“As most of us know so well by now, when a girl enters adolescence, she faces a series of losses- loss of self-confidence, loss of a sense of efficacy and ambition, and the loss of her ‘voice,’ the sense of being a unique and powerful self that she had in childhood” states Jean Kilbourne in her essay, “The More You Subtract, The More You Add”. These losses in adolescent girls are natural yet worsened by advertising and entirely overlooked. As media and advertising cause these effects, they also devise to offer just as Jean Kilbourne says, “Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions.” Naturally, advertising has a negative and damaging effect on teenage girls’ self-esteem.
Generally speaking, adapting teenage girls strive to be what they see. Commonly, when surrounded by advertising of flawless and thin girls, their goal is then to achieve the same qualities which brings dissatisfaction with their own body. In order to achieve these goals, teenage girls may go to extremes. When size zero models are consistently advertised, that size becomes desired by teenage girls who may not have the ability to be that size. With this desire, comes eating disorders. To reduce this issue, girls shouldn’t be surrounded by only overly thin women in advertisements to avoid added on pressure from advertising when that pressure is already naturally present during adolescence.
Advertising produces subtleties that women should remain quiet and have less voice. Advertisements frequently include models with their hands and fingers covering their mouths with catch phrases adding to the negative message. Kilbourne illustrates this well in her essay by saying, “indeed this is one of the primary messages of the culture to adolescent girls. ‘The silence of a look can reveal more than words,’ says another perfume ad, this one featuring a woman lying on her back”. This expectation can be troubling for young girls, giving them the impression that having too much of a voice is bad, that they should speak in a different way other than using their voice. This as well creates an inequality between boys and girls, that girls should be more ashamed of their opinions and voice.
The most distinct negative effect advertising has on teenage girls’ self-esteem is the sexual objectification frequently present in advertising. Advertisements tend to draw a strong emphasis towards sexuality. Girls are taught to be “overtly sexy and attractive but essentially passive and virginal” (Kilbourne) at a young age. In “The Merchants of Cool” they explain a “midriff” role present in the 1990’s explained as your body being your best asset to flaunt even if you don’t understand it. Young teenage girls are prime examples of midriffs because they don’t quite understand their adolescent bodies yet they are pressured from the sexuality shown in advertising to flaunt it the most rather than their brain.
Even during Marilyn Monroe’s era, there were advertisements to improve your waist size rather than to reduce it because being curvy was the trend rather than being thin at the time. Yet even this had the issue of excluding naturally thin women that were unable to gain those extra pounds to achieve a thicker bust or waist size. There will always be issues in advertising in society; however, these issues shouldn’t be targeted to negatively effect teenage girls’ self esteem.