Pretty as a picture: A study of the effects of idealised imagery in advertising on the well-being of young women

Karen Fraser and Emma Taylor


Much of the criticism directed at the cosmetics and fashion industries relates to the use of the 'thin ideal' of feminine beauty: that Western constructs of beauty are based on the slimness of the model. Evidence suggests that ideal body weight — which contributes to physical attractiveness — is slimmer in more economically developed countries than in less economically developed countries (Swami et al, 2010). Subsequently, it is suggested, these culturally acceptable ideals of beauty filter into the media, which serves to reinforce those ideals; the cycle continues. But the concept of beauty is far from static; cultural trends are constantly shifting, and what is considered beautiful is not immune from these changes. And it's not solely a cultural issue. Government concern around low body confidence has led to the creation of the Equalities Office's Body Confidence campaign, an initiative which aims to 'widen the definition of beauty to include all ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities ... to counter the homogeneity of body image which we have now been receiving for several decades' (Home Office website, 2010). By bringing the issue of body confidence into the political sphere, the government is challenging every aspect of Britain's 'visual landscape' — including advertising — to help effect change.