Friday, July 26, 2013

An Issue Of Image

Following in true European summer tradition, we are about to set off on our annual two week holiday.  Last night, in preparation for our excursion, I decided to check out the hotels where we have reservations for the coming weeks.  Glenn always takes the lead in booking our hotels and, as he has yet to make a bad choice, I rarely bother to see where we will be staying prior to the rooms being booked.  As has been the case, all of the hotels where we will be staying look very nice online.  This time, however, I noticed something that I hadn't seen on the websites of other hotels where we have stayed.  Each and every site had too thin, scantily clad women gracing their sites.  Whether it was the lone woman taking in the night view from the balcony wearing the sheerest of "evening" dresses, or the one soaking in a jacuzzi, or yet another splayed across a satin sheeted bed, it would seem that sex is being used to market these otherwise respectable, name brand hotels to prospective customers.  This wasn't for a single hotel mind you; rather it was for several spread across four different countries.  Now I've done my share of traveling and this is the first time I've seen such blatant sexuality used to market reputable hotel accommodations.  And all of these "models" were women who look nothing like the typical ones I see every day.  Who exactly is the target audience?  Is the assumption that only men are making hotel reservations?  And speaking of men, where are they?  Are these women really traveling by themselves? And if so, who hangs out in their hotel rooms dressed as they are?

This marketing campaign has me thinking about body images and how they are perceived, used, and manipulated around the world.  A five star hotel in the United States is more apt to use the image of a sophisticated couple or a businessman or no people at all on their website while it seems as though single women are what sells in the same five star accommodations in Eastern Europe.  In fact, scantily clad women seem to be used to market most things in this part of the world (and others as well.  I know this phenomenon isn't unique to this region but it does seem to be a bit more over the top here).  From restaurants and bars to automobiles, soft drinks, and yes hotels, busty skinny women wearing little clothing are hawking products everywhere I look. What messages are these advertisements sending to today's young girls about what they should look like?  And more importantly, how do we as ordinary people counter the glitzy and sexualized images that come at us from all directions?

In my younger years I might have (and did) viewed these images and wondered what I had to do to look like these idealized women.  Now that I am older and wiser I understand that I will never be six feet tall nor will I be a size 2 and I am more than happy with that.  Do I love the way I look?  Some days I do while on others I don't.  Over time I've learned to deal with both the things I like about my body and the things I don't.  It isn't always easy when I look around me, but I'm doing the best I can.

But I am also hopeful.  During recent beach excursions I saw European women of all ages, shapes, and sizes enjoying the sun and sand.  While I was clad in what I consider my age and body appropriate Lands End swimsuit, everyone else was wearing much smaller and more revealing swim wear.  (Or wearing nothing at all).  And you know what?  I didn't see a single body that looked anything like the glossy images that stare down at us from billboards and websites.  Many of the women around me had sags, bumps, and wrinkles---the skin and bodies of real women--- but they weren't letting that stop them from enjoying themselves.  I found it deeply refreshing that regardless of the images that are so prevalent, so many of these women were comfortable in their own skins.  Perhaps media doesn't have the influence I think it does.  At least I can hope.

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