Some clothing brands have recently strayed from using pencil-thin, traditionally beautiful women to model their clothing with campaigns that attempt to portray “real” women. However, one brand’s campaign subtly reinforces the stereotype that smart women aren’t typically associated with beauty.
Online retailer Betabrand replaced supermodels with models who double as Ph.D. holders or doctoral candidates in their spring “smart” clothing line campaign to show that women with doctorates are beautiful, too. After the brand’s founder reached out to a Stanford University neuropsychology graduate about modeling the spring clothing line, the company posted a casting call via Facebook and chose 20 of the 60 applications from around the world.
Although the brand showcases real, ambitious women wearing Betabrand’s clothing, its effort to portray a more realistic image of women falls short because the campaign not only lacks ethnic and cultural diversity, but also because the selected women resemble thin, conventionally beautiful models.
The campaign mirrors the recent efforts of other brands that have begun marketing to the “average woman.” National retail giants such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Lululemon’s exclusivist comments received backlash for shunning plus-size shoppers. American Eagle’s lingerie line, Aerie, announced it would no longer retouch models in its underwear advertisements. Dove also vowed to advertise with everyday women in mind in their Campaign for Real Beauty, which displays women of different ethnicities and body types in undergarments.
As professional and driven as they may be, The Ph.D. models still imply women have to be conventionally beautiful to model clothing. If Betabrand had not announced that the spring collection models have Ph.D.s, the women would not be perceived much differently from those selected by a modeling agency.
As a plus-size fashionista and fashion blogger, I have fallen in love with a brand of clothing that I could not fit into. Constantly being excluded from mainstream fashion lines, there are days I want to give up on being fashionable and settle for comfortable sweats or leggings. However, for some fashion enthusiasts, the psychological problems they can develop from viewing these advertisements are far worse and sometimes brands lose profits to perfection.
A 2012 study published by Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process, a journal that publishes behavioral research, found that excessive exposure to brands that use very thin models in their ads can cause depression and low self-esteem, resulting in decreased brand satisfaction among consumers.
Today, many consumers look for brands that are inclusive of all races, genders, body types and cultures. Neglecting to advertise the real faces and bodies of American women is blatantly harmful to youth and young women who strive to achieve certain body weights or ideas of beauty, many of which are unattainable.
A 2011 study from the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University suggests exposure to incessant advertisements depicting the ideal thin body often leads to feelings of guilt and the development of eating disorders, depression and obesity.
Advertisers and brands are not the only ones at fault for the problems that stem from these advertisements. Women need to recognize that the advertising industry achieves an elite form of beauty and attraction not always accessible for most women. I cannot Photoshop smaller thighs or a slimmer waist on my body and sport that look in my everyday life. Most people do not think about the human element when viewing advertisements, accelerating the unrealistic views that American women have of themselves.
Thin models have long been the face of cultural imagery, but they have received increasing amounts of criticism because more brands are working to spread a positive body image in their advertisements. However, this does not mean that thin women should be looked down upon—it simply means brands should represent the realistic consumer.
If brands want to catch consumers’ attention and alter harmful advertising norms, they should embrace the various ethnicities, cultures, races and body types of the people who purchase their products.