Women’s Health Project

Advertising can be hazardous to your health. Have you ever purchased a women’s magazine and opened to a page advertising cigarette products stating “We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby?” Attended a women’s sporting event and been shocked to see that it was underwritten by tobacco companies? Do you have to look at a billboard featuring emaciated models every day as you go to school or work?

These are only a few examples of how advertisers market to women and girls by co-opting the feminist message and focusing on traditional concepts of weight and beauty.

The tobacco and fashion industries in particular specialize in targeting young women and girls. According to a 1995 Center for Disease Control study, approximately one in five teenage girls is a smoker. In 1994, the Surgeon General reported the tobacco industry loses two million customers each year to consumer death and smoking cessation. Therefore, the tobacco companies must replace these losses by addicting the most vulnerable people in our society—young women and men. Smoking actually kills more women each year than alcohol, illicit drugs, car accidents, suicide and homicide combined.

“Young women may be uniquely vulnerable to enticements to smoke. There is evidence that girl’s perceptions of their physical appearance and overall sense of self-worth are much lower than those of boys and fall with increasing age during early adolescence, and that these perceptions are associated with regular smoking,” writes Nancy Kaufman in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Fashion models also send a dangerous message to young people. According to the California Department of Health Services, in 2002 the average weight of a model was 23 percent lower than that of an average woman; in 1982 the differential was only 8 percent. The constant bombardment of images of emaciated women on billboards and television and in magazines sells products at a terrible price to our communities. Findings show the diet industry is booming and thousands of young women suffer from eating disorders.