Is projection of the female thin ideal in advertising ethical?

Could this focus on the physical body, or lack thereof be contributing to low self esteem in females and in turn influencing eating disorders, drug use, mental health disorders and preoccupation with achieving what is perceived as perfection? (Martin & Gentry 1997, p. 3). Or, Is it ‘… the right of businesses to try to get consumers to use their products and services… ‘any which way they can within the limits of the advertising code of ethics, with the choice being up to the consumers as to whether they choose to view it? (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p. 363).

Numerous independent studies have been conducted assessing the influence on females of advertising containing thin models. The majority concluded that this form of ideal body advertising has a negative effect on susceptible individuals (not all participants, but those with a preconception with the thin ideal) resulting in lowering of self esteem, development of depression and eating disorders (Martin & Gentry 1997, p. 3). A study on the incidence of eating disorders and use of illicit drugs in models was conducted by the Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Science in Italy.

They discovered that models are more susceptible to developing eating disorders and use of illicit drugs was significantly higher (Santonastaso, Mondini & Favaro 2002). On the other hand, a study conducted by the University of Bath’s marketing group, concluded that women preferred thin ideal models over others because they depicted a woman who could control weight via diet and exercise and they felt they were more appealing overall. This study reasoned that the use of average models would be less effective in advertising because the females would not respond as favourably to them (Financial Times 21 September 2006).

Hence the reason advertisers use ideal models to appeal to target groups, and in doing so use whatever imagery that is acceptable by the Advertising Code of Ethics to sell products and services. The Utilitarian view would be focused on the consequences of promoting thin ideal models in advertisements on all involved the model, the advertiser and the consumer, ultimately striving for the best outcome for all that are concerned (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p. 42).

The consequences for using thin ideal models in advertisements include low self-esteem, depression, drug use, preoccupation with losing weight and eating disorders for consumers and models (Martin & Gentry 1997, p. 3; Santonastaso, Mondini & Favaro 2002). The flow on effect of these consequences could include increased need for medical services to tend to those suffering eating disorders, fertility problems, mental health issues and or drug addiction. It could also cause lower productivity from susceptible individuals in the community.

The consequences for not using thin ideal models in advertisements include reduction in job security for advertisers, loss of profits and bankruptcy of companies (Bishop 2000, p. 378). However these consequences would not have to be as severe if advertising companies promoted the ideal as models within a healthy BMI range, thus retaining jobs and custom. These consequences are also less dramatic because morally the products and services thin ideal models promote are not a need but a want for consumers; fashion clothing, cosmetics, handbags thus unessential (Bishop 2000, p. 386).

The Utilitarian would probably see that the act of using thin ideal models in advertisements is immoral (or wrong) because it is not useful in increasing net utility or welfare for the majority involved as the pain of using thin models in advertising outweighs the pleasure received by the minority (G Lamberton 2009, pers. Comm. , 15 July). The Kantian ethics view would focus on the practical imperative ‘… no other human being should be thought of or used merely as a means for someone else’s end… ‘ (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p. 58).

Kant would oppose using thin models in advertising for the good of advertisers or the companies that employ them because the advertisers and companies would be looking upon the susceptible female consumer as a means to an end, discrediting the customers self image to make a profit (Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p. 59). In conclusion it appears obvious that using thin models in advertisements is unethical, no moral human could justify or risk even the slightest possibility of causing decline in the physical or mental health of susceptible females.

Morality ‘… deals with how humans treat other beings so as to promote mutual welfare, growth, creativity, and meaning and to strive for what is good over what is bad and what is right over what is wrong'(Thiroux & Krasemann 2009, p. 28). I appeal that advertisement’s such as Sisley’s ‘Fashioin Junkie’containing extremely thin models snorting singlet straps that look remarkably like cocaine lines, however creative depicts no good at all and is definitely not right.