Targeted Marketing Toward Young Girls

Targeted marketing techniques upset the general public when it’s used by cigarette companies, but what about when it’s used by the beauty industry? A look at some of the targeted marketing my 7-year-old daughter has noticed in Portland, OR over the last couple of weeks.

A few months ago, the news stations here in the Portland, OR area were interviewing convenience store owners about advertising for cigarettes. Apparently, some cigarette companies were offering perks to store owners who would place the ads at eye level to children (below the counter and near the candy). Rightfully so, this upset a lot of people to hear that the cigarette companies were setting their sights on the next generation of potential customers.

It upset me too and so does the targeted marketing employed by the beauty industry. To be clear, when I talk about the beauty industry in this context I am including beauty, diet, and fitness all together.

A couple of weeks ago I was with my 7 year old daughter, C, in a Barnes & Noble shopping for books. C asked to look for an American Girl magazine, since her subscription had recently run out, so away we headed. When we found the girl magazine section my daughter let out a horrified sound and looked as if she’d stepped in dog crap. “Why are there naked women near the American Girl magazines?” she asked.

Right up against the American Girl, Disney princess, and other magazines for young girls were magazines designed to bring out the insecurities in women. With barely clothed actresses and models, and headlines reminding us that our bodies are not desirable, they promise quick fixes within their pages.

Image: Magazines on display at a Portland, OR bookstore. Women's health and fitness magazines located next to magazines for young girls.

Image: Magazines on display at a Portland, OR bookstore. Women's health and fitness magazines located next to magazines for young girls.

Except now they weren’t just targeting me. Now the magazines are being placed snug up against the next generation of females to fall victim to impossible beauty standards and body shame. Targeted marketing indeed!

It’s important to understand that this is just as important, if not more important, than the cigarette advertising. At least with cigarettes it is becoming something that society looks down upon and doesn’t condone, but diet and exercise and the eternal quest for thinness…well, that’s becoming the most valued quality in Western societies.

The images in magazines are impacting and influencing young girls in our society.

69% of American elementary school girls that read magazines, report the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body; 47% say the pictures in the magazines make them want to lose weight (Martin, 2010)

The next generation of girls are developing their ideal body shape and beauty standards from the magazines. These magazines portray models and actresses resembling the average Miss America winner at 5’7” and 121 lbs, but the average women in the United States are 5’4”, 165 lbs, and a size 14. When I do the math this tells me that the next generation of girls are going to compare themselves to the women in magazines and believe they are lacking, just like so many in my generation. They are starting so young.

42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991)

81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991)

It’s time to challenge the ideal body shape that is being shoved down our throats and the throats of our children. There are some incredible organizations doing this right now; you can get a list of some of the here.

It’s time to open the dialogue with our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, etc and talk about the images on the magazines, women they know and find beautiful, and their concept of beauty. It’s time to talk about beauty from a young age with them so that they can have a chance to form their opinions before the media and advertising companies do it for them.

The insights these girls have may just blow your mind!

My 7 year old and I had a long conversation about the magazines because they really upset her. She talked to me about how one of the headlines read “Your Sexiest Body”. C was most confused about this because she didn’t understand why “a magazine would have to tell the girls to be sexy”.

Things you can focus on when talking to girls about the images in the magazines:

  • Talk about how advertising companies use women’s bodies to sell products
  • Talk about the “ideal” shape vs. the real shapes
  • Focus on factors other than body shape and size, such as talents, personality, hobbies, interests, goals, achievements, etc. There are a lot of talented actresses out there who have accomplished some amazing things, but it’s their bodies that get the most attention.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with the media and how they have influenced or impacted your life. Please share your experiences in the comments section below!

Statistics in this blog post came from NEDA.


Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.