Dec 10th, 2018, 02:40 AM

Framing Identities: The Effects of Brand Influence on Women and Girls

By Jacinda Carlisle
Image Credit: Unsplash/Patricia Prudente
Is brand influence detrimental or empowering to girls and women?

The world is infiltrated with print, television and film images advertising the “perfect” face and body. Not only are women influenced by the notion of perfection, but young girls are emulating unrealistic ideals which are harmful to their growth and potential.

Recently, I heard a young girl say “I’m growing wider not taller.” While alarming, it also prompts one to ask "Where did she receive this message and why does she have this view of herself at such an early age?" 

Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty

In 2004, the Unilever-owned brand Dove created the "Campaign for Real Beauty" to change the conversation around female beauty. Through a series of advertisements featuring real women in place of professional models, the brand resonated with consumers, inspiring them to feel comfortable in their own skin. 

Dove professed to be “an agent of change to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty, and to make them feel more confident about themselves." While the campaign delivered on its initial claim to change the conversation around female beauty, the initial project missed the mark on fulfilling the commitment to educate and inspire girls.  

In 2017, taking the "Real Beauty" message to the packing of its body wash, Dove released a campaign showcasing limited edition bottles representing various body types. On its UK website, the brand noted their intention was to celebrate body diversity. 

"From curvaceous to slender, tall to petite, and whatever your skin color, shoe size or hair type, beauty comes in a million different shapes and sizes. Our six exclusive bottle designs represent this diversity:  just like women, we wanted to show that our iconic bottle can come in all shapes and sizes, too."

As the advertisement surfaced, a series of tweets from female consumers revealed that rather than inspiring women all over the world, Dove's marketing message was lost on women. Developing all-white bottles of body wash in shapes including pear, tall and skinny, top-heavy and bottom-heavy, perpetuates the antiquated stereotypes contributing to low self-confidence and lack of diversity.

If we are to evolve as a gender, campaigns representing women of all races, ethnicities, shapes and sizes must be equally reflected; however, not as a mockery of body types. Advertisements of this nature serve as an insult to women rather than a source of empowerment.    

Dove's Self-Esteem Project

If the cycle of low-self esteem and confidence in women is to end, girls must be encouraged to dispel the unattainable folklore fed to them through demeaning brand advertisements.

Having realized the importance of self-esteem education and building body-confidence in girls, Dove produced the Self-Esteem Project. Their mission is to encourage girls to grow up "enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look—helping young people raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential."

According to The Guardian, the 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report revealed that body image among young girls remains a global issue. In a study of 5,165 girls aged 10 to 17 in 14 countries, more than half (54%) struggle with self-esteem.

As a result, they succumb to beauty and vanity pressures by eating smaller portions or skipping meals altogether, putting their health significantly at risk. Additionally, they withdraw from friends and family and avoid participating in extra-curricular activities or visiting a doctor. 

The girls interviewed attributed their low self-esteem to pressure from magazine images of "beautiful" girls and women. While most acknowledged the photographs presented unrealistic aspirations, the pressures they feel to obtain a certain standard of "beauty" is a harmful reality.   

Dove is partnering with The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts on the initiative "Free Being Me," a global leadership initiative designed to provide girls a global definition of beauty and allow them to define beauty on their own terms.

The program is designed to target girls 11-14 years of age as they begin to navigate social media. Studies have shown correlations between social media, selfies and the compulsive behaviors that follow may potentially contribute to body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.

"Free Being Me" allows girls to take a moment to reflect on the world around them and how they might be influenced by brand advertisements and social media. They are encouraged and thereby empowered, to challenge and speak out against beauty myths and advertisements that are deterrents to their overall growth and self-esteem.

To date, Dove has reached over 20 million girls with its message and has pledged a total of 40 million by 2020.

International Day of the Girl and Barbie's Dream Gap Project  

International Day of the Girl was designated by the United Nations as a day to address the needs and challenges young girls face and promote the empowerment of girls and their human rights.

Recently on International Day of the Girl, Barbie promoted its Dream Gap Project, a global initiative aimed at curtailing the limiting beliefs of young girls and offer the support and resources they need to believe they can achieve anything.

In a research study conducted by New York University, The University of Illinois and Princeton University, girls as early as age five begin to develop limiting self-beliefs as a result of cultural stereotypes.

If girls are given the support and encouragement they need at a young age, they can develop into strong, self-assured and confident women. 

Brand Influence, Women, Girls and Empowerment           

It is to the detriment of girls and women when brands shape a woman as an object to be desired, rather than an intelligent, skilled and powerful human being with limitless potential. To break the cycle of a “pretty and perfect” ideology and build a confident generation of girls, a one-size-fits-all mentality must be discarded.

Our world is comprised of a melting pot of girls and women of every race, ethnicity, size and shape; all beautiful and skilled in their own way. When brands and companies promote advertisements embodying empowerment and equality, confident generations of girls and women emerge.

Women are not defined, nor confined, by labels or stereotypes. We decide who and what we are.

We will challenge beauty "norms" and the misrepresentation of women narratives until they cease to exist, empowering ourselves every step of the way. To create a world free of gender stereotypes and for the future of our girls, we must persevere.