Advertising is a non-personal persuasive mode of communication which has been paid to
promote a product, service, organization or an idea. Its impact on its audience can be understood
from social learning theories where as people continuously get exposed to advertising images,
views of themselves and others become internalized over time (Gender Advertisements,
Goffman E, 1987). Advertising is very important as it is used by companies to market their
products and assert their superiority of their products to that of their competitors. Objectivity in
fashion advertising focuses on telling women how they should look and offers what should be
considered as female beauty.
Stereotype is a conception which has been standardized of an image, a specific object or a
group of people (Gender Advertisements, Goffman E, 1987). Stereotypes can be divided into
simple, acquired secondhand, erroneous and resistant to change stereotypes. Simple stereotypes
are those that are easy to describe or understand, erroneous taking from the word error means
that they are just false while acquired secondhand are those who have been socialized by culture
into being stereotypes (The Whites of their eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media, Hall S, 1990).
Stereotyping, often characterized by lack of information and falsification often leads to
discrimination of certain people or situations. Stereotyping can also lead to validation of a
position for one race being dominant than any other as well as social prejudice and social
inequality augmenting capitalism (The Whites of their eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media,
Hall S, 1990). In Fashion advertisings, women’s sexuality is dependent on the intended audience
race and the models’ race as well. Advertisements meant for white audience have been found to
depict women in roles and having traits that suggest submissiveness and dependency while those
targeted for black audience have models that look independent and dominant. White women are
brought out to appear more sexual unlike black models (The Whites of their eyes: Racist
Ideologies and the Media, Hall S, 1990).
Stereotyping in Fashion Magazines
Women are stereotyped either as a seductress or a housewife who is dependent and
submissive while the seductress is young, thin, provocative and readily smiles. This stereotyping
in fashion serves the purposes of supporting a patriarchal society and to give the profit motive in
advertisement some mileage. General stereotyping of black women has them to be extremely
arrogant especially if educated as they are shown to scream and jab a finger while making a point
hence are considered to be irrationally angry (The Whites of their eyes: Racist Ideologies and the
Media, Hall S, 1990). Media images of black women in general can be said divided into base
images of the grammar race, those of black as dependable but is conniving but at the same time
dignified and savage and finally black as an entertainer whose success is determined by how well
the whites are amused (The Whites of their eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media, Hall S, 1990).
Narrowing down to black women, the media generally presents them as mothers, the matriarch
woman, a sexual goddess or a welfare queen or mother (Reactions to Diversity in Recruitment
Advertising, Avery D, 2003).
Historically, a small number of mainstream magazines use black models in their
advertisements (Visibility of Blacks and Whites in Magazine Photographs, Ortizano 1989). In
order to be able to analyze stereotyping in fashion magazines, one needs to analyze them from
two angles: Advertisements and fashion spreads. Millard (2006) in his research on fashion and
advertisement photographs analyzed women images by looking at feminine touch- where a
model’s hands are placed or how they have been used to caress an object, function ranking which
is seen when one is depicted as instructing another person, subordination basically illustrated by
submissive position and license withdrawal where a model is shown to be psychologically
detached from their surroundings with a characteristically averted look.
Generally, women as a sex are more sexualized than men but when done racially done,
white women are found to be more sexualized in fashion magazines than black or women of
color (Reactions to Diversity in Recruitment Advertising, Avery D, 2003). Sexualization of
white women is in tandem with advertisements’ objectivity of portraying women’s beauty as
being light skinned, straight hair and raven haired (The Stereotypes of Black and White Women
in Fashion Magazine Photographs, Millard J, 2006). One such example of sexualization of white
women is the Dolce and Gabbana’s advertisement contained in Vogue’s March edition, 2008
does fit this stereotyping. The advertisement has four white women who have been sexualized
while still clothed. The women all have blonde hair that is untamed and pose provocatively.
Provocation is illustrated by one woman appearing to rip her dress from the cleavage area,
another one thrusts out her neck, tilts her head at a provocative angle with pouting lips. In
another spread two models are touching with one leaning back into the other woman’s chest with
eyes that can be interpreted as longing (The Stereotypes of Black and White Women in Fashion
Magazine Photographs, Millard J, 2006). Model’s seduction appeal is based on sensual or
alluring gaze, seductive pause, pouting lips, smoky eyes among others and the advertisement
relies on the model’s ability to entice or seduce readers.
Black women in fashion advertisement are often in mixed racial advertisements where a
black model poses in between white ones (Visibility of Blacks and Whites in Magazine
Photographs, Ortizano 1989). The Vogue also shows an example of this in Ports of the same
issue in an advertisement where a black model is posing surrounded by huge empty space where
she has her hands parallel to her knees in a squatting sitting position. There is nothing sexually
appealing in that position, it can be said to be pretty normal position but it does have
submissiveness to it particularly the position. Lowering oneself physically in one way or another
or any prostration as opposed to standing is a form of submission. Standing upright denotes
superiority. Also, slanting head and body or leaning on someone or something is again a form of
subordination or showing the willingness to appease (Gender Advertisements, Goffman E,
1987). This is in contrast to white models that are often depicted in low status position like on
her knees spread apart- alluring. In the same magazine, still same edition, Bebe’s advertisement
has a white model whose shirt’s buttons are undone exposing her lingerie, in a low status
position with her knees widely spread apart with her hands on her inner thighs (The Stereotypes
of Black and White Women in Fashion Magazine Photographs, Millard J, 2006).
In stereotyping women, advertisements fail to realize that its women who are majority of
shoppers and there is less need to present them explicitly or stereotype them. Fashion
advertisement offer what they consider as female beauty but this is just a fallacy as fashion
images are airbrushed and the models wear a lot of makeup which would not be realistic for a
normal day in the office or running errands. Stereotyping has been used overtime due to its
ability to connect with readers immediately as there is shared experience there hence it will
continue being a major aspect of advertisement especially in fashion magazines.
Avery, D. R., 2003. Reactions to Diversity in Recruitment Advertising- Are Differences Black
and White? Journal of Applied Pscychology, 88 (4) 672-679.
Goffman, E., 1987. Gender Advertisements. New York: Harper and Row.
Hall, S., ed, (1990). The Whites of their eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media. London: British
Millard, J., Grant, P., 2006. The Stereotypes of Black and White Women in Fashion Magazine
Photographs: The Pose of the Model and Impression She Creates. Sex Roles, 54, 659-673.
Ortizano, G. L., 1989. Visibility of Blacks and Whites in Magazine Photographs. Journalism
Quartely, 66 718-722.