Over the years, one of the main challenges people have with themselves has to do with their body image which mostly is negative.
Having a poor sense of body image can affect a person in many ways including performance in academics or career, relationship satisfaction and sometimes in overall quality of one’s life. Whereas people’s negative body images may lead to body dysmorphic disorders (BDD), body integrity identity disorder and eating disorder, people with positive body images tend to be happier, more confident, having true and clear perception of their body shape and appearance. The fact that the billboard advertisement world displays a perfect body image, while the media constantly exhibit individuals who are fit and in shape, just adds to the confusion of just what a normal body is to look like. Most research and appearance comparisons have focused on people comparing their own bodies to models on billboards. Billboard advert portrayal of body image influences people’s perception on body size, complexion, height fitness and nutrition amongst others.
Shockingly, billboards still attract over 58% of drivers alone, not to even talk about pedestrians. Based on these statistics billboard adverts have proven most beneficial and influential to the communication industry.
Body image is said to be the perception people have of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that results from that perception. It is also the mental representation we create which may or may not bear any relation to how others actually see us. Body image is not just what we see in the mirror, it involves memories, assumptions, and generalizations according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). These feelings can be negative or positive or both and are influenced by individuals, environmental factors, distortions from early experiences and internal elements such as mood and emotions.
According to Brown university, almost three-fourth of women have reported thinking about their body size and weight constantly throughout the day, and nearly half of all men do the same. In our modern era, the idea of a perfect body size is a well -defined waistline, slender body, chiseled abs, well calved thighs, and rounded buttocks. Slim ladies with nice body stature and men with huge athletic bodies are represented on billboard adverts while ladies and men that are plump are represented on billboard adverts only when they are famous and when their body size is of much concern to the advert. Billboard adverts on fitness normally are portrayed by men. This has led to society portraying the perfect male body to be lean, athletic with less body fats and are well groomed. Women are also portrayed on fitness billboard adverts with well-defined waistline, slender legs and long necks.
Billboard adverts that portray complexion normally use women with lighter skin making light complexion the standard of beauty. For example, adverts about skin and beauty products such as carotone, nivea fairness, and perfect body lotion uses lighter skin models to portray beauty. Evidence of this, statistics from global cosmetics market from 2004 to 2017 shows a tremendous growth from 3.4% to 5% of cosmetic sales as a result of the ever-evolving perception of body image on billboard adverts.
The representation of body image in our society is a cycle that breeds discontent. This is because the more we look at perfect images of others and then look to find those same idealized characteristics in ourselves and fail to find them, the worse and discontent we feel about ourselves. With such strong societal scrutiny it is easy to see how the focus on how we look can slide into the dark side of negative body image. The representation of body image has indicated a change in the standard of beauty in our society. The representation tells us that slimmer women are seen as idle and marketable than the plump ones. Also, the perfect male body has been narrowed to a man with huge athletic body, chiseled abs and well-built muscles.
The media’srepresentation of billboard adverts is unrealistic images of beauty and is genetically impossible for many people to emulate and achieve. Perfect body image project unrealistic versions of reality that we are continually told is attainable if we work out, eat less and lather our bodies in transformative, firming and tightening creams. The same applies to the ripped abs shoved in the face of men via famous sportsmen and male fitness models which for many people is impossible to achieve without illegal steroids. Life today sees images upon images of fashionably clad women, perfect skin, tiny waists, ample breasts and fashionably protruding behind all with a weight of not more than 59kg.
The media is a powerful tool that reinforces cultural beliefs and values, and while it may not be fully responsible for determining the standards for physical attractiveness, it makes the barrage of images and attitudes almost impossible.
In our societies in this modern age, billboard adverts in the representation of body image of being thin, toned and muscular has become associated with the hardworking, successful, popular, beautiful, strong and disciplined whiles being fat is associated with the lazy, ugly, weak and lacking in will power. With this prejudice, we are conditioned to think that fatness is bad even though it has some positive aspects. As a result, people tend to have great discontent with how they measure up when compared to the societal and media supported norms, the greater the risk for extreme weight and body control behavior such as extreme dieting, exercise compulsion,
Undoubtedly, these adverts underrepresent disabled people and even when they do, they reinforce stereotypes about disability that people with disability are helpless and needs some sort of support from society.
The first possible impact of representation of body image on billboard adverts in our societies are directly related to low self-esteem, which can lead to negative moods and mood swings. People feel down and are more likely to focus on negative messages around them and make negative comparisons between their bodies and what they see as ideal body. Body image and self-esteem directly influence each other and a person’s feeling, thoughts and actions.
Theserepresentations lead to the stigmatization of peoplein the society. The society gives us a number of reference points that shapes our perception of people with poor body images. As a result, people with poor body images have negative thoughts and feelings about their appearance and sometimes feel stigmatized by members of the society. Examples are people with disabilities and fat people but people with good and healthy body image have positive thoughts and feelings about themselves and also tend to be more confident to escape stigmatization from members of the society.
Again, billboard advertisement on the impact and representation of body image has made people conscious of their body size and health issues. People now tend to go in for liposuction, surgeries, corset and waist trainers as well as taking pills such as herbal life, longrich pink tea, bragg apple and cider vinegar etc. As a result, men prefer protein shakes, lip balm for pink lips, beard boosters for beard growth because of how society has portrayed the perfect man’s body to look like.
However, as a society we must know that shape and size are no indicators of character, morality, intelligence or success but each one of us will have a positive image when we have a realistic perception of our bodies when we enjoy, accept and celebrate how we are and let go of negative societal or media perpetuated conditioning.
Halt comparing one’s self to others and snap out of the inequality attached to body shapes and complexions because our differences make us who are proud we call ourselves.
Anastasia Nanaba Acquah
Ghana Institute of Journalism