Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

If global beauty brand Dove has its way, advertisers worldwide will start taking female representation more seriously.

A new study by the Unilever brand shows 71% of SA women don’t feel represented in media and advertising, and that a move to a broader definition of beauty has never been more pressing.

In one of the largest global studies of its kind, the Dove report shows that globally 67% of women are calling for brands to step up and start taking responsibility for the stock imagery they use, while in SA 75% of women feel the same way. Globally, women want media and advertisers to do a better job of portraying women of physical diversity: 66% feel body shapes and sizes are limited, and 64% say characteristics such as scars, freckles and skin conditions are unrepresented.

The SA component of the survey finds that eight in 10 women want media and advertisers to do a better job of portraying women of diverse appearance — including age, race, shape and size — and 75% of SA women say pressure from media and advertising drives anxiety around appearance and beauty in general.

Among SA women, 84% say they would feel better about themselves if everyday media images were more representative of the way most women in the country look.

According to Dove, better representation can also have a positive impact on young girls. Most of those surveyed say this would enable girls to grow up without feeling judged just on their looks, and believe it would prevent them from being held back by gender stereotypes.

One leading local female creative director says the results are hardly surprising, given male dominance of the advertising industry.

"In many ways the sector remains a bastion of misogyny, where male brand managers and their agency counterparts have little idea of modern gender representation. Skinny girls draped over cars is still a prevailing sentiment. Women in the industry try hard to change the mindset, but it’s an uphill battle. Hopefully this study is a move in the right direction. It’s not just a beauty brand issue."

Globally, the survey says a constant bombardment of beauty stereotypes is making seven in 10 women feel pressured to reach an unrealistic standard of beauty, contributing to an appearance anxiety epidemic.

"Women who feel worse about themselves as a result of seeing a narrow definition of beauty day in, day out [believe it is affecting] their daily lives — from being assertive to wearing the clothes they want or expressing their true identity."

So in an effort to shift the paradigm, Dove, together with its partners Getty Images and social media platform Girlgaze, has developed Project #ShowUs. With over 5,000 images, Project #ShowUs is the world’s largest stock photo library created by women and nonbinary individuals to shatter beauty stereotypes. It is available for the media and advertising industries to view, license and use in their next project or campaign. The ultimate intention is "to come together and put an end to a narrow definition of beauty consistently portrayed around the world, setting a new standard for the authentic, diverse and inclusive representation of women".