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Women’s Image in Ads Changing, But Shape Isn’t

January 13, 1988

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The depiction of women in advertisements has shifted slightly in recent years, but some things haven’t changed: They remain toothpick-thin.

″There’s been a drastic change in the status of women because now we’re in the work force and that’s changed the image of women a bit,″ said Linda Lazier-Smith, an assistant professor at Ohio State University’s School of Journalism.

Ms. Lazier-Smith, who has 11 years of professional experience in advertising, is a doctoral candidate at Ohio State studying womens’ images in ads. For the past year, she has collected and examined hundreds of magazine ads from Ms., Newsweek, Playboy and Time magazines.

Ms. Lazier-Smith hopes her findings will help women become less influenced by advertising.

Women to ″understand that they are being manipulated by messages and those messages aren’t well-connected to reality,″ she said. ″I’m pro-advertising ... but I’m concerned about its effect.″

No longer are there advertisements of ″women going goofy over domestic products″ because women in American society have made inroads in the workplace and will not accept the stereotypes anymore, she said.

There are fewer advertisements depicting a woman as a ″mere decoration and an appendage″ to a man, she said.

An increase of car and financial service ads targeting the executive woman also has demonstrated progress, Ms. Lazier-Smith said.

″There’s been a move toward more normalcy so the women are not quite so young, not quite so perfect and not quite so thin, but they’re still very, very thin by readers’ standards,″ she said.

Television commercials are effective in persuading viewers to buy products because the medium is repetitious and multi-sensory, she said.

″But magazines are our friends, we invite them in. We believe the articles and we believe the ads,″ she said. ″They (readers) get the latest diet from their magazine and go on it, or they find out the latest way to wear eye makeup and they do it to their eyes.″

She said: ″I’m of the belief that advertising has taken on its own life form. It’s the most prevalent form of media we see and the most persuasive. It’s a great socializer ... taking the place of the church, school and sometimes parental units by telling us how to look and act and feel.″

She said most ads portray women as ″youthful, scrawny, and blonde,″ and many female readers and viewers strive to look that way.

The effect of advertising is exemplified by the number of women who diet, she said.

″Most women spend all day fretting about what to eat and not to eat,″ she said. ″There’s undue stress put on women because they worry about dieting their entire lifetimes. All day they worry about what they’ve eaten. They think ‘I won’t eat this so I can have a dessert later’ or ’because I haven’t eaten anything that I like all day, I’ve been good.‴

Men also fall prey to advertisements, she said, but not as drastically as women.

The primary messages being sent to men are to be macho, to be hardworking business executives and emotionally aloof.

″Men have been brought up with a totally different self-confidence level,″ she said. ″Even if they don’t look like Jim Palmer in underwear, they believe they do.″

Citing data from her previous study linking ads and anorexia nervosa, Ms. Lazier-Smith said men comprise only 3 percent of the total number of people with eating disorders.

″Advertising doesn’t cause anorexia,″ she said. ″But when the anorexic women need an idea of how the ideal women should look, they look at TV and other ads.″

End Adv PMs Wed Jan. 13

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