasts. At the same time, we see in the bottom right corner of the ad that the bra is only available in cup sizes 32-38 A, B, and C. Anyone with smaller or larger breasts are excluded from this new look. The expectation of women’s bodies was becoming higher, making it harder for many women to have this ideal body. It’s physically much easier for women to gain weight, which was desired in the 1940s and 50s than to lose weight, which became the desired look in the 1960s and 70s (Blumenthal). As the 1980s quickly came, anti-aging products, diet programs, breast augmentation, etc., were becoming more and more popular as a result of the females being portrayed in advertisements (Redar). Women are using these surgeries and non-natural methods because the desire to have this new body image is too difficult to do on their own.

Furthermore, as the new millennium passed, the look of females changed to an even higher degree. We see the most drastic change during this time in models posing for companies such as Victoria’s Secret. In the Victoria’s Secret ad for the “I Love My Body” underwear line, we see four incredibly tall, skinny models. They are all looking directly at the camera. No smile, just seductive looks. All four models have the same exact body. They have very thin frames, their abdominal muscles are protruding and their thighs don’t touch from lack of body fat, and they have knobby knees. But, they still have full breasts. The largest words presented in the ad are, “I love my body”, with the “o” in “love” as a pink heart. Victoria’s Secret uses this caption to convince people that by wearing these new bras, not only will consumers love how their breasts look, but their entire body too. But how can consumers love their body if they don’t look as “beautiful” as these models? Not that these models are not beautiful, but the majority of females do not look like them. The way females are portrayed in advertisements such as this one is completely unrealistic from the truth. In affect, this causes women to feel low about their body, and that they are not attractive enough. In reality, consumers should not feel badly about their body images, because they are the ones with the ideal body images of all females, not the models. This most recent ideal image is too difficult for all women to achieve, even with surgeries and other extreme measures taken.

We see how this body image simply isn’t possible for all females to obtain by putting body size into perspective. Many people know about the “Size Zero” fad. It is both controversial and an obsession for some females. To put it in perspective, a size zero is a 23-inch waist. The average waist for the size of a British eight-year old is 22 inches (Kettler). Essentially, the thin models we still see in many ads today have the body of an eight-year old child, but with breasts and longer legs. Clearly, not every woman is born with this body shape. It’s simply not possible for all women to possess this body type.

As a result of the controversy surrounding models being too skinny, there have been campaigns funded by brands promoting the diverse body types women have. The biggest campaign regarding different female body types is the Dove Real Beauty and Self-Esteem Fund. Dove’s goal is to steer away from our culture’s beauty stereotypes and create more self-esteem in women throughout the nation. The campaign uses images of women with various body sizes, skin tone, hair, breast size, etc. One question comes to mind when looking at the campaign Dove has created: why would a beauty product company create a campaign about body image if they rarely use models for their own products? The answer: publicity and loyalty to their brand. “Publishing more content… can be a great way to maintain or even grow existing large audiences”(Libert and Tynski). Although Dove emphasizes the acceptance of the various body types as being all ideal for females, in reality, they don’t care one bit about what “real women” means to females in society; they just want their brand to look better.

Let’s take a look at the ad Dove put on Craigslist for the casting of the campaign photo shoots. We can see a screenshot of the ad that no longer exists on Craigslist provided by the blog “Beutiful”. The ad first mentions that casting will not accept any models or actresses or anyone with a headshot; they are looking for “REAL WOMEN ONLY!”. The only women who can audition have to be white, Hispanic, African American, or Asian. No other races or ethnicities will be considered. In addition, the women “MUST HAVE FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS!”, be “well groomed and clean… Nice Bodies… NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic”, and “beautiful HAIR & SKIN is a MUST!” In short, Dove’s idea of “real women” must be of a certain descent, have flawless skin with absolutely no tattoos or scars, with beautiful hair and skin, and a naturally fit body that is not too curvy or too athletic. This is not realistic at all. Dove considers “real women” to fit into very specific criteria, which not many women pertain. I have tattoos, stretch marks that show on my dark skin, with wide hips, big breasts and moles on my body. According to Dove, I do not have a “real” or “beautiful” body. Once again, the ideal body image for females is incredibly unrealistic, even for campaigns that advocate for all women to be beautiful.

In conclusion, as the decades change, so does the media’s portrayal of the female image. In addition, the expectations of the ideal image become harder and harder to achieve. When these expectations become more specific, fewer women are able to obtain the ideal image.  As a result of this unattainable image, many women begin to gain a lack of confidence about their bodies. These insecurities can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. As a female who has experienced these insecurities and negative outcomes caused by the misrepresentation of females in advertisements, I can say that it is a horrible, depressing experience. Without help from my family, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome this obstacle. That is why it is so important to look out for signs of females suffering from the potential consequences of advertisements, and do something about it. If you are a female going through this, use family and friends for support like I did. In a way, having low self-esteem has been a good thing for me in the long run. With the help from my loved ones, I have been able to put these unrealistic ideal body images into perspective, and realize that very few women actually have these bodies in our society. I have a beautiful body, and so do you.


Beleaga, Theodora. “Wonderbra Man Comes To Cov.” CU Today Coventry University. CU Today, 10 May 2010. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. http://cutoday.wordpress.com/2010/05/10/wonderbra-man-comes-to-cov/

Blumenthal, Brett. “Why Losing Weight Is so Hard and Gaining Weight Is so Easy.” Sheer Balance. Sheet Balance, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Redar, Madisen. “Body Image: Influence on American Women.” PurdueCal, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. http://student.purduecal.edu/~mredar/2200_webtext.htm

Kettler, Wolf. “Physical Requirements For Models, Size Zero And BMI For Models.”Physical Requirements For Models, Size Zero And BMI For Models. Wolf’s Models Guide, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. http://www.wolfkettler.co.uk/models/pro-models/index.html

Libert, Kelsey, and Kristin Tynski. “HBR Blog Network.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/10/research-the-emotions-that-make-marketing-campaigns-go-viral/

Patricia. “Dove: Is It Really a Campaign for Real Beauty? | Beutiful Magazine Online.”Beutiful Magazine Online. Beutiful Magazine, 8 July 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. http://www.beutifulmagazine.com/2010/07/08/dove-is-it-really-a-campaign-for-real-beauty/

Talar, Amanda. “I Love My Body Too (I Just Don’t Write about It).” TimesUnion.com. Times Union, 14 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. http://blog.timesunion.com/amanda/i-love-my-body-too-i-just-dont-write-about-it/20438/

“Vintage Everyday.” : Marilyn Monroe on LIFE Magazine Covers, 1952-1962. N.p., 6 Sept. 2006. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. http://www.vintag.es/2012/09/marilyn-monroe-on-life-magazine-covers.html

“Wanted: 1000 Skinny People”, Company Unknown, Product: Poundex, New York Journal American, 1953. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/mma_MM0731/#info

4 thoughts on “Women in Advertisements Vs. Women in Real Life: An Analysis On How Female Bodies Are Portrayed In Media

  1. Sophia,
    I really just wanted to thank you for taking this view on women’s portrayal in society and the unreal expectations of today. I felt this essay had great movement between paragraphs and ideas. I really wish I could write like this! It was a very informational and relatable essay. Awesome!

    • Thanks Erin! You’re too sweet. I really enjoyed writing this essay (I’m actually sad it’s kind of over…) and one of my goals was to pass on this perception of media’s portrayal to the other girls in this class. I’m glad I could to that for you! It makes me more than happy.

    • I agree with you, beautifully written essay and such a great topic Sophia chose to write on!

  2. Sophia-

    I love your essay, you go girl! It is written flawlessly and with a wonderful message. I think all females suffer from one form of self consciousness or another. Whether skinny, bigger, or small breasts, or no butt, there’s always something we feel isn’t right about our body. I have always felt like I have good self esteem about my body but after reading this I realize that I have had negative thoughts about myself as well throughout my life. We don’t need this and if those thoughts do come into our minds, we need to do what you mentioned and use our loved ones for guidance, because we are harder on ourselves that we should be. I’m really glad you decided to write on this, what a great essay to give to young girls to read, I think it could really help some girls.

    Great job and you said it perfectly, “I have a beautiful body, and so do you.” I love that line!


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