You could call me a shop-a-holic, as most of my friends do, but I call myself a lover of fashion. Sitting in my room, I look in my closet at all my belongings and wonder what else I want to buy. Abercrombie, Guess, J Crew, Armani Exchange, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Banana Republic are just a few of the name-brand items that clutter my room. And I want more. I’ve never stopped to question whether I’m getting what I’m paying for, though I’ve always been a “smart” shopper, a sale shopper. But, as I learn more about my future field, marketing, I realize that I am a victim of advertising. All the things I want and buy are influenced by what magazines, television, and other advertisers tell me I need to want and buy.
Everyone wears clothes. They can be a statement, a style, or a definition of who you are. They can also be a simple necessity. For me, clothing has meant different things. As a child, I wore what my mother gave me or the hand-me-downs from my sister. I never questioned how I looked, but I liked to dress up. In middle school, I became more concerned with my appearance, like most girls. I tried to keep up with the fashion, but what defined the fashion? Magazines and television were the big ones for me. I wanted to look beautiful; thus, I wore what the beautiful people showed me I should wear in hopes that I could be just as beautiful, or at least as fashionable. I had a huge desire to be fashionable, because in being fashionable, I believed I could be popular.
As I look back upon those middle school days, I am amazed at how concerned young people can be about their image. Children become so concerned at such a young age with being popular and looking beautiful. Girls start reading Seventeen, and the idea becomes engraved in their minds that they must be like the girls they see in the magazine. The cover has “500 Summer Must-Haves” or “5 Minutes of Crunches to get those Hard Abs” or “10 New Hair Styles that Will Drive the Boys Crazy” strewn across in bold bright colors. By reading all these tips to fashion and beauty, girls are sucked into buying products they think will help them become beautiful. Makeup, hair accessories, jewelry, and especially clothes are all being sold to young girls through magazines. Without these things, no girl thinks she will be popular or lovely.
As I progressed to high school, advertising became an even bigger influence. Boys began to notice girls in high school, and all the girls wanted to look good to “get” a guy. Since the girls knew that boys were enamored by HOT looking models, what were girls to do but imitate that look? I remember scanning magazines with my friends and trying to get my hair to be shinier, my figure to be better, and my eyes to sparkle with makeup. We believed it all and went to CVS or to the mall to try to find the products the magazines had shown us. We watched TV to find out where those products were or if anything new was out. The looks of the movie stars were also a model of the looks we hoped we could get. I cannot even count the number of useless products my friends and I bought to better our appearances, all of which were expensive. It was all pushed by what magazines promised would work.
The clothing in high school differed greatly from that in middle school, but it was still defined by advertisers. Clothing became something that defined you; it identified you with a certain group or clique. Wearing Abercrombie jeans meant you were the preppy all-American girl, a Guess shirt meant you were the snobby rich girl, and anything worse or less than that was unacceptable. The ads and the types of girls in the ads showed all these definitions of character. As a victim of wanting to fit in and being the “right” type of girl, I shopped A LOT. I tried to get everything on sale so I wouldn’t go broke, but I don’t ever think I really just liked the clothes I was buying. I bought them to be a part of the crowd, to have my clothes identify who I was. To have my clothes associate me with a particular clique.
In college, advertising hit me in a different way. College is a place where typically no one knows you so you can be whoever you want to be. There are so many students and such a variety of people that clothing begins to define you less and less and your personality begins to define you more and more. Everyone is growing and changing and beginning to learn who they really are. Yet my friends and I still turn to advertising, now not only to stay in fashion but more so to find our own style. As in high school, advertising equates a certain personality with a style of clothing. In my quest for identity, the style of clothing I choose reflects me. It shows my personality and shows what type of person I am. I enjoy staying in fashion, not because magazines tell me I should but because I like to try new things and I like to be daring. I watched an episode of Oprah the other day in which a makeup artist was giving makeovers to some women in the audience. When asked the question of how he chooses what makeup to put on the women, the artist answered that he asks them questions about their lifestyles in order to give them the proper look. This statement reflects the reason why I dress the way I do. The clothing that I wear shows the type of person I am. They are an extension of my personality. They have become a way to show ME to the world. They are an expression.
Despite my choice to have my clothing reflect and not define me, I remain a victim of advertising and always will. Although I look to ads for the upcoming styles, I am still affected by the underlying images behind them. Advertising reflects society and also adds to societal definitions. Advertisers show us people around us, yet they choose only a certain look. By showing us just these people, they are defining those few as the beautiful people. Advertising feeds off human insecurities and makes us want to be like these beautiful people. Our insecurities with wanting to be popular and wanting to be loved are used against us. Society fosters the fascination that we should not be who we are, and advertisers use this to influence us to believe certain messages. If we do not look like the models, we are not beautiful. If we are not thin but curvy we are not attractive. Even if we have great personalities most people will not like us if we are not physically beautiful. These thoughts are pushed by advertisers to make us buy certain items. Most people are swayed by this advertising and social norms that follow. They try to follow what these “norms” define. It is hard not to. I myself am one of these people.
An example of advertisers using human insecurities to sell products is the image of a woman from the perspective of a man. The perfect woman, the one every man wants to have, is the woman in the magazine. How many men do not oogle and drool over her? It is sad but true that women are affected by this and lose their own images of themselves in trying to please men. But women’s need for men’s approval still remains a factor that marketers and advertisers feed off of.
I do not know first hand, but I believe this image has to be similar for men. Ads targeted at men always show men surrounded by beautiful women if they dress or act a certain way. We want to look good for the opposite sex, and being ourselves just isn’t good enough. We have to change ourselves to become what is defined as attractive. This is engraved in us through advertising as the best way to attract someone of the opposite sex. Smoking, drinking, socializing, and looking great in expensive clothing are the images of an attractive person.
Advertisers use our weaknesses to tell us what is new, what we should be like, what is cool, and what is hot. Because human nature makes us want to be popular and glamorous we follow the lead ads give us. Is it the victim’s fault for believing, or the fault of society for allowing advertisers to do so? These are the questions I often ask myself as I enter the field of marketing. It is very easy to use human insecurities as a means of targeting consumption, but is it right? How will we ever know unless we step back and stop reading magazines and watching television? How will we know unless society and advertising break their bond? Until then, I will remain a victim of advertising. And so will almost everyone else.