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Advertising and Society

Current studies show that among women, body image is a significant source of dissatisfaction. Concerns about weight and body are prevalent and independent of age, race or actual weight. Exposure to media advertising is a significant factor contributing to a poor body image. It stems from the fact that it propagates thinness as an ideal female attribute. A poor body image results in a psychological imbalance, which can be manifested through eating disorders, and also leads to self-esteem problems, which negatively affect work, school and social relationships.

Literature also reveals that a poor body image has its origin from childhood and becomes more acute during teenage years with continued exposure to advertising through the television, Internet, magazines and posters. Since cultural institutions are involved in the socialization of beliefs and values, the media has the capacity to shape young females’ perceptions of their bodies based on the messages contained in advertisements. At their developmental stage, they are most receptive to these messages, since teenagers may not yet be able to fully understand the artificial nature of advertisements.

The television remains the most popular and accessible media form among teens, and many studies have been conducted with regard to the effects of advertising through the television. However, female children and teens are also increasingly using the Internet as a new form of media, which allows access to various websites and advertisements. Currently, there are relatively few studies looking into the extent of advertising on the web that can potentially impact young girls’ body image. As such, it will be the direction of this study and will specifically focus on female adolescents.

To determine how extensive body-image-related advertising on the Internet is, there is a need to identify websites and determine the number and the content of advertisements containing messages about beauty, weight, body size and shape. To narrow down websites to those, which provide significant exposure to female teens, sample websites must be those for teens, which are the most popular in terms of the number of visits. There are available websites, which provide access to website rankings per category based on Internet traffic ratings, which they collect. They can be used to come up with a sample of websites relevant to adolescent girls.

Each selected website will then be reviewed, and relevant advertisements will be collected via screen capturing software, which can be downloaded from the Internet. The collected advertisements will be subsequently classified according to the source website and content. The content can be further categorized into the type of product or service advertised, the description of models for an ad, the description of the context of the ad, and body image message (beauty, weight, body size, body shape, or characteristics of specific body parts). The number of body-image-related advertisements will be noted and averaged per teen site. Further, the common body-image-related content on the sample websites will also be documented. These two variables will constitute the extent of body-image-related advertising among teen websites.

As concluded through the content analysis described above, the extent of advertising in the Internet media  will be compared to the extent of body-image-related advertising in older forms of media, such as the television, to see if exposure through the Internet is comparable to using other forms of the  media among teenage girls. Other factors affecting exposure, if the Internet media is used, will also be ascertained. Finally, possible effects of adolescent girls’ exposure to body-image-related advertising through the Internet will be inferred from literature.