Now this ad left me shocked, and not to mention disgusted. Shocked because the ad had one of the cutest little girls I have seen on TV saying those lines and portraying those feelings. A child - who should be spending her time playing and studying and making new friends and discovering new wonders, instead of fussing before the mirror or vying for a classmate's attention. Disgusted because of the advertising world's obsession with the feminine to sell any and every product. Never mind if this time it was a little girl instead of another of those models with unrealistic bodies and unrealistic emotions.
Every channel we flip to and every show we watch is interspersed with a plethora of ads. Almost all of them (and the exceptions are right on top of the 'highly endangered ads' list) use women and their body parts to sell everything from food to toiletries to cars to men's underclothes. Any women's magazine one may open is full of articles earnestly proclaiming that if a woman can only just lose those so many 'extra' kilos, she'll have it all - a perfect marriage, a doting spouse, loving children, amazing sex, and a rewarding career. Bliss lay all this while in the race to size-zero (or even negative), while I ran after chocolate and friends and fun and love. How naive of me! Phoo!
Discriminatory, unrealistic, and even insulting standards of beauty are imposed on women, a majority of who are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models. Ever wondered why? The roots to this practice are clearly economic. By presenting a target of outward appearance that is obviously difficult (sometimes impossible) to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and fitness industries are assured of growth and profits. It is no coincidence that flawless youth is increasingly promoted as the most essential criterion of beauty. Either all women need to lose weight, or they are ageing. If nothing, their complexion has yet not reached that perfect shade. According to the industry, age is a disaster that needs to be dealt with.
The stakes are huge. On one hand, women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy the products that promise them socially acceptable standards of beauty. On the other hand, a deliberately constant exposure to images of stereotyped female bodies that are presumably deemed acceptable by society's yardstick may culminate in loss of self-esteem and the development of an alarmingly unhealthy lifestyle in women. Worse, the age profile of these women gets younger every passing day; it has begun to influence girls as young as 5. The evidence - the ad I mentioned at the start.
What is perhaps the most disturbing facet to this image-consciousness is the fact that media images of female beauty are unattainable for all but a very small number of women. Recently, researchers in the USA generated a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions. The study found that if such a woman were to exist, her back would be unable to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and just a few centimeters of bowel. Incidentally, the small and large intestines together are a total of upto 8.5 meters in length. Such a woman would therefore suffer from perpetual chronic diarrhoea and eventually die from malnutrition. Frightened? Here's more. A Mattel study also indicates that 99% girls aged 3-10 years own a Barbie doll, or at the least have seen one.
The deluge of overt and covert messages about warped ideas of beauty tells 'ordinary' women that they are always in need of adjustment, that their body is an object to be perfected. These overwhelming reminders mean that real women's bodies have become invisible in popular media. The real tragedy is that many women internalize these stereotypes and begin to judge themselves by these standards. They learn to compare themselves to other women and compete with them for male attention. This focus on beauty and desirability insidiously destroys any awareness and action that might help to change this situation. Women across ages and ethnicities get and stay trapped in this vicious circle, a proverbial catch-22 situation.
Like a whiff of fresh air comes the Women's Horlicks ad with Konkona Sen Sharma as the face of the product. The film shows Konkona waking in the morning and beginning her day with running down a a list of things to do. She is shown taking up one task after another - from household chores to professional responsibilities. As the day passes, she looks at the myriad notes that she had made at the day's start, and realises that she forgot about herself. A voice-over says, "Aaj is badi si list ne chhoti si baat ka ehsaas dila diya. Apni hi list main apna naam nahin." Konkona enjoys a cup of the drink and indulges in a variety of pursuits for her health. The ad ends with her proclaiming, "Because your body needs you too."
It is high time we women (and our men) begin to look at ourselves as a whole person and not focus on body parts. We deserve to do things that we enjoy, no matter what shape or size we are. We can begin by understanding that images and stereotypes portrayed by the media are created for a commercial purpose and are not reflections of reality. This understanding must also be shared within our family and other social units to avoid misconceptions and dissonance in thought. We can encourage ourselves and each other to think beyond traditional stereotypes. For instance, instead of complimenting someone or ourselves by saying, "You/I look great/ pretty today", we can actually say, "You/I did a great job today". This would help widen the range of appeal beyond the aesthetics to grounded realism. Lastly, everyone should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.
Consider this. What would life be if not a melange of different people - truly different and not assembly-line products similar in appearance? Variety, as they say, certainly is the spice of life! So let us all be different and celebrate the fact. Surely, love and laughter, and not external appearances, make the world go round.
Now go watch this, rejoice the fact that you aren't there yet, and promise yourself you never will be.
"Then be bold and love your body and stop fixing it. It was never broken."
- Eve Ensler, "The Good Body"
The comments on the advertisement of "Maruti Suzuki Dzire" do not necessarily become applicable to the actual product. The description is also not intended to discourage purchase of the same.
Source: Media Awareness Network
Video Courtesy: JaagoRi