By Kourtney Crier, Xavier University
“Ideal beauty” insists on certain features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture that are admired by that society. Businesses and advertising companies have made billions playing off of this very concept. They sell more than just products; they sell values, images, and concepts of success, worth, love, sexuality, popularity, and normalcy. The ads tell you who you are and who you should be. Many ads show women in deep plunging necklines, dangerously short dresses, enormously high heels and backs exposed in settings not appropriate for that type of clothing, such as in mountainous terrain and sports settings. These ads show that no matter what the women’s age or where she is, she must remain flawlessly feminine and sexy at all times. The two ads presented in this paper show the different aspects of America’s ideal beauty, such as sensuality and youthfulness, through makeup advertisement. These ads both speak to a female audience, but differ when targeting certain age groups.
The first cosmetic ad uses Halle Berry to reinforce the idea of women remaining flawlessly feminine as they age. This cosmetic ad shows Halle Berry selling Revlon’s New Renewist Lip Color. Halle Berry is a 40 year old accomplished actor who has won many awards, but she has another interesting title under her belt. She was voted the sexist woman alive for three years by VH1. Even at the age of 40, she has flawless features and is envied by many women who would do anything to look like her. Knowing that women want to look like Halle, Revlon uses it to their advantage. If Halle uses Revlon and looks like that, women feel that if they use it, they will too.
Halle Berry represents the idea that older women should continue to look beautiful as they get older. Youthfulness is a part of the “ideal beauty.” Even within the setting of the ad, it is subliminally suggesting that women should remain youthful as the years past. For example Halle is dressed and in a house covered in white. White is often used to represent innocence, but in this case not in the sense of purity but of youth. Even the colors of the lipstick denote it is for an older audience, because the colors are not very bright which younger generations tend to wear. But if you look at the last inset of this advertisement, a picture is shown of Halle Berry’s lips with Revlon’s lipstick on them, but despite the lipstick being for an older audience, they appear very youthful. They are fresh, smooth, and moisturized.
In addition to the colors, the three insets they have Halle Berry in also denote this idea of youthfulness. In the first inset Halle Berry is laying on the floor and looking into a mirror in a very stereotypical teenage pose. In the second inset Halle Berry is playfully puckering up to the camera something you would see a younger person doing. In the third and last inset Halle Berry is in a setting we can not quite identify, but she is shown lying down with the wind blowing through her hair. The wind blowing through her hair can be a sign of being carefree which is youthful. In all three of the insets, there is a mirror. This is interesting because, mirrors are used to check your image and see how you look. So placing the mirror in each inset instills the idea that women should be checking their image. That women should be looking in the mirror to see that they are picture perfect at all times. It also signifies youthfulness in the sense that adolescents are always in the mirror checking their image.
The wording is also a crucial part of this ad. The words “new” and “renewist” are emphasized through colorful bold lettering. This helps to attract the attention of the middle age audience who want to hold on to or regain their youth. Revlon states that the lipstick instantly boosts moisture and reduces the appearance of fine lines giving the audience the legendary fountain of youth in a tub of lipstick. This creates an astonishingly widespread market. Statistics have shown that women over the age of 45 would spend one billion dollars in the makeup industry this year alone. Youthfulness and immaculate femininity are important aspects of America’s “ideal beauty.”
The next ad for Covergirl uses the sensual aspect of the ideal beauty to sell makeup. The second cosmetic ad shows a woman named Molly selling Covergirl’s new lipstick. With respect to sexuality and femininity, Marilyn Monroe said “The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up” (83). Molly exemplifies this quote, while she is shown in a halter dress or top. Her pose is very feminine and sensual. She posed in a way that has elongated her neck which shows elegance and regalness. In addition her lips are puckered in a very sensual way. Another thing about her is that her lips are painted red, which is interesting because red is a symbol of romantic love, and symbolizes intense passion. Molly also has a very sultry look with her eyes, which is very sensual. Molly seems to appeal to women who are successful, classy, sophisticated and elegant.
This Covergirl ad also uses wealth, and luxury. Molly has on recording headphones, which would seem to denote she is an artist. Artists are powerful people and they are used in ads to influence people to buy certain products. The wording again is an important aspect. In large bold letters are the words “Pump Up The Volume.” “Pump Up The Volume” are like words of motivation. They inspire the career driven audience Revlon is trying to enthrall. The words “Pump Up The Volume” also suggest that you need to step up and set yourself apart from the rest. In this career-driven world you only get one time to make a good first impression, so Molly is encouraging their audience to use Revlon’s Maximum Red.
Another detail of this ad is that there is silver. There is silver in the headphones, Molly’s dress or top, and the lipstick case. Silver is a form of wealth and gives the wearer a form and feel of luxury. By the colors of the lipstick, setting and concept, this ad seems to target a younger more career driven audience. Unlike the Revlon ad who target women seeking to hold on to their past, this Covergirl ad targets women who are looking to get ahead and looking toward their future.
In today’s society, whether it is in print advertisement, radio, or television advertisement the constant is “ideal beauty.” These advertisements show that women need to be perfect at all times. Businesses and ad companies play on women’s wishes to achieve this unattainable ideal image. They reinforce ideals on images, self-worth, and normalcy. The ads tell women that to be sexy and attractive they must buy this particular product. Unfortunately, true beauty is not in the clothes we wear or the products we use. It is not defined by an actress or a brand. True beauty ideally is an attitude, and a woman’s right to express herself as an individual. As India Arie sings: “I’m not the average girl in the video, and I am not built like a supermodel, but I learned to love myself unconditionally, because I am Queen.” She is beautiful not because of the way she wears her hair, because she does not let society define who she is and for that matter what it says is beautiful.
• Barris, George. “Marilyn: Her Life In Her Own Words: Marilyn Monroe’s Revealing Last Words and Photographs.” Citadel Publications, 2003. 83
• “Covergirl Pump up the Volume Print Advertisement.” O Magazine. September 2007: 15
• “Revlon New Renewist Lipcolor Print Advertisement.” O Magazine. September 2007: 32