Frances Valerie Bonifacio, director of Strategy at Serviceplan, an advertising company Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: To many people, the idea of the ‘perfect image’ is the airbrushed, impossibly flawless face and body of models displayed on billboards and in magazines.

For decades, despite the lack of solid research on whether airbrushed models in ad campaigns do sell more products, the advertising industry has been advocating superficial beauty.

Gulf News talked to Frances Valerie Bonifacio, director of Strategy at Serviceplan, an advertising company, about the impact of airbrushing, subliminal messages and the advertising industry’s responsibility towards empowering women.

“A product’s own merits are its biggest selling point. When used to enhance — but not alter — a model’s look, airbrushing can do half the selling,” said Bonifacio.

Having said that, today’s women, she believes, are more aware than ever before and prefer “substance” over mere style. Over and above a model’s looks, many women are on the lookout for product highlights like “paraben-free, and cruelty-free” formulations. Nevertheless, there is a need for the advertising industry to re-examine its approach.

“A woman’s age-old insatiable quest for self-esteem has been repackaged and abused by the advertising industry into something called “perfection”. While a woman only seeks to look good, the industry is convinced they can sell more by making her believe that good looks is average, and that perfection should be the norm,” she said.

While images of airbrushed models do not necessarily translate to more sales, a number of researches have proved that the beauty industry’s influence on women has, at most times, “unjustly resulted in anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence”, said Bonifacio.

She pointed out that no campaign that advocated mythical perfection was ever valid nor mindful of advertising ethics. Bonifacio highlighted that in the absence of any clear and real legislation that governs the industry’s portrayal of “real beauty,” a good number of brands and ad makers have managed to relegate ethics to a mere fine print (i.e. ‘Styled with lash inserts’).

“Most times, they manage to get away with it, but sometimes, they end up merely recalling an ad once noticed and ordered by the authorities, only to do it all over again like it were a vicious cat and mouse ‘catch me if you can’,” she said.

However, the path of promoting superficial beauty is gradually being forced to change in this age of social media, which also has acquired the mandate to call the bluff of the airbrushed brigade.

Bonifacio explained the advertising industry needs to get its priorities right to survive in the social media world. She pointed out brands are no longer competing with other brands for advertising views; “their ads have to compete with more factual and substantial content coming from “real” vs “paid” faces”.

“Beauty influencers who are bold enough to film their natural, everyday look before embarking on a make-up tutorial, for instance, are far more trusted and respected than brands who brandish their “photoshopped” models all over the internet,” said Bonifacio.

She referred to a gradual shift towards realistic messaging in the beauty industry. “Beauty influencers are the second biggest group of content creators on YouTube these days. If anything, that is proof enough that more and more women are seeking authenticity and guidance from “real world” figures who are not afraid to show and to admit that they do look ordinary, like everyone else, sans make-up and their trusted beauty tricks,” said Bonifacio.

Ultimately, what is reassuring is the message that it is okay to be looking just the way you are. Make-up is an option but it’s not a substitute for who you are.

“For young women seeking role models, this message is a good start. Now if only the ad industry can give them bona fide role models way above these influencers — women who not only exemplify natural beauty but who embody solid ideals that young women can aspire to — then the industry would have redeemed itself from decades of utter neglect,” said Bonifacio.