A colleague forwarded me the following article: “British Vogue educates teenage school girls about ‘natural’ beauty standards.” Fascinating, I thought. It's been a few years since Dove sparked the discussion about natural beauty – from portraying women without makeup in their ads and to the recent Real Beauty Sketches project – and I appreciate new news on this topic.
I love the fact that British Vogue, one of the most respected fashion magazines of all time, is shattering the image that the beauty we see on their own magazine pages is real. In contrast, it explains it's actually just hours of manpower and manipulation spent to essentially create entertainment and inspiration. And best of all, the campaign is speaking directly to teen girls, specifically 12-16 year olds, an incredibly impressionable group.
A few other magazines have taken applaud-worthy risks in recent months by telling it like it is to teens:
• In 2012, Seventeen magazine promised to use only real girls and healthy models on their pages in an effort to improve readers' self-esteem. The campaign is called "Body Peace Treaty" and it promises to stop digitally modifying girls' body or face shapes to make them look perfect. This pledge was inspired by a group of teen girls who protested the magazines' altered photos. The girls publicly proclaimed that Seventeen, positioned as a relatable magazine for teens, was far from relatable given their unrealistic portrayals. Seventeen responded by making this pledge and going a step further by showcasing before-and-after shots of models on its Tumblr blog.
• Not long after, Vogue magazine also vowed to change its ways when it announced its decision to stop including girls who appear too skinny or to suffer from an eating disorder. Umm, that's nice to hear. It also announced its choice to stop featuring girls under the age of 16. Tyra Banks became an outspoken supporter of Vogue's decision, calling it "the beginning of something huge" for the industry and praising it for promoting a more healthy body image.
And it's not just teen girls who are concerned with body image. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in November that states over 40% of boys in middle and high school regularly exercise in an effort to increase muscle mass, 38% use protein supplements, and about 6% had tried steroids. An incredibly frightening statistic given their growing bodies. There are certainly worse things to worry about with our teen boys than exercising – as long as it's not excessive, it's part of a healthy lifestyle, and in my opinion the supplements at such a young age (and obviously the steroids) need to go. I suppose this shouldn't be too great a surprise given the popularity of shows like “Jersey Shore” and the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs with professional athletes.
How can we as marketers help in the effort to provide teens with better role models (so to speak) and improved brand choices?
• Teens have a strong BS meter. They are often skeptical of bigger brands and their authenticity. With so many choices, trust becomes a critical decision driver. Be true to yourself and remember authentic messaging is key.
• Clearly, we want our brands to be aspirational, but there is a fine line between inspiring with compelling imagery and portraying unrealistic appearances. It's no secret to consumers that advertisers Photoshop, airbrush, enhance, and alter imagery in every way possible. How refreshing when we see something that is more natural looking and is confident enough to take such a stance.
• I've said this in previous posts ... being inclusive and representing a variety of consumers is such a powerful approach for brands. Remember the Benetton United Colors ads of the ’80s? We still talk about it today because it truly resonated and was considered shocking (in a positive way) at the time. Even as reality TV ratings continue to soar, something as basic as using an average-size woman in an advertisement is still considered breakthrough.
I am a huge fan of fashion – I love the drama, the eccentricity, it's a great source of inspiration for me. And who doesn't appreciate a good-looking physique. But let's be honest about what we are portraying and not perpetuate a false body image that our kids are exposed to at such a young age. Don't we all agree the world would be a much happier place if we (brands included) celebrated a healthy lifestyle and various versions of beauty?