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Every day, consumers are exposed to thousands of advertisements that have communication messages, created to engage with the consumer’s needs and deliver an effective message. Thus, the characters in the advertisements need to be relevant to the target consumer and should add to the effective persuasion of the advertising message. The media, especially advertisers, have long used beautiful women as an important visual (non-verbal) element to attract viewers and sell products.
Glamour Magazine’s October 2017 issue provides ample evidence to this point. The purpose of this study is to analyze the portrayal of women, and how racial demographics is reflected in American magazine advertisements. The main focus of this study is to see if there exists a common theme across the advertisements in portrayals of women’s body types, expressions, and poses. Another focus is on the distribution of Caucasian and African-American women in the advertisements. RQ1: In the magazine’s advertisements, how are women portrayed in fashion and cosmetic advertisements? RQ2: Is the representation of Caucasian American and African American in the magazine advertisements proportionate to their representation across all of America’s adverts?
The magazine chosen for the content analysis is the October 2017 issue of Glamour, a magazine that translates style and trends for American women. To assure that subsequent findings were representative of Glamour magazines in general and not typical of just one magazine in particular, this specific issue was randomly picked out from the twelve other issues in circulation in 2017. A two-stage sample procedure was employed. First, those advertisements which portrayed at least one woman were retained, excluding advertisements without women or only women body parts. In addition, repeated advertisements were not selected for the sample. In the second stage, all the chosen advertisements were enumerated and a probabilistic simple sample procedure was undertaken. Finally, 50 amongst 80 advertisements were selected.
For the first research question, women in the advertisements are categorized into two groups according to their positioning and actions in different ads: active and passive. The active category includes the models doing the following actions: moving around or in-motion, long shot or full-body exposure angle, and varied facial expressions. On the other hand, the passive category includes the models being either inactive, medium shot or close-up shot, and stiff facial expressions. The coding process specializes in advertisements that promote fashion and cosmetics; therefore, it excludes advertisements of feminine hygiene and health aid products.
With regard to the second research question, women in the advertisements are also coded into two distinguished groups according to their skin color: Caucasian women (with white, pale complexion) and African-American women (with darker, tanned complexion). The categorizing process excludes women of other races, such as Hispanic Americans and Asian-Americans, as these women’s race and ethnicity were difficult to ascertain through pure visual observation and the sample does not satisfy the research question’s goal.
The analysis revealed that 34 out of 50 selected samples were advertisements of models inactively promoting their designated products. For instance, 15 advertisements portrayed their women as active and lively. The advertisements showed the women from the collarbone-up, and the models gazes straight into the camera lens with either an intriguing or mischievous look. All of these advertisements were promoting skin care and makeup products; therefore, these women, with their feminine touch, either stroke or touch themselves or objects (the beauty product). An example to consider is the series of six L’Oreal facial products. The shots are similar in the sense that they enhance the beauty of the model upon wearing the product.
By using a close-up shot, the women are portrayed to fully express their beauty, yet they remain inactively still, waiting for their face to be captured. The models all appear to be either sitting down or standing idly while making minimum movements, supporting the idea of them being passive. Moreover, ten of the advertisements were either full body shots or low-angle shots of women engaged in different activities. The most prominent feature of these ten ads were these active women. For instance, the models are positioned standing, facing toward the camera with their eyes either looking straight or avoiding eye-contact, projecting the notion of being in-motion.
The women in these ads are labeled as being actively engaged with the product they are advertising and establish a genuine connection with female readers and their desirability. However, there remains an unidentifiable case with the Coach 1941 ad on page 8-9. In the advertisement, the model appears to be wearing sunglasses, which makes it impossible to categorize correctly according to the code established; however, the still pose combined with the medium shot subjects her to being passive. It can be drawn from the findings that 75% of the advertisements in this particular issue portray women as being passive rather than active, and even while being portrayed engaging in active activities, certain elements of inactivity can still be found.
The second research question concerns the racial representation of Caucasian and African-American women in the magazine. Overall, of the 50 advertisements analyzed, African Americans appeared in roughly 10 ads, accounting for 20% of the total advertisements analyzed. Although White and Black women elicit equally positive connotations about the product, it is straightforward that White women are more dominant and present in this particular issue. Representation within advertising has been a controversial issue regarding its inaccurate portrayal of race, especially considering the prevalence of underrepresentation in magazines with a predominantly White readership like Glamour.
It is positive to say that ad content is moving away from classic stereotypes of passive women, which is partly driven by the brands and by American advertising agencies; however, it will be long until active portrayals become commonplace. According to the data gathered, roughly two-thirds of the women in the advertisements are portrayed as being passive, thus, the most harmful ads are those in which women are featured either to fill in the background of the scenery or to show off their beauty. The findings suggest that women are still embedded in the conventional norms of inactivity and sexual appeal.
In the Athleta advertisement, a strong, middle-aged woman is shown standing and proudly facing the camera, wearing a sports bra, exposing a tattooed chest. The woman projects herself as either being healthy or heading toward a healthy lifestyle. However, even though she is modelling for a brand that promotes performance and technical features for active women, she is photographed in a passive way for there is no evidence of actual exercising happening. In the case of the Fabletics advertisement, the model is shown wearing vibrant sports clothing; however, her hands are placed on the background loosely, giving off the idea that she is just there for decoration or to blend into the background. That being said, even in these athletic advertisements, women are portrayed as highly passive and women with this kind of appearance are often associated with objects and solely for commercial purposes.
The fragmented display of female body parts and the exposure of women’s bodies in advertisements greatly promote the objectification of their bodies. Although since the post-feministic 1990s, advertisers have been attempting to construct multiple possible identities for women with the aim of changing their stereotypical image and enhance spending power, in their traditional exhibitionist role, women are still simultaneously displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness rather than to promote activeness.As the majority in the United States, Caucasian Americans have been known to be overrepresented in advertising spectrum as well. This race bias is subconsciously aggregated through corporately funded magazines and advertisements. In this Glamour issue, Caucasian Americans occupy a significant overrepresentation of about 80% of the advertisement’s images, which is somewhat similar to the White and Black ratio in the American adverts market.
According to Barker and Joiner, “the presence [African-Americans accounted for was] 17.7% … in 2000 editions of news magazines” (B&J 5). It is possible to infer from these findings that the representation of Caucasian Americans and African Americans in this edition of Glamour are proportionate to the overall distribution of racial groups in America’s adverts. However, the precision and accuracy of the statement is only applicable in the year 2000; thus, the data could have changed by now. Yet, the lack of true integration of black and white imagery in general media reflect disenfranchisement of African Americans in the populace.
In the Maybelline New York advertisement on page 72-73, there is only one African American model of the six models. She is positioned behind the other White models away from the public eye with most of her body covered by the others, leaving only her white crop tank top visible, yet the color creates a contrast between her tanned complexion and how white her clothes are. This may be due to the fact that the editorial staff of Glamour is predominantly White. White editors may not consider issues of diversity as instinctively or recognize misrepresentations as easily as might editors of color. On the other hand, an emphasis on White women as the primary focus of mainstream magazines may signal a marketing strategy to serve White women as a target audience.
Despite the underrepresentation of women of color occupying a noticeable portion of the mainstream women’s magazines’ audience, the trend appears to be shifting in a positive direction. All in all, mainstream women’s magazines generate the reasonable expectation that they mimic the lives of women in reality; therefore, it is important to study possible misrepresentation in magazines.
Content analysis is appropriate and beneficial for many research problems, particularly when public records exist. However, it is not an accurate reflection of the society and thus should not be used for causal research. It is uncertain if Glamour is an appeal to a predominantly White female readership, or a reflection of general advertising race representation. Therefore, it is inconclusive whether their advertisers chose their images to appeal more to the tastes of Caucasian women or not. A second limitation exists in regards to my sample. If one were to seek information about the actual race proportions in broader advertising, this study is too limited in scope to draw generalized conclusions about advertising.
The sample remains relatively small, thus it is difficult to find significant relationships from the data, for it limits the scope of the analysis, and a significant obstacle in finding a trend and a meaningful relationship to the research questions. Therefore, upon further research, it is suggested that one should draw on a more diverse sample size and more recent scholarly sources to obtain more accurate results and generalizations. Also, because this analysis contains a mixture of both leisure wear and athletic wear, it is difficult to draw useful conclusions about the representation of women within specific types of clothing adverts. An ideal future approach would be to focus on either of the two clothing branch and analyze the passiveness or activeness of women with those specialized ads.
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