Ever wondered why a man can look at an advert featuring a six-pack and laugh, while a woman might look at a photograph of female perfection and fall to pieces? William Leith thinks he might have uncovered the answer
Men are not at the mercy of corporate manipulation on remotely this scale. Sure, there are six-packs creeping into our field of vision every so often. And, sure, this is making us feel insecure. I know – I was fat, and it’s no fun being fat, especially with all those pictures of Brad Pitt nagging away.
And then there are the adverts for Lynx, and the Reebok advert in which a man is chased around town by a big fat hairy belly. But for men the message is very direct. Buy some running shoes. Go to the gym. Cut down on the carbs. For men there is no mystery behind the veil of the adverts. You either tackle the situation, or become a fat slob. End of story.
For men the holy grail is within reach – you just need to get fit, and then you’ll be fine; then you can think about something else. But the messages aimed at women are much more complex and confusing. As the American social commentator Warren Farrell has pointed out, women’s magazines often contain articles about being Superwoman, which are next to adverts about being Cinderella.
In other words, the words tell women how to be independent and in control. But the adverts, where the money is, tell them they have to be beautiful.