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     Volume 4 Issue 70 | November 11, 2005 |

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Advertisements Are Brutal

Rubaiyat Hossain

Advertisements are brutal. They depict a level of joy and limits of perfection unmatchable in real life. It's very interesting to observe and analyse them with attention because in today's consumer driven world advertisements rule over our heads and hearts. Do this, and you will get that is the motto of advertisements: get a credit card your children will be healthy and beautiful, get a new tooth brush you'll get a new girlfriend, use a fairness cream and you'll get a job as a cricket commentator, change your shampoo and you'll get married. Doesn't it sound a little ridiculous when spelled out like that? Actually what advertisements do to us is lure us to a level of joy, fulfillment, success, and even love, yes, even love by spending money to buy a certain product. It is really interesting is to ask the 'what' and 'why' questions to better understand the inner messages being sent out by advertisements. Take for example the fairness cream ad. The girl is dark, her skin is oily, and she feels she is a burden for her family. She uses the cream, becomes beautiful, and gets a job as a cricket commentator. The 'what' of this ad is the ultimate goal, which in this case is success, self-independence, and financial sovereignty to support the family. The 'why' of this ad is the stumbling block before the girl to get to her goal, which in this case is her dark skin. Now the 'whats' and 'whys' are important because they give us a hint towards what is right and what is wrong, what is considered an obstacle, and what is considered a driving force. Dark skin is bad, unsuccessful, fair skin is good and capable of success.

The messages we get from the fairness cream ad are as following: if you are a woman and you want to get into a profession the most important element is your physical beauty. Fair is lovely and dark is ugly! Doesn't it sound a little odd? Isn't it important to have education, commitment and experience in order to get a job? At least that's the way it is in real life, but in the world of ads clean shirts, fair skin, sparkling teeth all matter quite a bit. However, it is particularly problematic to give women a distorted message through the media that the most important attribute they need in order to be successful is 'beauty.' It perpetuates women's role in the society as primarily sexual objects for the aesthetic and sexual fulfillments of men. The main strategy behind beauty related advertisements is to suggest that women's bodies in their natural state are deficient, and with some serious help from certain women can actually achieve the beauty they see on TV everyday, but fail to measure up to.

Success and beauty go hand in hand for women. A woman can't be unattractive, and do well in life at the same time. In our day and age, especially with the rush of globalisation that has brought the US based media much closer to the rest of the world, woman's beauty has become the ultimate commodity. It is what sells the most. Female bodies are mutilated, injected with silicon, sliced out of fat in order to experiment with, and come up with new approach to female sex appeal. Female bodies are starved, manipulated, and messed around in any way possible to come up with more and more definitions and standards of beauty. Based on these standards and body types billions of business deals are made selling cosmetics, shoes, clothes, sun glasses, watches, bathing suits, and what not.

Women and advertisements have deep links because female bodies work as the centre pieces in most commercials. Gender roles are heavily prescribed within the 'whats' and 'whys' of advertisements. Take a popular spice ad for example the wife gets scolded for not being able to cook up to her husband's expectations. She goes into the kitchen and starts crying. The spice packets come along'aai meye kedo na, ami achi bhebona.' A study done by UNDP showed that one of the most common reasons behind wife beating in Bangladesh is usually related to a belated serving of the food. Women get beaten because the food is served late, or cold, or too hot, or simply not up to the husband's expectations, just like the ad. The ad is based on the premise that a husband has the right to get angry at his wife who had just spent hours sweating over a meal in the kitchen. It is also based on the premise that it is a woman's duty to cook and serve the food on the table while everyone else is sitting around to have lunch. The ad is based on the value system that when scolded by husbands, women will silently go back into the ultimate andarmahal the kitchen, and cry for the grief of not being able to satisfy the husband's appetite. Given the husband doesn't beat his wife in the ad, he certainly is shown in a position of power, and capable of intimidating his wife with anger. An uneven power dynamics is the founding ground for domestic violence.

How many times have we seen women pose beautifully with their manicured nails for detergent, soap, and dishwashing detergent ads? A wife keeps her husband's shirts so clean that he gets a promotion, but when can we expect to see a man helping his wife wash her clothes sparkling white so she could get a promotion too?

As human beings of the relatively more attractive sex, we may have the desire to groom ourselves, avoid pimples, stop hair loss, use a deodorant, it is all fine, but we just need to be very careful about how far we will let the roots of advertisements seep into our brains. Are we actually going to start believing that we need to be absolutely beautiful in order to be successful? Are we going to believe that if our skin is not the right shade we will not get a job? Will we get scolded and go cry in the kitchen like the spice ad lady? Will we believe deep down that our faces are not good enough, and it needs to be taken forward? In fact, we need to keep in mind that advertisements related to women's beauty and bodies are just a regime that is manipulating our bodies to feed more money into the consumer driven market economy.

While we sit and watch TV, before we are completely taken away by the hidden messages disseminated by the advertisements, as women, we may want to consider that, today patriarchy is shaking hands with capitalism to formulate new forms of domination and exploitation. Women are not expected to be confined to the homes anymore. They are allowed to go out, and have a job, and be famous, and become a starbut now they have a double role to play. Gone are the days when women were expected to be at home, bear children, and be good wives; now we have stepped into a time when the 'bell jar' of modernity is put on our heads for us to start believing that we are liberated, when we have actually been endowed with two full time roles, the one of a good wife, mother, and homemaker, and a successful and super sexy woman performing in the public. The absolute importance of being beautiful and sexy has been a central message being sent out by the media these days. Though there is nothing new about women's preoccupation with beauty, we must take into notice our society's increasing orientation towards visual culture, and how media messages are replacing our older value system of normative femininity with new ones.

Today a woman must not have an inch of extra body fat, eating biriyani or icecream has become sins, all women must straighten their hair, wear contact lenses, and look totally generic like the models, in Sandra Bartky's words, "[w]hat was formerly the specialty of the aristocrat or courtesan is now the routine obligation of every woman, be she a grandmother or a barely pubescent girl." Of course Bartky is talking from a Western point of view, our grandmothers are not there yet, but they soon will be if we keep feeding ourselves with media images, which with the rush of globalisation have accepted the dominant Western notion of women as primarily sexual objects.

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