WHERE THE BOYS ARE:
AD-INSPIRED SOCIAL COMPARISONS AMONG MALE AND FEMALE TEENS
This is an investigation of the influence of extreme beauty in
today's advertising on teenage boys compared with teenage girls. Factor
analyses revealed that the underlying dimensions of ad-inspired social
comparison vary substantially by gender. Furthermore, while a need for social
approval was the best predictor of comparing with ideal beauty in advertising
for both boys and girls, other aspects of the comparison process diverged in
important ways. Other personality differences were also explored.
WHERE THE BOYS ARE:
AD-INSPIRED SOCIAL COMPARISONS AMONG MALE AND FEMALE TEENS
WHERE THE BOYS ARE:
AD-INSPIRED SOCIAL COMPARISONS AMONG MALE AND FEMALE TEENS
Nancy J. Nentl
Ronald J. Faber
University of Minnesota
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication
111 Murphy Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0418
[log in to unmask]
WHERE THE BOYS ARE:
AD-INSPIRED SOCIAL COMPARISONS AMONG MALE AND FEMALE TEENS
The emergence of physical fitness as a core American value has
resulted in an estimated 75% of the general population participating in least
one athletic or exercise activity daily compared with 25% less than a generation
ago (Netemeyer, Burton and Lichtenstein 1995). This exponential growth factor
has fueled the proliferation of fitness centers and health clubs as well as a
multi-billion dollar industry of health and fitness-related products and
services. While beauty and physical perfection have long been the social
prescription for women in this culture, the growing focus on the ideal male
physique is a relatively new phenomenon. Today, however, both men and women
appear to be on a quest to achieve a beautiful body and outward appearance.
One source for the excessive value placed on physical appearance for
both males and females is simply the cultural imperative: American society
admires beautiful and beautifully fit people. However, the media in general,
and advertising in particular, in their relentless presentations of extreme
beauty, have also been criticized for being at least partially responsible for
America's fixation on beauty (Netemeyer, et. al. 1995). Beautiful female
models in television and magazine advertising are frequently presented as sexy,
desirable and flawlessly, if not artificially, beautiful (Irving 1990). Both
male and female models are often featured in ads as the center of attention and
surrounded by beautiful cars, homes and people (Feingold 1992). Moreover,
while models display a level of attractiveness that is largely unattainable for
most people, many people, particularly young women, look to these prototypes of
beauty as role models to emulate and as a cultural standard by which to compare
themselves (Richins 1991).
Social comparison theory has enjoyed a resurgence of research
interest, particularly as an implicit mechanism in the interaction between ideal
beauty advertising presentations and young women. According to a number of
studies that have investigated this domain of social comparison, comparing
oneself to extremely beautiful models presented in today's advertising is a
common behavior for many young women (Martin and Kennedy 1993; Nentl 1995;
Richins 1991). However, little, if any, empirical evidence has been gathered
about this behavioral phenomenon among young men.
The purpose of the present study is to help overcome this gap in the
literature and begin to shed some light on the phenomenon of social comparison
with models in ads among teenage males. More specifically, this study explores
the degree to which males and females engage in social comparisons and the
underlying factors that comprise and relate to social comparisons with
advertising images for both boys and girls.
Social Comparison Theory
Festinger (1965) asserted that comparing oneself with others tends
to be a spontaneous human response. However, the motivations behind such
behavior tend to be more ambiguous and vary according to individual
interpersonal needs. For example, Wood (1989) found that some people compare
themselves with others who are inferior to them on some dimension in order to
mitigate the effect of a negative attribute. Others, on the other hand, in
order to learn how to improve compare themselves with and emulate others who are
superior in some way. Comparison is thus a way to bolster one's
self-perceptions by providing an opportunity for self-enhancement. Finally,
some people may be motivated to compare themselves with others as a means of
resolving discrepancies between who they actually are and who they would like to
be ideally (Higgins 1987).
Much of the existing literature on social comparison focuses on
interpersonal sources. However, Festinger suggested that comparisons could also
be made with "nonsocial sources." These non-social sources may include mass
media presentations and advertising. This type of social comparison inspired by
visual presentations is conceptualized as a two-dimensional interactive behavior
whereby a person initially relies on media messages as a source of information
to provide ideal standards of physical attractiveness and behavior norms. Once
these norms are developed, when a need for social comparison is motivated and
when specific models in the media who are perceived as ideal beauty prototypes
are encountered, a person will evaluate personal attractiveness against that of
Engaging in comparisons with media models, especially those in ads,
is very common among college age women (Richins 1991). In a study of high
school girls, Nentl (1995) found almost 70% of her respondents compared
themselves to models in ads. These findings are not surprising for several
reasons. First, beauty is a prominent attribute of comparison (Richins 1991).
Second, idealized beauty is pervasively reflected in advertising appealing to
women (Caballero, Lumpkin and Madden 1989). Finally, public presentation and
physical attractiveness are highly-valued social commodities in early dating
relationships (Freedman 1984). It is not surprising that wanting to look more
like the model in ads was found to be inextricably linked to the comparison
process in both studies (Nentl 1995; Richins 1991).
Attractiveness also plays a prominent role in early dating patterns
for boys (Sprecher 1989), and ideal masculine pulchritude is increasingly
presented in advertising (Netemeyer et al. 1995). However, it is unlikely that
boys engage in social comparison with models in ads to the same degree as girls
for at least one important reason. This is the fact that beauty is
yet to be as socially salient for males as it is for females. Thus,
an attractive male model featured in an ad may not inspire high levels of
comparison among the boys, and boys may, in general, be less inclined to
evaluate their own level of attractiveness. Nonetheless, it is believed that
boys may engage in some level of this type of comparison.
Dimensions of Social Comparison with Models in Ads
As mentioned earlier, there are likely to be multiple aspects of
engaging in social comparison. One element may revolve around the motivations
for participating in this behavior. One may engage in social comparison to
learn information about how to change, or to influence self-perceptions.
Although outcomes of social comparison were not a central focus in Festinger's
work, he did concede that feelings of inadequacy could result from comparing
with superior others. Wood (1989) found support for this belief noting that
engaging in upward comparisons often results in injuring one's self-esteem.
Research on the impact of exposure to attractive models in ads on young women
has shown that while these ads do not affect their perceptions about their
looks, they do negatively impact their satisfaction with themselves and their
overall self-esteem (Irving 1990; Martin and Kennedy 1993; Nentl 1995). As a
result, we might expect that social comparison might incorporate the degree to
which the behavior occurs, the motivations for it and the outcome of this
activity. Differences in each element between males and females are highly
likely. However, the biggest differences may emerge in the degree to which
engaging in this behavior leads to negative outcomes. The smallest differences
are likely to be over the use of social comparison to learn about how to look or
Antecedents of Social Comparison
The psychological literature and previous research on women suggest
that there will be several variables that will affect the degree to which people
engage in social comparisons with models in ads. Among these are public
self-consciousness, self-esteem and satisfaction with appearance (Nentl 1995).
People high in public self-consciousness fear social rejection and
ameliorate that fear by emulating and conforming to the cultural-determined
ideal (Doherty and Schlenker 1991). Young women who have this characteristic are
particularly vulnerable to fashion trends and appearance-related fads and tend
to be heavy cosmetic users (Solomon and Schopler 1982; Miller and Cox 1982).
Therefore, since the media are dominant presenters of these socially-approved
trends and preferences, teenagers who score high on public self-consciousness
are more likely to engage in comparison with models to gauge their level of
appearance against that of the social ideal. While this may be somewhat more
true for girls than boys, both are expected to be affected.
Self-esteem has been shown to be related to social comparison for
women. Young women who have lowered self-perceptions tend to compare themselves
with models more often (Nentl 1995). A prime motivation for making these
comparisons with beautiful models is for self-enhancement (Martin and Kennedy
1993). This type of upward comparison is a way to self-improvement or a source
of inspiration, and a way to become superior. Many ads provide for this
possibility of self-enhancement through use of specific brands or by examining
what attributes make the model in the ad appealing.
With regard to satisfaction with appearance, high appearance
satisfaction attenuated comparison activities. When a woman thinks she is
attractive and feels satisfied with her body, she is likely to have less need to
look to the ads to compare with and/or improve herself. However, when a woman
is less satisfied and seeking self-assurance about her
appearance and desires to enhance or change her self-image, she tends
to use the presentations of beauty both as a cultural ideal to emulate and as a
standard for comparison. Steiner-Adair (1986), found that self-esteem,
self-confidence and even anxiety levels fluctuate for women depending on their
perceived body image and how they feel about the way they look. When these
attributes are high, there is less of a motivation to engage in social
One additional variable has been found to significantly contribute
to the variance accounted for in women's level of social comparison (Nentl
1995). This variable was a propensity to fantasize. This ability to imagine
oneself differently may explain the degree to which people compare themselves
with images of beauty shown in the media. The promotion of fantasy through
advertising, particularly via artificially-created beauty, voluptuousness and
overt sexual themes, underlies many advertising strategies; wanting to be like
or look like the model will enhance purchase intention. While fantasizing is
not thoroughly empirically investigated as an interactive behavior with
advertising in the present study, the propensity to fantasy will be explored as
a correlate of social comparison for both males and females.
Most of the expectations regarding engaging in social comparisons
and psychological antecedents are based on research that has just examined
women. One of the purposes of this study is to determine if similar constructs
also serve to motivate social comparison with advertising models among young
men. While sociocultural influences about appearance are stronger for females
than males (Burton, Netemeyer and Lichtenstein 1995), public self-consciousness,
self-esteem and satisfaction with appearance are presumed to be psychological
characteristics that are relatively common for both males and females. It is
therefore expected that the variables influencing the comparison process for the
girls will also apply to boys, although perhaps to a lesser degree.
Data were gathered from a sample of 225 females and 214 males
between the ages of 15 and 18 years old from a Midwestern high school. The same
survey was administered to both the boys and the girls. The instrument included
several scales measuring expected antecedent variables and a recently created
scale designed to measure social comparison behavior with advertising (Nentl,
Wilson and Faber 1995). This scale of social comparison contained 18 items
reflective of the information and evaluation dimensions of the construct. A
reliability alpha for this scale was .88.
Public self-consciousness and self-esteem were measured using the
Fenigstein Public Self-Consciousness scale (1975) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem
Inventory (1965). Cronbach's reliability alphas for these scales were .81 and
.87, respectively. Satisfaction with appearance was measured with a set of
items logically derived for the purposes of this study (alpha = .94). The four
questions were "How satisfied are you with how you look?" "How satisfied are you
with your body?" "How attractive do you think you are?" "How attractive do you
think other people think you are?"
The tendency to fantasize was measured by a four-item set of
questions: "I frequently daydream," "I find it easy to lose myself in a film,"
"Compared to others, I have a very active fantasy life," and "When I see a
movie, I often think what it would be like to be one of the characters."
Although low, the coefficient alpha of .57 was deemed adequate for the goals of
Close to 70% of teenage girls agreed or strongly agreed with the
statement that "I compare myself to the models I see in ads." However, when
boys were asked a similar question, the results differed dramatically with more
than 70% disagreeing with this statement. Thus, the supposition that boys are
considerably less active comparers than girls was supported.
To contrast the underlying dynamics of the comparison process
between boys and girls, a factor analysis of the 18 social comparison scales was
computed and compared with the factor structure derived from the data from
girls. Only factor loadings greater than .6 were retained for analysis. (See
Table 1.) For the girls, two factors--a Negative Evaluation Factor
(eigenvalue=5.74) and an Information Factor (eigenvalue=1.63)--emerged from the
data. The total variance accounted for by these two factors was 56.9%. The
ten-item primary factor, the Negative Evaluation Factor, indicated that items
related to feeling less attractive than and wanting to look more like the model
were intertwined with the comparison behavior items.
A three-factor analytic structure emerged from the boys' data. The
Negative Evaluation Factor (eigenvalue=7.85), the Compare Factor
(eigenvalue=1.82), and the Information Factor (eigenvalue=1.14) accounted for
52.4% of the total variance. The six negative, affective items thus produced
the primary and separate factor, and were not integrated with comparison
behavior items, as was the case with the girls. The second factor for the
boys, the Compare Factor, had three items which represented both the behavioral
component and perceiving the model as the social standard for comparison. Two
items comprised the third factor from the boys' data, the Information Factor.
This factor was defined as relying on advertising as a source for current
fashion trends and social preferences.
These divergent results from the two factor analyses demonstrate
that the dynamics of this ad-inspired comparison behavior are not completely
analogous for females and males.
FACTOR ANALYTIC STRUCTURE COMPARISON
NEG.EVAL. COMPARE INFORMATION
FACTOR FACTOR FACTOR
I wish I was as good looking as the guy
in the ad. .84
I wish I could change something about
myself when I see the guys in the ads. .76
I feel less good looking than the guy in the ad. .74
I wish I had a build like that. .71
I wish I was as popular as the guy in the ad
appears to be. .64
I think I should change myself to look more
like the guy in the ad. .63
I compare my build to the guy's build I see
in an ad. .82
I frequently compare myself to the guys
I see in the ads. .80
I use the guys in magazines and TV as a
yardstick to measure how good I look. .75
I get ideas about the brands I want to buy. .77
I get ideas about how to look or dress. .68
EIGENVALUES 7.85 1.82 1.14
Variance Accounted for: 33.8% 9.6% 9.0%
I wish you had a body like the model in the ad. .82
I feel less good looking than the model. .80
I wish I was as good looking as the model. .79
I frequently compare myself to the model in the ad. .77
I wish I could change something about myself when
I see models in ads. .77
I don't think about how I look. -.68
I compare my body to the model's body. .70
I use models in magazines and TV as a yardstick to
measure how good I look. .70
I feel good about the way I look. -.69
I think I should change myself to look more like
the model in the ad. .62
I get ideas about how to look or dress. .81
I get ideas about the brands I want to buy. .79
Advertising gives me a good idea about how to
look and act. .66
People in ads show what the "in" thing to wear
or own is. .65
EIGENVALUES 5.74 1.63
Variance Accounted for: 46.2% 10.7%
Summed factor scores were created for all respondents based on the
items loading on the three factors for the boys. T-tests were then conducted to
compare the degree males and females endorse each of these components (see Table
2). The results of these t-tests indicated that the girls scored significantly
higher than the boys on each of the three factors.
Mean scores from the boys and girls on the four personality scales
were also compared using t-tests. (See Table 3). In each case, significant
differences were found by gender. Girls scored significantly higher than boys
on public self-consciousness and fantasy. On the other hand, boys scored
significantly higher on self-esteem and satisfaction with appearance than girls.
The final phase of this study investigated whether the four
personality variables significantly contributed to explaining the degree of
social comparison engaged in by both females and males. Previous research has
suggested that these variables should relate to social comparison for women, but
little information exists to indicate whether this would also be true for boys.
The results of a stepwise regression analysis indicated that for the female
respondents, the best predictor of comparison behavior was public
self-consciousness (see Table 4). The next best predictor of comparison
behavior was low satisfaction with appearance, followed by the propensity to
fantasize. The high correlation between satisfaction with appearance and
self-esteem resulted in a non-significant F change for self-esteem in the
regression analysis for the girls. In other words, self-esteem did not
contribute significantly to the prediction of comparison behavior when
satisfaction with appearance was already entered in the equation.
T-TEST RESULTS FOR SUMMED FACTOR SCORES
BETWEEN FEMALES AND MALES
FEMALES MALES T-VALUES DF P VALUES
COMPARE FACTOR 8.5 5.9 9.14 433 .01
FACTOR 25.1 18.7 10.14 426 .01
INFORMATION FACTOR 7.6 5.9 7.95 432 .01
T-TEST RESULTS FOR PERSONALITY SCALES
BETWEEN FEMALES AND MALES
FEMALES MALES T-VALUES DF P VALUES
(45 possible points) 35.9 33.1 3.75 418 .01
(50 possible points) 32.6 41.6 -6.25 423 .01
Satisfaction with Appearance
(40 possible points) 23.0 26.9 -4.22 425 .01
Propensity to Fantasize
(20 possible points) 12.7 11.7 3.71 427 .01
RESULTS OF REGRESSION ANALYSIS
PREDICTING SOCIAL COMPARISON BEHAVIOR
BETWEEN FEMALES AND MALES
INDEPENDENT VARIABLES FEMALES MALES
Public Self Consciousness .52** .39**
Self-Esteem -.09* -.22**
Satisfaction -.26** -.07*
Fantasy .19** .15**
Overall R squared .20 .40
** Significant at .05
For the boys, public self-consciousness was also the best predictor
of social comparison. Self-esteem and the propensity to fantasize were also
significant predictors of comparison behavior. Satisfaction with appearance,
however, was not a significant contributor here. Further analysis showed that
there was not a high correlation between satisfaction with appearance and
self-esteem in the boys' data as had been observed in the girls' data.
Therefore, this did not mask the potential contribution of satisfaction with
appearance to the prediction of social comparison behavior.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The primary objective of this study was to determine whether the
high degree of ad- inspired social comparison behavior among young females could
be detected among young males. Another objective of the study was to
investigate whether the underlying conceptual understanding of social comparison
among young females holds for young males. The study also sought to determine if
psychological antecedents thought to be critical to the comparison process for
girls would play similar roles for boys.
Consistent with expectations of the study, the frequency with which
young girls engage in ad-inspired social comparison was dramatically higher than
that reported by young boys. Considering that beauty is an admirable and
enviable attribute for women in our society, and one that is ingrained at a very
young age (Striegel-Moore 1986), and that beauty is an enormously salient
attribute in many ads as well as the comparison process (Richins 1991), it is
not surprising that girls are more intrigued by and more interactive with ads
that feature ideal beauty forms than are boys.
Although the act of comparing one's level of beauty with that of
the model's is more or less typical behavior for many teenage girls, a number
of reasons may account for why such behavior is rather atypical for teenage
boys. First, for boys, ad-inspired comparisons may be supplanted by a more
interpersonal type of comparison behavior. That is, just as girls look to the
beauty models for evaluation and validation, boys may look to their peers to be
validated and as a basis for comparison. This mode of comparison among these
youngsters may be the type of interpersonal behavior originally outlined by
Festinger (1954), where the "nonsocial source" comparisons such as the media are
subordinated to comparisons with a reference group.
Another reason for lower levels of comparison behavior among the
boys may stem from the fact that the extremely idealized "hard body" look of
many male models prominently featured in ads is simply unattainable for a number
of boys, particularly for gangly teens who have not yet reached their full
physical development. Several authors suggest that people are most likely to
make comparisons with similar rather than with dissimilar others (Festinger
1954; Wood 1989). The substantial incongruity of appearance between the model
and the boy may be why these extreme male body forms do not inspire the level of
comparison activity among teenage boys. Granted, this may also be true for
young girls who have yet to develop physically. However, female models are
often more heavily adorned than male models and display a number of other
salient attributes that serve as points of comparison such as the model's
makeup, hair, nails, etc.
Finally, the relatively low comparison behavior among boys may be
because the male model in the ad is not the object of attention for boys. In an
open-ended question included on the survey, many boys said that they were likely
to compare themselves to the males they see in the ads when the model was
surrounded by beautiful females or by desirable objects such as "hot" cars or
trucks, or if the model was a skillful athlete or involved in a sport.
Consequently, it is not the extraordinary look of the model that they want to
achieve, as may be the case with the girls, but it is the objects surrounding
the model that they would like to acquire. Future research might help to
determine the relative contribution of these various explanations for why
females engage in more social comparison with models in ads than males.
The underlying concept of ad-inspired comparison appears to be
different in important ways for boys than for girls. While both boys and girls
tend to seek the ads for information about current fashion, the effect of
comparison behavior varies. For girls, feeling less attractive than the model
was embedded in the comparison process. For boys, however, comparison behavior
and wanting to look more like a cultural preference were not intertwined. When
boys do compare themselves to male models, feeling inferior is not an automatic
response. While it appears true from the primary factor that there is a desire
among males to conform to what is perceived as a cultural preference, that
desire is not necessarily spawned by making comparisons. What may be resonating
is a type of band wagon effect produced by the pervasive nature of
presentations of beauty in advertising. That is, the sheer abundance of
idealized beauty presentations in advertising may cultivate the idea that
beautiful people are not the exception but in fact the norm (Feingold 1992).
Rather than to emulate the model in order to be so attractive as to stand out
from others as appears to be the case for the girls, boys may merely wish to
conform to what they believe has become a cultural norm of appearance in order
to blend in with others.
Of the personality characteristics thought to moderate social
comparison behavior, the common denominator for both groups among those who do
engage in comparisons with the ads is having high social awareness and an
identity that relies on social approval. There is little question that
vulnerability to social opinion is a common phenomenon among teenagers. The
high school years, the start of dating for both boys and girls, are a time when
both appearance and social approval are particularly important (Freedman 1984).
Thus, the importance of maximizing social appeal becomes paramount. Both male
and female models in ads represent the epitome of social desirability, and
implicitly convey to those who are socially defined that attractiveness and
"being cool" are vital components of peer approval. Therefore, it is reasonable
to assume that, like the girls, the boys who do interact with advertising models
do so to gauge how socially appealing they are in comparison to the perceived
ideal and to get ideas about how to enhance their personal attractiveness.
Looking to the ads then becomes an important way to bolster self-image and
The two other variables that contributed to the prediction of
comparison for females were satisfaction with appearance and the propensity to
fantasize. The high correlation between self-esteem and satisfaction with
appearance resulted in satisfaction being the only variable necessary to explain
comparison behavior. The addition of the self-esteem variable into the equation
added little new information in explaining variability. It is thus apparently
true that for many young girls, feeling good about oneself is inextricably
linked to feeling good about one's appearance. Since a girl learns at a very
early age that beauty begets favor and power, and streams of social and media
themes of beauty persistently reinforce that belief as she matures, it is not at
all surprising that not being happy with the way she look results in not being
happy. It is also not at all surprising that a young girl would perceive a
beautiful model in an ad to be the cultural standard bearer, and use the ad to
learn how to boost both her appearance and her self-confidence.
For the boys, the self-esteem and fantasy variables were the other
predictors of comparison behavior. Satisfaction with appearance did not play in
the process nor was this variable tied to self-esteem. Physical attractiveness
is apparently neither as salient an attribute for males in the comparison
process nor as central to a male's identity as it is to a female. However,
while improving appearance is not the motive behind a boy comparing himself to
a male model, he may be attempting to bolster his self-esteem by looking to the
ads to learn how to enhance himself in other ways. For example, he may be
looking to the ads as a source about how to dress or what brands are currently
in vogue, as the Information Factor suggests. He may also use the ads to learn
how to act and/or perform with his peers or with members of the opposite sex.
However, while satisfaction with appearance was not sufficient cause for
comparison with the models, there is some evidence that appearance may be
becoming increasingly important to males. A recent study indicated that males
tended to overestimate the musculature of the ideal male body and to
substantially inflate the chest size they believe women prefer (Netemeyer and
Adele 1995). Moreover, as the media continues to feature idealized male bodies,
personal appearance may become a more salient social attribute in the
ad-inspired comparison process.
The differences between the boys and the girls on the personality
scales were interesting. Although the girls did score somewhat higher than the
boys, it was not surprising that both boys and girls in this age group scored
relatively high on the public self-consciousness scale since adolescence is a
time of peer prominence and magnified social awareness (Freedman 1984). What
was surprising, however, was that the boys scored so high on the self-esteem
scale. Adolescence is thought to be time of uncertainty and feeling conspicuous
about oneself and one's appearance. This notion was evidenced far more among
the girls than the boys in this sample. Interestingly, while the boys scored
significantly higher than the girls on satisfaction with appearance, the
magnitude of this difference was not great. It is possible that compared to the
girls, how good the boys feel about themselves has little to do with how good
they think they look. The source of self-confidence for boys may come from
other sources of their identity. For example, academic or athletic prowess or
popularity with the opposite sex may influence how boys feel about themselves.
Further research could pinpoint more relevant and concrete factors that
contribute to a young boy's positive self-image. For example, evidence has
shown that, whereas beauty persists as a prominent source of worth and
self-esteem for women, as men mature, they tend to be valued more for their
earning potential and financial security than for their appearance (Smith,
Waldorf and Trembath 1990; Sprecher 1989). It may be that, even at this young
age, a male's self-esteem comes from what he does or who he's with rather than
what he looks like (Rodin, Silberstein and Striegel-Moore 1984).
Another point of interest from the personality scores is the
difference between the two groups on the fantasy scale. Girls demonstrated a
greater propensity to fantasize than the boys. This result may be evidence that
the tendency to fantasize among girls is, like the cultivation of beauty, a
product of early socialization. With seductive toys such as Barbie dolls and
animated figures like shapely Pochahontas, even very little girls are
encouraged, as they engage in imaginative play, to fantasize about having
beautiful, sexy bodies and gorgeous, flawless faces.
Generally, the results of this study suggest that gender plays a
critical role in individual responses to advertising. The level of engaging in
social comparison and the likelihood of it leading to negative consequences
differ by gender. However, this behavior has some common antecedents for both
males and females. A need for social approval and, secondarily, a tendency to
fantasize, significantly predicted social comparison behavior for both the boys
and the girls. Additionally, self-esteem significantly predicted this behavior
for the boys and would have for girls as well had it not been masked by a strong
correlation among the girls with satisfaction with appearance.
There are several important areas of future inquiry for the greater
understanding and testing of fantasy as a viable component of media effects,
not the least of which is the investigation of the dark side of the promotion of
fantasy through beauty advertising. Does fantasizing about looking like a model
produce a longing so acute that it creates grave body image distortions and
unhealthy eating or compulsive exercising in an attempt to emulate this ideal?
Could this be a problem for some boys as well as girls? While, at the moment,
young males appear to be somewhat invulnerable to the steroid look of the male
body form featured in many advertisements, the high participation in
fitness-related activities and the evolution of fitness and health as core
American values suggests that this may not always be the case. The growing
focus on body shaping and fitness for men may eventually result in the same type
of vulnerability to such ads that we now see in women.
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