I found myself absent-mindedly flipping through OK! Magazine recently when I stumbled across this advertisement:
Normally, I would have flipped past it without giving it much thought, but for some reason on this particular day it caught my eye. We had been talking in my Analysis of Discourse class about how ads sell an idea as much as a product, so I couldn’t help but wonder what idea this ad was trying to sell.
It was pretty obvious based on both the demographic of the magazine and the design of the ad that its intended audience was female, so I knew fairly quickly that its message must be aimed at women as well. I know the market for feminine hair care products is tight and competitive with an overwhelming amount of options out there, so advertisers have to do whatever it takes to make their product stand out in a crowd. For the SexyHair company, that means paying to have the late Marilyn Monroe as the face of their brand.
Unlike endorsement from a living celebrity, including Marilyn Monroe in an ad does not suggest that she actually used the product. Instead, it seems to suggest that the ideas usually associated with her can also be applied to the product. Therefore, I had to figure out what it was about Marilyn that SexyHair wanted consumers to associate with their product.
As long as I can remember, I have known that Marilyn Monroe was an icon. When I hear her name or see her picture, I am reminded of fifties glamour: she is the most well-known example we have of what high fashion and beauty looked like at that time. As I got older, I learned that she was also a sex symbol and was involved in various scandals.
It makes sense, then, that a company called SexyHair that sells beauty products might want to associate their image with Marilyn’s. By doing so, they not only offer consumers a hair product, but rather the opportunity to achieve the kind of allure that Marilyn Monroe is famous for. In essence, the heart of their message is that their product line can make women timelessly beautiful.
If this were the extent of the ad’s message, it would be fairly reasonable. But a closer look reveals that it may go a little deeper.
This particular ad is for Vibrant Sexy Hair, a line of hair products for color-treated hair. This simple fact tells us that its creators are trying to reach women who dye their hair. If the ad is telling women that SexyHair products can help them look like Marilyn Monroe, then it must also be saying that in order to look like her, they have to change the way they look. Platinum blond is not a natural hair color, after all.
It seems, then, that the ad is selling women the idea that beauty does not come naturally to them. Instead, it’s something they have to change themselves to achieve.
Most people are aware that because of Marilyn Monroe’s celebrity status, her image was carefully controlled. There were people whose entire job was to decide what she should wear and how she should look, as is the case with most people who spent a lot of time in the spotlight. Even her name changed when she became a star (she was born Norma Jeane). By associating their products with her, SexyHair tells women that they too can be beautiful…if they are willing to carefully control their image.
Because Marilyn Monroe passed away long before I was ever born, I never saw her grow and change the way I did other celebrities. I’ve only ever known one image of Marilyn. The fact that she died young means that she is forever remembered as young. SexyHair’s use of her image equates beauty with youth, implying that aging is inherently not beautiful. Most women who dye their hair do so to hide signs of graying, so to sell their products, SexyHair is reinforcing the idea that gray hair is something to hide.
By no means is SexyHair the only company that sells women this idea, nor is OK! Magazine the only media outlet where women see these messages. Women are constantly bombarded by advertisements of this nature from every direction, and it has a devastating effect on their self-esteem. The message that they way we look naturally is not beautiful is so dangerous, and on some level we have all come to believe it.
It’s time to stop telling women that they have to look like someone else to be beautiful, that they have to change themselves because the way they look naturally isn’t good enough. It’s time to start telling them that they are uniquely designed with a one-of-a-kind beauty all their own.
Has an advertisement ever made you feel bad about the way you look? Have you felt compelled to buy certain products to try to change your natural appearance? If you’ve seen the effects of ads like this in your own life or in the life of someone close to you, share your experiences in the comments below. It’s always comforting to know we’re not alone in the struggles we face, and an open, honest conversation about this all-too-common issue could give us the opportunity to encourage and build one another up.