Over the past few days, I have been attending many of the activities that are part of All Sizes Fit Week. This campaign at the University of Oregon is put on to help increase positive body image and rasie eating order awareness. One thing emphasized at the events was how the media projects false images of women to define a narrow and unachievable standard of what is defined as “beautiful.”
When advertisers first began to project images of women in the media, people would take them at face value. They would look at the seemingly perfect woman they saw in advertisements and think this was what the average women looked like. People really began to believe that these seemingly impossible standards were what they needed to measure up to.
However, people soon began questioning these ads. They realized, “Hey, I don’t look like that; my friends don’t look like that. No one I ever see looks like that…where are all these perfect women?” Soon, the public looked hard enough to discover the truth about these ads, and this led to some shocking revelations. It was found that looking like the women in these ads really was unattainable, because the women in the ads were not real. Many ad campaigns were revealed to be using three, four, or five women to create a single woman in an ad; They would use one woman’s eyes and another’s lips to create this virtually “perfect” woman. Not only this, but the truths of retouching photographs were exposed. I’m sure you remember the infamous Dove campaign, which revealed the countless steps of retouching that went into a single ad. The public now knows that not only were these images false, but they were also setting impossible standards to meet.
The Dove “Evolution” Campaign:
Needless to say, this sparked quite some anger among the public. Exposing the false images and lies had many negative effects on advertisers and the companies they represented. They were subject to anger, ridicule and criticism. The public no longer trusted nor respected them or their products. Whenever people now see woman in an ad or in the media, they immediately question the reality and credibility. They immediately wonder, “Is this a real woman or some digital creation?”
As health communicators, we can use the mistakes of advertisers and learn from them. We now know to never underestimate our audience. They have more intuition and perception then you think. If your message is false and lacks authenticity, your audience will find out. The longer you go on projecting lies, the harder your communication efforts will fall when the truth is revealed. The harder you fall, the harder it will be to climb back up again and gain that trust.
Another lesson to take away from this is to never just follow the majority. As health communicators, we shouldn’t just go along with false messages, even if they are the predominant ones, because when the truth is revealed (and believe me, eventually it will be) your communication efforts will be put in the box with all the other untruthful ones. Think about how these days, you question every advertisement you see, no matter what the brand or company, wondering if it is a real women or just a figment of digital imagination; advertisers and companies that used false images have put into that untrustworthy box.
On the contrary, however, if you always projected reality, even if it went against the grain, people will see the validity in your message. They will see your commitment to always telling the truth, no matter what society was telling you. Not only does this encourage trust in you as a health communicator, it also shows that you care about your audience. These things are exactly what you want as a health communicator in order to be successful in influencing opinion and behavior.