March 12, 2016
There is so much that can be said about how gender is portrayed in the media. We could go even deeper and talk about how gender is understood and interpreted by our culture and society, but that's another conversation for another time. Right now I want to focus on the impact that marketing has on young people (particularly girls) and body image.
The good news is that things are changing for the better across the board. A panel at SXSW called The New Marketing of Brands: Body Image and Gender dove into how marketing messages have affected body image in the past and how brands are being proactive today to instill positive body image when young people are at their most vulnerable.
Jess Weiner, CEO of brand consulting company Talk To Jess LLC (she consulted on Mattel's ground breaking new Barbie) moderated the panel that included Vivian Odior, brand manager at Johnson & Johnson, Meredith Walker, Co-Founder of Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, and Yalda Uhls, PhD in child psychology, consultant, and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact Not Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.
The reoccurring theme of the panel was authenticity – particularly the need for authenticity when marketing to young girls. All of the panelists agreed that girls can see right through phoniness and the only way to ingrain a positive message is to do it in an authentic and relatable way.
“We know that this is what girls want,” says Walker. “They want to be considered as human beings and not diminished for their youth. They want to be a part of something that they feel is good. And they can sniff out what's phony.”
Walker went on to say that marketing messages should be teaching girls to be themselves, not to be skinnier, prettier, have a different color hair or skintone.
“There's a lot of marketing and advertising out there that's about not being yourself. in the face of all the stuff that's saying ‘be prettier, be skinnier, be hairless, be flawless…' Any time that your brand is putting something out there that really wants to help girls wanna stay themselves, I think that you are really adding to this world in a good way.”
While the conversation primarily focused on girls' body image, Uhls pointed out that young boys are also having their body image influenced by marketing and branding.
“This used to be a girl's issue, but more and more and more, boys, with the action figures and magazines, you know with the six pack abs are getting boys thinking about their bodies and making them feel insecure about it.”
We have all seen the Dove ads featuring “real” women and the Always #likeagirl campaign that went viral. It was refreshing to learn that these campaigns are set to become more the norm than the outliers.
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