Turning Beauty Inside Out: Girls Target The Advertising Industry
"Do you really think you need to show her breasts coming out of her dress to show that this is a good shaving cream?" asked Jordan Blumberg-Enge. The 13-year-old from Oregon leafed through a popular teen magazine last Friday with some of the nation's top advertising executives, and told them exactly what she didn't like. When she was done speaking her mind, the ad executives agreed that showing a girl as an object only encourages an unhealthy body image.
Is this a fantasy? No, it's the Best Practices in Advertising round table discussion that took place in New York City last week. It was hosted by New Moon magazine as part of their Turn Beauty Inside Out Campaign. Was Jordan alone in her chance to speak about the effects advertising on young women? No, there were 30 other girls. I may not have believed it myself if I hadn't been there to witness it. I felt more powerful just watching the girls talk openly and honestly to the advertising executives. The discussions took place in a conference room at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City. Like the discussion itself, the room that housed them was anything but conventional. The walls had the Statue of Liberty and other New York landmarks painted on them in pop art styling. The room's ceiling, at least twenty feet up, had a glamorous chandelier suspended from it that created a palace-like atmosphere.
Jordan was selected by New Moon Magazine as one of their "25 Beautiful Girls" chosen for their inner beauty. She was nominated by a friend who described her as speaking "for what she thinks is right and doesn't [without] hurting anyone's feelings." The friend gave an example of how Jordan had politely but strongly spoken up when kids used the word "gay" to make fun of other kids at her summer camp. The other Beautiful Girls were chosen for the same broad reason: the positive, eye-opening influence they have on both their family and friends.
New Moon Magazine worked with the Ms. Foundation for Women, to bring together the ad industry executives, girls, The editor of Ms. Magazine, Gloria Jacobs, and Nancy Gluver, the founder and driving force behind New Moon Magazine. The executives of the ad industry were from the Martin Agency, Avon, LMP, Stoner Bunting Advertising and Chiat/Day. The Disney Channel was also there taping the discussions and interviewing the girls for a special program they are producing on body image.
Their list of ideas is a great antidote to the way magazines like Seventeen can make its readers feel. I was a Seventeen subscriber. I remember the rush of excitement that hit me every month when a new issue arrived. I would put aside everything and spend a good hour or so soaking in all the garbage that the ads spoon-fed me. I soon as I opened the magazine I was inundated with eleven pages of smiling, mostly-naked girls. I know I wasn't the only one to get this excited every month when the magazine arrived. My closest friends did the exact same as I and, as far as I could tell, all the girls our age were obsessed with the images in the popular teen magazines.
We were all inundated with the notion that if you simply do this one thing-wear a certain brand of clothing or use a particular perfume -- that everything else in our lives would fall into place.
Well, it didn't.
Eventually, I woke up to it and my friends woke up to it. We began using our back issues of Seventeen to bring humor into our school assignments. The same ads that had made us feel like we didnt measure up now made us feel like laughing out-loud. It was therapeutic to see the victimized models and twisted messages in their real light.
The girls who met with the advertising executives also have a healthy balance or fact and fiction in their lives. Everyone present at the discussions agreed that they were taking the first step towards improving the content of ads targeted to youth. The girls came into the meeting with a draft of what they thought made a good ad: clean humor, shows people of all sizes, has a clear message, shows a whole person (not just her chest or legs) and promotes a healthy lifestyle were some of their criteria. The girls said that bad ads use girls and women's bodies to sell unrelated products, show women as objects and show young people doing dangerous things (like driving a motorcycle while their boyfriend covers their eyes).
The "Best Practices" that came out of the discussions consisted basically of one principle: not more stereotyping. Meg Glenn, 14, who was at the meeting with her best friend who she had nominated as one of the Beautiful Girls, said that the stereotyping of girls in ads was "not ok." She thinks it is absurd that ads are made with the assumption that "we all [just] want to do our nails and get ready for the dance on Friday."
Kiah Luke, one of the young members of the New Moon editorial board, was quick to point out that 80% of all fourth grade girls have dieted. She understood the serious implications that advertisements have on young girls and on their ideas of what a healthy or "beautiful" body looks like.
Kiah, Meg, Jordan and the other 28 girls who spoke their minds to the advertisement executives are voicing their anger at the fact that the magazines aimed at their generation do not reflect their lives. They are clear about not feeling like their lives have to reflect the ads either.
While many of their peers and classmates remain as oblivious as I was to the impact of advertising, these girls are taking action. Nancy Gluver, the founder New Moon Magazine and made the roundtable discussions become a reality, found the ad executives to be very responsive to the girls. She told me that she hoped the girls would go back to their communities and continue pushing for change. "Thinking about the ripple affect just makes me want to smile," she said.
Julie Joy is a 19 year old student, WireTap contributor and radio producer. Her loves include Maine, Clark University, friends, family and flan.