Written by Irfarina Ahmad Nazli
Much is said about advertising’s powerful and persuasive influence over audience’s attitude and behaviour. Advertisement reflects a society’s aspirations through its socio-cultural narratives with the use of perfected images, creating a desire for people to attain such level of perfection. According to CBS News, a person is exposed to about 5,000 advertisements in a day, compared to just 500 back in the 1970’s. This revelation speaks volume about how advertisements can influence an individual’s perception.
In beauty advertisements, stereotypical depiction of women is especially extensive. The brand ‘Fair & Lovely’ for example, has been propagating fair skin as the ideal beauty and makes it as a factor to attain anything in life. Scholars view this as racism in beauty, simultaneously demoting a woman’s capabilities to solely depend on physical appearance.
This portrayal is not limited to advertisements in India alone. Countries like the United States and Australia too promote stereotypical roles of women, to which traditional roles are favoured, omitting women’s actual potential. Such phenomenon is related to Gerbner’s Cultivation Analysis, to delve on media effects.
Based on the theory, it is believed that heavy media consumption can overwhelm audiences, cultivating normative ideas on existing cultural constructs of body image and gender roles. Reinforcement of this later dominated the media, exerting a hegemonic process.
Advertisement concepts like substance, music and pictures, paralanguage, situation, co-text, intertext, participants, and function are all elements used by advertisers to influence viewers while also manipulating them into purchasing their products.
Summarizing several of Fair & Lovely’s advertisements, it can be said that the women characters in the advertisements were only able to get social approval from friends, family, and society after seeing results of fairer skin from using Fair & Lovely. It shows how women are objectified and this increased marginalization onto people of darker skin. A woman’s capabilities and talent is undermined by her skin colour.
To counter such biasness, people in India have begun to promote a campaign, just last year, called #unfairandlovely to challenge the idea that only fair skin people are considered attractive. Advocates instil the idea that dark skin too, can be beautiful. This new campaign gained BBC News’s attention and sparked a global interest, especially in social media, amassing more than 1,000 supporters whom have posted their pictures on Instagram, as well as being widely debated on Twitter and Facebook.
Image courtesy of BBC News
However, even though awareness is pushed for in this modern era, it is still difficult to eradicate such hegemonic representation of women in advertisements as constant use of it has made it become normalized. Therefore, more scholarly engagement is hoped to be able to turn the table around.
Jaggi, R. (2013). Women in Indian TV Advertising: The Discourse in the Fair & Lovely Ad Campaign. The Journal of Computer Science, Management & Journalism, 8(2), 181-188. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269397254_Women_in_Indian_TV_Advertising_The_Discourse_in_the_Fair_Lovely_Ad_Campaign
Johnson, C. (2006, September 17). Cutting through advertising cluster. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cutting-through-advertising-clutter/
Pandey, G. (2016, March 12). #unfairandlovely: A new social campaign celebrates dark skin. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35783348