Every time I go to a beauty salon, no matter how I look they have always something very “important” to do about me, to make me look “normal”. If my hair is straight they need to make it curly and whenever they are curly they definitely need to be straightened, otherwise I simply look “unbearable”. The natural beauty we, as humans, posses, no matter which part of our body it is, hair, nails, skin, body shape, everything needs to be altered once you enter a beauty salon.

“That’s simple” one would say, “that’s because the beauty industry needs to convince you that something is always wrong about you (all most of the things) and that’s how they make money. It’s business!” Yes, I would agree with that, but WHY, WHY do I myself go to these beauty salons and let them convince me that something is always wrong with my appearance and it needs to be fixed. And then voluntarily I pay them and go home, for returning after a week again looking and feeling “not good enough”. The answer, of course, is not simple and lies in many causes, and I would like to speak about one of them- the power of media and advertising.

magsAdvertising is used for selling various products and services to people, but most of the time it also “sells” a way of life, beauty standards, which effect how we think about ourselves and the world around. It is not a secret that the advertising business very often portrays images of young women in order to get people’s attention and sell something. And doing this advertising creates and strengthens existing gender roles and stereotypes, in particular the ones which portray women as beauty and sex objects with unrealistic beauty standards (very often with altered images of models through computer technology). Feminist researchers in different countries have discussed the problem that advertising very often uses traditional gender roles and stereotypes and portrays women in a limited way: either showing them as beauty or sex objects or as housewives and shopaholics. It lacks diversity of female portrayal: diversity of settings and location, occupation and physical features.

To explore the advertising in Armenia and its portrayal of women a group of researchers conducted a research in summer 2012. Here are some key findings from the research:

  • 78% of female characters portrayed in monthly magazine advertisements belong to the “young” age group (below the age of 30),
  • Only 10% of women characters portrayed in magazine ads are of a “medium size” body complexion,
  • Only in 6% of magazine advertising women are shown in a working environment
  • Out of 680 observed magazine advertisements there is only one advertisement where a woman is shown working in the office,
  • In Armenian TV advertisements we see more female characters belonging to the “middle” age group (30-50 years old), but still the number is quite small, only 20%,
  • In Armenian TV ads 15% of female primary characters are shown at home, while only 12% are located in the office,
  • 81% of examined TV advertisements had a male voice as a narrator, while 81% of female primary characters don’t talk at all,
  • Only in 8 cases the woman’s arguments were factual and concrete.

The main problems (from gender perspective) revealed when studying women portrayal in advertising are:

Beauty objectification – the woman is shown only as a “picture”, she is not engaged in any kind of action, and is passively standing/sitting/leaning next to the advertised product and is showing off her beauty. Woman’s appearance is what matters most, and we don’t get any information about her work, career, character or passions.

Sexual objectification – in these kinds of ads female sexuality is used to attract viewers’ attention and sell products. Female character is shown in revealing clothes, with seductive, inviting body language and face expression.

Fragmentation – in these ads sexualized body parts of women are used to attract customers, such as lips or breast.

Objectification – in some ads this “method” was used, when women were shown as animals, objects, parts of objects or pieces of interior.

Women subordination – in many ads men are shown as dominant, as authorities, which is done by face expression (confident and secure), body language or role distribution, while women are portrayed as part of “men’s world” to satisfy them, serve and make their life comfortable.

Housewives – often in ads women are portrayed at home, as if in their “natural place”, looking relaxed, happy, busy with housework, taking care of children and their husbands and feeling pleased with fulfilling their “main” function as a woman.

Shopaholics – women are shown as if addicted to shopping.

So as we can see Armenian advertising lacks a diversity of images when portraying women: we don’t see women in working environment, shown as professionals, as leaders, active characters; rather women are mostly portrayed in passive manner showing off their physical beauty and no hint of any other association, such as a job, hobby, and passion. As it is said “You can’t be what you can’t see”, thus if one sees only certain types of women on TV, on billboard, in magazines, it shapes the view of what a woman can or should be in a certain way, which in case of Armenian advertising is someone quite passive and boring, to be honest.

To alter the situation the research group came up with some recommendations on how to create a more gender-sensitive advertising, in particular: Advertising is an important block in the world called “media”, which tells us many things, among them “go to salon, and make yourself “beautiful” and if we manage to change it or at least see it through gender-sensitive lenses, we won’t end in a beauty salon spending lots of money and still thinking that “we are never good enough”.

Lilit Grigoryan