The advertising industry still needs to show more real women

Keeping beauty diversity on the agenda is crucial so that young girls grow up feeling good about themselves

Stella Page
Friday 16 May 2014 17:32 BST

It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since I appeared in the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which featured six real women of all ages, sizes, shapes and ethnicities. At the time, I was proud to be a part of the campaign - but has the advertising and beauty industry come far enough in the last decade?

More brands have celebrated the everyday woman, such as Ultimo and Debenhams, but many women do still aspire to a very narrow definition of beauty that is still all too often presented to them in the media.

Recent research among UK women conducted by behavioural insights agency Canvas8, shows that at an individual level, we’re not very accepting of our own beauty: 41 per cent of women are unhappy with how they look and 69 per cent of women wouldn’t describe themselves as beautiful.

We’re also more open to considering cosmetic surgery, with 1 in 5 UK stating that they would consider surgery, which highlights the pressures that we’re still putting on ourselves to look beautiful.

Bombarding people with unrealistic images that are unattainable is bound to damage our self-esteem. Add to this the rise of social media and photo sharing sites such as Instagram and Pinterest and the additional pressures it creates as women strive to look good in their online pics, and the scale of the pressures for women to look beautiful becomes more evident.

While women today are becoming more experimental with beauty and having more fun with how they portray their online images, it’s also becoming more dangerous because anything that creates an unattainable ‘norm’ is never going to be healthy. Ever aware of the importance or promoting their best self to the public, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Miranda Kerr and Britney Spears have all reportedly photoshopped their Instagram pictures. It sends out a really confusing message to young girls where we seem to be saying that they need to re-touch images of themselves in the public domain.

Everything seems to be based on comparison these days – status, friendships, popularity – it’s a lot to deal with for young people seeking to forge their own personal identity. We all need to stop comparing themselves to others and realise that a so-called ‘norm’ doesn’t exist. Most shop mannequins still have size 8 or 10 bodies and some are even smaller yet, with La Perla recently being forced to remove mannequins with protruding ribs. Brands such as Debenhams are now featuring size 16 mannequins, and in Israel, underweight models have actually been banned from being used in advertising campaigns. But these are small steps in the right direction, and there is still work to be done to provide a better representation of women.

We need to see more real women represented in advertising. I’d love to see more ethnic minorities, disabled women and women of all ages and shapes (lumps, bumps, and all). It was really inspiring seeing Danielle Sheypuk, the first model in a wheelchair, at designer Carrie Hammer’s New York Fashion Week debut this February. Marks & Spencer's have also included both Annie Lennox and Doreen Lawrence in their recent campaign.

Keeping beauty diversity on the agenda is crucial so that young girls grow up feeling good about themselves. We need to help educate the next generation about how many images in the media are constructed, to help them develop greater self-esteem and embrace their own individual and natural beauty. While the debate for banishing airbrushing from magazines has been a hot topic since 2008, heavily airbrushed images still appear in majority of leading women’s magazines. I hope that one day magazines will ban airbrushing, so that we’re presented with honest representations of women.

I think it’s getting better, but we have a long way to go.

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