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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Body Image


Body Image Advertising

Linda Rellergert, Nutrition Specialist, St. Charles County, University of Missouri Extension


Our culture seems to be obsessed with physical appearance. Men and women, teens, boys and girls — all segments of society tie identity to the way people look, to body size and shape, to clothes and hairstyle. Is it any wonder that the way we view our body (body image) can have a tremendous impact on the way we feel about ourselves.


For most people, especially young people, body image is strongly influenced by mass media and advertising. Advertisers try to persuade us that something is wrong with us, that something needs to be fixed, that by buying and using their product we will be more attractive, have better social skills, have more friends, be happier! While we might think of this as a relatively recent development, examples of advertisements that use this same approach have been around for more than 100 years. The quotes below are from an 1891 advertisement for a weight gain product:

“Don’t look like the poor unfortunate on the left who tries to cover her poor thin body.” (Notice how thin was associated with poor.)

“Don’t suffer from the tortures of inferior devices that artificially fatten with inflationary devices and pads.” (The goal was to have the female body look larger — imagine that! The female body never seems to be socially acceptable without changes.)

“In just 4 weeks I gained 39 pounds, a new womanly figure, and much needed fleshiness.” (Forget the saying I’m not fat, I’m fluffy. Make it I’m not fat, I’m fleshy!)


From an 1891 advertisement for Ritter and Company, Dealers in Fine General Merchandise, for Professor Williams’ famed Fat-Ten-U Foods.


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