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Women and Advertising — Low Self-Esteem is Good for Profits

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By Genevieve Morse, Shop Steward, Classified Staff Union / MTA (personal capacity)

Every day, we’re all bombarded with images soliciting us to buy products. Companies spend millions of dollars during the Super Bowl for a 30-second ad alone. Cars, beer, beauty supplies, or electronics, if you can name it, you need to buy it. Big business wouldn’t spend money on these ads if they couldn’t affect our world-view. This has created shocking consequences for women of all age groups.

“My breasts hadn’t grown since I was 16,” says Powers, who underwent cosmetic surgery two days after her 18th birthday. “I was a 36AA and my mom and dad knew I was very self-conscious.” These are the reasons she wanted breast implants for her high school graduation gift.

It isn’t an accident that the beauty supply and plastic surgery industries are booming. The media presents an ideal that is not only difficult to achieve, but legitimately impossible. With techniques like airbrushing in photos, photographers can instantly erase any “imperfections.” The cosmetic and diet product industries are assured growth and profits at the expense of women’s, and increasingly men’s, self-worth.

The Quebec Action Network for Women’s Health reports that women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy beauty products, new clothes, and diet aids. It is estimated that the diet industry alone is worth anywhere between $40-100 billion (U.S.) per year selling temporary weight loss (90-95% of dieters regain the lost weight). Research also shows that exposure to images of thin, young, air-brushed female bodies is linked to depression, loss of self-esteem, and the development of unhealthy and erratic eating habits.

Instead of women working together to fight against this, the beauty industry creates competition between women. Women learn to compare themselves with other women, and to compete with them for male attention. Jean Killbourne, creator of the series “Killing Us Softly,” emphasizes that the focus on beauty and desirability “effectively destroys any awareness and action that might help to change that climate.”

Millions of women suffering from depression, lack of self-esteem, and eating disorders is not just a personal problem, but effects society. These problems are fundamentally caused by an alienating culture and psychology created by capitalism’s need for profits. Everything becomes a commodity to be bought and sold.

The corporations in the diet and beauty industry have no interest in changing their marketing of products. They have to make women feel insecure to continue making profits. As Karl Marx pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, capitalism needs “a constantly expanding market for its products.” Capitalism will stop at nothing to make profits, even if it means depriving women of dignity and self-respect.

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