URC

The Portrayal of Women in Magazine Advertisements
Across Four Different Women's Magazines

Emily Blaha
College of St. Catherine


Abstract

This content analysis focuses on the portrayal of women in four different women's magazines; InStyle, Glamour, Fitness and Good Housekeeping. There was a significant association between magazine and body pose of model (p= .022) and between magazine and weight/body image of model ( p= .042). The portrayals of thin women were more frequent in the Fitness magazine and the portrayals of average women were most frequent in Good Housekeeping. The portrayals of respectful body position was most frequent in the Good Housekeeping magazine and the most frequent portrayal of women in a submissive/sexual body pose was in Glamour magazine. Glamour magazine portrayed the highest frequency of women nude or scantily dressed and Good Housekeeping portrayed the highest frequency of women fully dressed. Women were found to be portrayed differently throughout the four different types of magazines, which is important because the different portrayals may cultivate expectations about physical appearance, sexuality, relationships, or gender roles.

Introduction

This content analysis focused on the portrayals of women in advertisements in four different women's magazines (InStyle, Glamour, Fitness and Good Housekeeping). The purpose of this study was to determine if the women in the advertisements directed toward different audiences were portrayed in different ways. Portrayals of women in magazines may cultivate beliefs or expectations about physical appearance, sexuality, relationships or gender roles.

Previous research by Rechert and Carpenter (2004) on this topic suggested that there has been an overall increase in sexual dress in portrayals of women and intimate contact between men and women from 1983 to 2003 in ads of different types of magazines. If the model in the ad was nude or almost nude, she would be considered sexually dressed. Intimate contact was contact between a male and female in an ad that was suggestive of sex or sexual acts. For the sake of the current content analysis, the focus will be on the findings of the increases in sexual dress. According to the researchers, sex in advertising is defined as, "sexuality in the form of nudity, sexual imagery, innuendo, and double entendre…employed as an advertising tool for a wide variety of products. More recently, sex in advertising has been defined as mediated messages (i.e., commercials, magazine ads) containing sexual information with the persuasive purpose of selling branded goods" (Rechert & Carpenter, 2004, p. 823). Sex has been used in advertisements to get the audience attracted to the product being sold.

Advertising products with "sex" doesn't always evoke a positive reaction from the audience. People who have negative feelings towards sex, are conservative, or are older tend to not react in positive ways towards sexual ads. Some people get so used to sexual advertisements that it takes a higher degree of "sex" to get their attention or to get them aroused and interested in looking at the ad.

The previous research by Reichert and Carpenter showed that most of the ads that focus on sexuality appear in either men's or women's magazines and are not as frequent in general-interest magazines. When models were used in advertisements, they were portrayed in a more sexually explicit manner in both men's and women's magazines than they were in general-interest magazines.

The findings by Reichert and Carpenter showed that, "…sexual explicitness increased in women's magazines overall, but that most of the increase occurred from 1983 to 1993" (Reichert & Carpenter, 2004). The largest difference found in this previous research was the degree of clothing the models were wearing. In 1983, 28% of female models were sexually dressed compared to 49% in 2003. The way women were depicted in magazine ads also changed from 1983 to 2003. In 1983, women were depicted in a sexual way in 30% of the ads, and in 2003 it was 78%. It's obvious from the previous research that the sexual depiction of women in magazine ads has increased over time.

In a study conducted by Posavac, Posavac, and Posavac in 1998, it was found that "…the effects of exposure to pictures of fashion models from popular women's magazines on young women's concerns with body weight, even passive exposure to such images resulted in negative body image and increased weight concern" (Linder, p. 490). The negative body image is seen as a problem because individuals with eating disorders often display distortions in body image.

Other previous research in 2004 by Katharina Linder suggested that women in the female audience based fashion magazine Vogue are depicted as more stereotypical than women in a more general-audience-based magazine like Time. The stereotypical depiction of women in such ads and magazines showed only a slight decrease over twenty years, in spite of the possible influence of the Women's Movement. The ways of stereotyping women in Vogue and Time magazines were found to be different. Women in Time magazine were stereotyped without using sexual images, and in Vogue the sexual images were the main way of stereotyping by portraying women in positions of inferiority and low social power (Linder, 2004).

The expectancies are present because of stereotypes that are surrounded by the different types of magazines. Magazines that aren't focused completely on beauty, fashion, and appearance like Fitness and Good Housekeeping, portray women in a less sexualized manner because the target audiences aren't expected to "buy into" the "thinness and beauty" cultural messages. Body image may play a role in the Fitness magazine, but it emphasizes a healthy body image and weight along with good health, where fashion magazines tend to portray women as thin or very thin because that's what's "beautiful."

A main focus of this study was to see if there was a common theme across the magazines in portrayals of women's body type, expression, and pose. Another focus was on how fully models were clothed in the advertisement, what type of clothing they wore, and what body part was the focus in the advertisements. It was expected that women in ads in the fashion magazines like InStyle and Glamour would be portrayed as thinner and more sexualized and would be dressed in little or no clothing. Fitness and Good Housekeeping were expected to show models that were average in body size and who were posed in more respectable positions.

Method

Selection of Advertisements

In this study, a total of 40 magazine advertisements were coded from four different women's magazines. 10 magazine ads were coded from each of the four magazines, which included InStyle, Glamour, Fitness, and Good Housekeeping. One issue of each magazine was used and the years of the magazines range from 2003 to 2005.

Coding System

The coding system looked at many different aspects of the advertisement. The categories that were coded included percent of face shown, gaze, expression, body pose, weight, body part focus, degree of clothing, type of clothing, product type, and whether or not the ad was seen as respectful towards women (see appendix A). Within each of the above categories were subcategories. The expression subcategories were:

Neutral/serious. Neutral/serious was when the model had no expression.

Smiling. Smiling was when the model had an open mouthed smile with teeth, or closed mouth smile.

Seductive. Seductive was when the model was in a sexual pose like sitting with her legs wide open, or placing a finger or object near her mouth.

Angry/frowning. Angry/frowning was when the model was frowning, or seemed angry with squinting of the eyes.

Other. Other was an expression of the model that didn't fit the above categories.

N/A. In N/A, the expression of the model wasn't visible.

The subcategories for body pose included:

Respectful. Respectful was coded when the model had a normal body position, and was not flaunting her body in a sexual way.

Dominant. This was coded when the audience gets the feeling that the woman had power or authority by the way she was standing or the way her body was positioned near an object.

Submissive. A submissive pose was when the model's head was down, shoulders were rounded down and she did not appear confident.

Sexualized. Sexualized was when majority of skin was showing or the body language was implying sex by placement of hands and pose of body (e.g. open legs).

Other. Other was a pose that didn't fit in the above categories.

N/A. In N/A, the body position was not visible i.e. in an ad with just the models face.

The subcategories for weight were:

Very thin. Very thin was when many bones sticking out, and the model was skeletal looking.

Thin. Thin was when the model was less than average body weight; a few bones may be visible, but she was not skeletal.

Average. Average was when the model was not overly plump, curvy, overweight, broad, thicker boned.

N/A. N/A was when the body was not visible in ad.

The subcategories of percent of face show and gaze are described in the following:

Whole Page. Whole Page meant the model's face was taking up the whole ad.

Most Of Page. Most Of Page was when the models face was taking up at least 50% of the ad.

Less Than Half. Less Than Half was when the models face was taking up less than 50% of the advertisement.

Directly At Camera. Directly At Camera was when the model was looking right at the camera.

Away from camera. Away From Camera was when the models gaze was away from the camera.

Gaze Not Visible. Gaze Not Visible was when the models gaze was not visible.

The subcategories of type of clothing and degree of clothing include:

Casual. Casual clothing is something that could be worn on any day, not dressy, just everyday clothing.

Formal. Formal clothing are clothes that could be worn to a party or to a business meeting.

Lingerie. Lingerie is underwear or some sort of sleep clothing like a nightgown.

Beach. Beach clothing is a swimsuit, a one piece, two-piece, or bikini.

N/A. N/A was when the clothing was not visible in the ad.

The other two categories were body part focus and product type. The body part focus category included breast/torso, buttocks, crotch, legs, face and other. The product types were body products (deodorant, shampoo, etc.), clothing, food, cars/trucks and other. Some of the subcategory findings weren't significant independently so they were combined with other similar subcategory/subcategories such as nude and scantily dressed.

Procedure

The magazine ads were chosen randomly. All the ads were chosen from ads that focused on one woman and then every third ad was coded. Three people ranging in age from 21 to 25 years old coded the advertisements, two were males and one was a female. The 25-year-old male was an Asian American college student; the 24-year-old male was a Caucasian and not in college, and the third coder was a 21-year-old Caucasian female in an upper level socialization processes psychology course. Advertisements were coded as a group with an agreement between the three coders. The inter-rater reliability was a 0.90% for a subset of the ads. The coders for the inter-rater reliability were the 25-year-old male and the 21-year-old female.

Results

Weight/Body Image

The weight coding was divided into two different categories of thin and average. A Chi Square Test of Independence was conducted to determine whether the two categories were independent of the magazine type. There was a significant association between depiction of weight of the model and type of magazine, X² (3, N=27) = 8.20, p = .042. Thin portrayals of women were represented in InStlye magazine (71.43%), Glamour magazine (57.14%), Fitness magazine (75.0%) and Good Housekeeping (0%). The portrayals of average body weight for women were represented in InStyle magazine (28.57%), Glamour magazine (42.86%), Fitness (25.0%) and Good Housekeeping (100%). Thus portrayals of thin women were more frequent in the Fitness and InStyle magazine and the portrayals of average women were most frequent in Good Housekeeping. (See Table 1).

Table 1

Frequencies and Percentages of Models Weight/Body Image by Magazine Type
Models
Weight/Body
Image
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good
Housekeeping
Total
Thin
5 (71.43%)
4 (57.14%)
6 (75.0%)
0 (0%)
15 (55.56%)
Average
2 (28.57%)
3 (42.86%)
2 (25.0%)
5 (100%)

12 (44.44%)
Total
7 (100%)
7 (100%)
8 (100%)
5 (100%)
27 (100%)

Body Pose

The category of body pose was divided into two different categories of respectful and submissive/sexual. A Chi Square Test of Independence was conducted to determine whether degree of clothing was independent of magazine type. There was a significant association between body pose and type of magazine, X² (3, N= 28) = 9.6, p= .022. The number of respectful body positions was represented in InStyle (55.56%) , Fitness (71.43%) and Good Housekeeping (100%) and in Glamour (14.29%). The highest number of submissive/sexual body poses was in Glamour (85.71%), then InStyle (44.44%), Fitness (28.57%) and Good Housekeeping (0%). The portrayals of respectful body position was most frequent in the Good Housekeeping magazine (100%) and the most frequent portrayal of women in a submissive/sexual body pose was in Glamour magazine (85.71%). (See Table 2).

Table 2

Frequencies and Percentages of Categories of Body Pose by Magazine Type
Body Pose
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good
Housekeeping
Total
Respectful 5 (55.56%) 1 (14.29%) 5 (71.43%) 5 (100%%) 16 (57.14%)
Submissive/Sexual 4 (44.44%) 6 (85.71%) 2 (28.57%) 0 (0%) 12 (42.86%)
Total 9 (100%) 7 (100%) 7 (100%) 5 (100%) 28 (100%)

Percentage of Face Shown

The portrayal of percentage of the female model's face category was divided into whole/most of the page and less than half of the page. A Chi Square Test of Independence was conducted to determine whether depiction of the face was independent of magazine type. There was not a significant association between the percentage of the model's face shown and types of magazines, X²(3, N= 36) = 0.36, p= .095 (this was a trend in the data). The percentage of whole/most face shown were as follows; InStyle (33.33%), Glamour (44.44%), Fitness (33.33%) and Good Housekeeping (33.33%). The percentage of less than half page face shown for InStyle was (66.67%), Glamour (55.56%), Fitness (66.67%), and Good Housekeeping (66.67%). The most frequent portrayal of a woman's face in most or the whole ad was in Glamour magazine (44.44%) and the most frequent portrayal of a woman's face in less than half of the ad was in Glamour (55.56%). (See Table 3).

Table 3

Frequencies and Percentages of Models Face Shown by Magazine Type
Face Shown
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good
Housekeeping
Total
Whole/Most 3 (33.33%) 4 (44.44%) 3 (33.33%) 3 (33.33%) 13 (37.14%)
< Half Page 6 (66.67%) 5 (55.56%) 6 (66.67%) 6 (66.67%) 22 (62.85%)
Total 9 (100%) 9 (100%) 9 (100%) 9 (100%) 35 (100%)

Gaze

The gaze category was divided into two categories of direct and away from the camera. A Chi Square Test of Independence was conducted to determine whether direction of gaze was independent of magazine type. There was not a significant association between direction of the gaze of the model and type of magazine, X²(3, N= 34) = 6.59, p= .086, although a trend towards frequencies was found. The highest percentage of direct gaze was found in InStyle (100%), followed by Good Housekeeping (66.67%) and then Glamour and Fitness (both at 50%). The percentages for gaze away from the camera in InStyle was (0%), Good Housekeeping (33.33%), and both Glamour and Fitness (50%). The magazine with the highest frequency of direct gaze at the camera was found in InStyle (100%), and the most frequently found gaze away from the camera was found in both Glamour and Fitness (50%). (See Table 4).

Table 4

Frequencies and Percentages of Models Gaze by Magazine Type
Gaze
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good
Housekeeping
Total
Direct 9 (100%) 4 (50%) 4 (50%) 6 (66.67%) 23 (82.35%)
Away 0 (0%) 4 (50%) 4 (50%) 3 (33.33%) 11 (32.35%)
Total 9 (100%) 8 (100%) 8 (100%) 9 (100%) 34 (100%)

Expression

The next section was expression of the model's face; it was divided into three categories of neutral, smiling, and seductive. A Chi Square Test of Independence was conducted to determine whether the models expression was independent of magazine type. There was not a significant association between facial expression of the model and types of magazine, X²(3, N= 34) = 6.85, p= .335. The neutral expression in InStyle magazine was (33.33%), Glamour (44.44%) Fitness (50%), and Good Housekeeping (12.5%). The smile expression in InStyle and Glamour was (33.33%), Fitness (50%), and Good Housekeeping (75%). The seductive expression ranged in percentages from InStyle (33.33%), to Glamour (22.22%), to Good Housekeeping (12.5%) and Fitness (0%). The highest frequency of the neutral expression was found in Fitness magazine (50%), the highest frequency of the smile expression was found in Good Housekeeping (75%) and InStyle magazine portrayed women with the highest percentage of seductive facial expression (33.33%). (See Table 5).

Table 5

Frequencies and Percentages of Models Facial Expressions by Magazine Type
Expression
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good
Housekeeping
Total
Neutral 3 (33.33%) 4 (44.44%) 4 (50.0%) 1 (12.5%) 12 (35.29%)
Smile 3 (33.33%) 3 (33.33%) 4 (50.0%) 6 (75.0%) 16 (47.06%)
Seductive 3 (33.33%) 2 (22.22%) 0 (0%) 1 (12.5%) 6 (17.65%)
Total 9 (100%) 9 (100%) 8 (100%) 8 (100%) 34 (100%)

Degree of Clothing

The section of degree of clothing was divided into two categories of nude/scantily dressed and fully dressed. A Chi Square Test of Independence was conducted to determine whether degree of clothing was independent of magazine type. There wasn't a significant association between degree of clothing the models wore and magazine types, X²(3, N= 29) = 3.087, p= .378. Nude/scantily dressed in InStyle was (42.86%), Glamour (57.14%), Fitness magazine (50%) and Good Housekeeping (14.29%). Fully dressed for InStyle was (57.14%), Glamour (42.86%), Fitness (50%) and Good Housekeeping (85.71%). Glamour magazine portrayed the highest frequency of women nude or scantily dressed (57.14%) and Good Housekeeping portrayed the highest frequency of women fully dressed (85.71%). (See Table 6).

Table 6

Frequencies and Percentages of Categories of Degree of Clothing by Magazine Type
Degree of Clothing
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good
Housekeeping
Total
Nude/Scantily Dressed 3 (42.86%) 4 (57.14%) 4 (50.0%) 1 (14.29%) 12 (41.38%)
Fully Dressed 4 (57.14%) 3 (42.86%) 4 (50.0%) 6 (85.71%) 17 (58.62%)
Total 7 (100%) 7 (100%) 8 (100%) 7 (100%) 29 (100%)

Something worth noting was the similarity across magazine types in product type and type of clothing worn by the model. Body products were the most common with 19, followed by clothing with 10 and food with 3. The types of clothing represented throughout all four of the magazines were casual 9, formal 8, lingerie 4, and beach 3.

Discussion

Some hypotheses were supported and some were not by the data collected in this content analysis. The results for weight/body image did support the hypothesis. It was expected that women in InStyle or Glamour magazine would be portrayed as thin, but the results showed that Fitness portrayed women as thin more frequently. The portrayal of women in Good Housekeeping was expected to show a high frequency of average weight/body image, and the data supported that hypothesis. Those findings were interesting because Fitness magazine would be thought of as portraying women of all body sizes and shapes to try and sell the message of a healthy weight and not a thin body weight/image. The results of the weight/body image category also shows that the ads are geared towards a target audience. Glamour and InStyle are geared more towards younger women (about 35 years old and younger), whereas Good Housekeeping is geared more towards middle age to older women (about 35 years old and older). If the audience can relate to the models in the magazines, they are more likely to be interested in the magazine and or the advertisement.

The portrayals of women in a respectful body pose were found to be most frequent in Good Housekeeping, as expected. The high frequency of portrayals of women in a submissive/sexual body pose were found in Glamour magazine, which was one of the two magazines, expected to show a high frequency, the other expected magazine was InStyle. As expected Glamour magazine portrayed the highest frequency of women nude or scantly dressed and Good Housekeeping portrayed the highest frequency of women fully dressed. These findings were consistent with previous research by Katharina Linder (2004). Women were found to be portrayed by using sexual images in Vogue magazine (a women's fashion magazine) and were not portrayed by using sexual images in a more general interest magazine like Time. The findings of the previous research and this content analysis shows that women are portrayed in a more sexual way (by degree of clothing, expression, and or body pose) in women's fashion magazines.

For the expressions of the models in advertisements it was found that Fitness magazine showed the highest frequency of neutral/serious, Good Housekeeping portrayed the highest frequency of smiling and InStyle portrayed women with the highest percentage of seductive facial expression. Once again the sexualized images were portrayed in the women's fashion magazine.

Some of the other advertisements focused on the percentage of face shown, and gaze of the model. The most frequent portrayal of a woman's face in most or the whole ad was in Glamour magazine and the most frequent portrayal of a woman's face in less than half of the ad was in Glamour. The magazine with the highest frequency of direct gaze at the camera was found in InStyle, and the most frequently found gaze away from the camera was found in both Glamour and Fitness.

Previous research by Reichert and Carpenter analyzed portrayal of the sexual explicitness in women's magazines over a period of 20 years. This analysis didn't focus on a specific period of time, but it did show that magazine ads are still portraying women in sexually explicit ways.

This study was important because it showed the different ways in which women are portrayed in different types of magazines. It proved that the magazines like Good Housekeeping that were geared more towards middle to older women, portrayed women in a less sexualized fashion than those geared toward younger women like InStyle and Glamour. It also suggested that the models used in the ads were important to the audience's connection to the ads. It was interesting that the thin body image/weight was found in Fitness magazine, when it was predicted that it would be found in Glamour or InStyle. Fitness would stereotypically represent women with a healthy body image/weight, but it was proven otherwise in this analysis. The results pose the question as to what is seen as a healthy body image/weight in today's society?

One limitation of the analysis was that the subcategories were difficult to define because people differ in their views as to their definitions of sexual, submissive, serious, and so on. The data may have been different if there were other coders; individual differences and the way one person codes an ad may have been different than the way another person coded an ad even if the subcategories were specifically defined. Another limitation was the month of the ads that were chosen. Some of the issues were during summer months, so the ads in those issues may have been different if they were from a different month.

Future research could look at the audience's reactions to the models in the ad. There could be different age groups of coders in which they code a magazine geared towards their age group and one not geared towards their age. Researchers could conduct questions that would determine whether or not the coders reacted differently to those ads and models in the magazine aimed at their age group or not aimed towards them.

References

Linder, K., (2004). Images of Women in general interest and fashion magazine advertisements from 1955 to 2002. Sex Roles, 51, 490-421.

Posavac, H. D., Posavac, S. S., & Posavac, E. J. (1998). Exposure to media images of female attractiveness and concerns with body weight among young women. Sex Roles, 38, 187-188.

Reichert, T., & Carpenter, C., (2004). An update on sex in magazine advertising: 1983 to 2003. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 81, 823-838.



Appendix A


Sample Coding Sheet: Portrayals of Women in Women's Magazine Ads
InStyle
Glamour
Fitness
Good Housekeeping


Portrayal


Face

       Face shown % of ad
Whole page
Most of page
Half page
Not shown
 
      
      
      
      
Gaze
Directly at camera
Away from camera
Over shoulder
Gaze not visible
 
      
      
      
      
Expression
Neutral/serious
Smiling
Seductive
Surprised
Angry/frowning
Other
 
      
      
      
      
      
      


Body

       Depiction
Depicted from front
Depicted from back
Depicted from side
 
      
      
      
      
Pose
Respectful
Dominant
Submissive
Sexualized
Other
N/A
 
      
      
      
      
      
      
Weight
Very thin
Thin
Average
Overweight
N/A
 
      
      
      
      
      


Body part focus: Breasts/torso ____ Buttocks ____ Crotch ____ Legs____ Face ____ Other___

Degree of clothing: Nude/almost nude _____ Scantily dressed ____ Fully dressed ____ N/A___

Type of clothing: Casual _____ Formal _____ Lingerie _____ Beach _____ N/A____

Product type:

Body products
Clothing
Food
Cars/trucks
Other
      
      
      
      
      

 


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