The images we consume…

I would like to discuss how people perceive images in the media and the affects those images have on society.  Most of the images that we view have been altered to create an ideal or a fantasy, as opposed to a reality. Most Americans are probably aware that advertising images are altered, but that does not protect them from the messages that images send. Each picture a person views sends them a message of what perfection looks like. When someone sees a picture in an ad, they don’t just see a model displaying a perfume bottle, for example. They see beauty. They see what it looks like to be seductive. They see an ideal. They might recognize that the model in the picture is airbrushed, but it doesn’t prevent them from defining human beauty according to the altered image. People reflect themselves back into images and depict their world through those images, as opposed to understanding them at face value. Rather, people use these images to define themselves and the world around them. For example one might view an image and personally relate to it, or they might view an image and want to relate to it, asking how they could change themselves to closer reach the ideal depicted in the image.

The multitude of images that we consume in American culture has many affects. First of all, it causes people to constantly compare themselves to often impossible ideals. For instance, women might look to magazines to determine how they should look. Some might follow a path towards trying to become and image, in which the actual self can be lost.  Many people measure celebrities and others according to their images. For instance, how many images one sees of a person might be positively correlated to how relevant and important they perceive that person to be. I would say that people today also use social media to measure celebrities and non-celebrities according to their images. For example if a “friend” on Facebook only posts pictures of herself in full make-up, wearing heels and on vacation, one could perceive her living a very glamorous life, even though this is really just a highlight reel of images she wants seen. People are more mindful of their image (both in person and online) and the messages that it sends because we live in a society that is so consumed with, and aware of images.

Understanding people based on their images also plays a role in politics in our society. The general population tends to care more about who a politician is than what his or her policies are. For example, when surveyed, people rated President Regan highly, but didn’t typically agree with the actual policies he endorsed. People often want to vote for who they observe to be the better person. I think it would be safe to say that people determine who the better person is, based (at least partially) on the images of that person that they are exposed to. I imagine that if Americans were surveyed today and asked to describe our current president, many would list attributes of his personality or character; based on how they perceive the images they’ve been exposed to of him, as opposed to his political decisions or policies.

When it comes to images in the media, one could argue both that they are good and that they are not. Regarding this, I think that there is somewhat of a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we don’t want to see real images, and studies indicate that they wouldn’t sell products nearly as well as an altered, fantastical ideal. At the same time though, we hate these images for setting in our minds an unachievable standard of perfection. Many say that advertising force-feeds us these images, but we are the ones buying the magazines in which to consume the images. I do think that images in advertising have an effect on society; however I also believe that society has an effect on advertising. I don’t think that we can blame one or the other, but that the two perpetuate each other.

Published by Erin Mullen

I am currently a senior in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. I am focusing my degree on Public Relations and Rhetorical Advocacy. I am a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and am the Director of Creative Integration on the Bateman team, which is an elite group of students who researches, plans, and implements a public relations campaign to compete at a national level. Graduating from the Midwest College of Cosmetology in 2005, I have been working as a hairstylist for about seven years. I love the industry and am a strong believer in the importance of constant and continuing education. Communication, along with the hair/ fashion industry are two of my greatest passions; and I would ultimately love to find a career that merges both worlds together.

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