It is sometimes said that it would be good to find a “two handed economist”, as we are known for seeing both sides of issues, and summarizing our thoughts with “on the one hand, but on the other hand.” It was that ambiguity that I felt when I saw some ads in a local newspaper that reminded me of a discussion that has been going on in this space recently.
I read with interest the latest discussion on this site about girl’s body image, and, as a mother of a little girl, I was concerned. However, the whole issue hit me head-on when I was flipping through the newspaper recently and noticed some advertisements for a large, national department store. Indeed, in my grandmother’s day, this store was almost synonymous with the idea of a “department store.” Which is why it disturbs me so much.
The ad that ran in our Cleveland paper had many different pictures of clothing that were on sale, each in a separate block with a sales price listed below it. Then I noticed the pictures of clothing as modeled in the advertisement. It was quite clear that the torsos of the models had been extended, leading to unnaturally long torsos and very thin waistlines. At first I thought that this was a way to accentuate the clothing rather than the models, but then I realized that the same thing had been done to a model in an ad for lingerie. The result in that ad was to stretch out the model’s torso but at the same time to actually underemphasize the underwear being sold. It was as if she was standing in front of a fun house mirror. My husband suggested that this might be a natural result of the printing process, but it really disturbed me.
Ever an economist, I can see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, ridiculously thin models were not needed to create the advertisement. On the other hand, it further encourages unrealistic body images for ordinary people.
I have recently heard comments like “I am so fat” from children my daughter’s age, who are definitely not fat and also certainly still several years from puberty. One little girl stood with her back arched (as little girls tend to do) and looked down at a beautiful little belly to mumble “My belly is so big”. I am appalled that we have created a world in which even these little girls are growing to be uncomfortable with their lovely bodies at such a young age.
This is particularly disturbing to me, as I grew up in an Italian family, where food was central to our celebrations of life. There were frequent family feasts where the food overflowed and the dishes were taken off the table to be washed, but returned with heaping helpings before they could even be put away. No, not all that food was healthy, but I never heard any of my relatives fretting over a few extra pounds. And I certainly never heard young children worrying about their figures before they knew how to do division.
And so I ask you, have you noticed any similar photoshopping of ads in your local newspapers? And if you have, might this not an issue that should be raised with the store involved? And just how should we let the store know that we are not happy with this new approach to advertising?