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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Hey Target, It's More Than The Thigh Gap

Ashley Riegle |
April 28, 2014 | 6:10 p.m. PDT

Arts and Culture Editor

Technology is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? With its ability to corral computers and airbrushing, Botox and cosmetic needles to remove our feminine imperfections? And thank God --  what goblins we’d be otherwise.

In the case of the most recent Target advertisement backlash, excessive Photoshop on an (already very thin-appearing) young woman was not only completely unnecessary, it was overtly offensive and eating disorder-inducing. For those who haven't seen it, a literal square block was removed from a young woman's crotch. It was such an obvious crop, it was as if a square cropping tool was dropped on a female's image and then approved for printing. But that's not my biggest issue with the bikini spread.

1. Target’s “fashion” photographs portray an example of “beauty” that is unrealistic and harm-inducing.

Think before you fill up your cart. (Flickr/howard-f)
Think before you fill up your cart. (Flickr/howard-f)

The Representation Project reports that 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. This number increases to 78 percent by age 17. Numbers like these have increased dramatically over time largely due to mass media images that present fictionalized and destructive visuals of what ideal young women should look like. 

In this particular case, it’s the model’s figure in general, for me, that causes entirely deserved alarm bells to go off. Here’s why:

Social media backlash to the latest Target advertising blunder focused largely on the gaping “thigh gap” – a portion of the model’s thighs and vagina which were unnaturally cropped to make her look thinner. These edits were disturbing beyond belief. But the thigh gap was only one piece of the model’s massacred form. Look closer. No woman or girl should possess protruding shoulder blades, or missing ribs or hips. And no woman or girl should be misled to think that depiction of femininity is in any way acceptable or ideal. Particularly in a democratic country where we have freedom as citizens and a free press, it’s revolting to consider how corporations like Target are – whether intentionally or not - brainwashing our girls and women into thinking that their bodies aren’t good enough.

2. The constructed female bodies depicted in Target’s recent ads (and fashion advertisements of countless other American and foreign brands alike) idealize eating disorders. These advertisements and commercials contribute to the incidence of anorexia, bulimia and other disordered eating behaviors in this country and abroad. 

Sixty-five percent of U.S. women and girls report disordered eating behaviors. This is a startling, but true statistic. And yet, the superficial interpretations of beauty just keep rolling out.

The Target image of the girl’s body brutally photo-shopped creates the picture of one thing, and one thing alone: a young woman who appears to be suffering from a very obvious eating disorder.

That is not acceptable, Target. And a simple apology isn’t enough. Nor is removing the image from your website enough. As a socially connected and cognizant company, we know you know the harsh truth about technology, right? That image can’t be erased: it's out there forever. 

3. Target leadership doesn’t care about women’s health and well-being; that much is obvious.

 This egregious advertising error occurred at the top of Target’s national advertising/communications chain. As someone who worked in corporate public relations for five years, with multinational companies no different than Target, I feel confident asserting that the advertisements in question passed through multiple “checkpoints” of approval. That reality startles me most. Who approved the emaciated looking model to begin with? No one? Multiple people? I truly would like to know.

If Target had women's and girls’ health and well-being in mind, in addition to issuing an apology (theirs was ridiculously weak), the company would have used the moment to state that they do not wish to promote unhealthy body images among women and girls or any of their customers. Even one step further, Target should have acknowledged the high incidence of eating disorders and reiterated that as a company Target does not condone the sexualization or shaming of women or girls.

4. Target’s choice of a young female model (even aside from the inexcusable and horrific Photoshopping) is not a relatable icon for the vast majority of American women and girls.

 According to Livestrong.org, the average height and weight of an 18-year-old girl in the U.S. is around 5’4”- 5’5" and approximately 130 pounds. Of course those numbers are averages, but they are based on statistical data. Looking at the female model in the Target ad, her height and weight appear to me to be about 5’8”- 5'9" and 105 lbs. Is that the image we want to be sending our women and girls? No.

All images used in a corporate campaign by any company, regardless of industry, convey the “face” of that company. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars assessing what ethnic minorities they should direct more advertising dollars to and what socioeconomic groups should be targeted. Nothing about corporate advertising is a mistake. Somebody signed off on the choice of model, editor, copy editor, etc. And thus, the model and hyper-sexualization of her must be questioned from a leadership standpoint. Why was this figure chosen of all the possibilities? How much favor was given to her petite frame? When did sexualized teenage girls become an acceptable mainstream marketing ploy? This is 100 percent NOT OK. 

In response to internet backlash against the advertisement, Target issued a brief statement, “It was an unfortunate error on our part and we apologize,” Target spokesman Evan Miller told ABCNews.com. “We removed the image from the site and we’re working to get a new image up there.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Miller, he really missed the mark in conveying his sincere regrets. Publishing photographs of this nature contributes to the disordered thinking, behaviors and body image issues that start eating disorders in the first place. An apology like this (which avoids to address the nature of the egregious editing in the first place) isn't an apology; it's an avoidance strategy.

In a perfect world, I’d point out that the Photoshop “architect” behind that job, was on too many pills, wearing five pairs of glasses or was actually an ape wielding Playskool scissors. But unfortunately from what I’ve heard, that photo was edited by a HUMAN.

For quite some time I’ve joked about the $100+ I inevitably spend anytime I drop into a Target store. I’ve been an outspoken supporter of Target as a company and corporate citizen. But unfortunately, Target’s inane marketing efforts impact a far more important and vulnerable population than myself: young girls and women striving to feel beautiful. In addition to raising our voices, writing letters and expressing our disapproval of Target’s marginalization of women, the most powerful way we can exercise our objection is to protest shopping in their stores. My protest begins now. 

TV host Ellen Degeneres invited the Photoshopped model onto her show to share her perspective. Go, Ellen!  Check out the video below.



Reach Arts and Culture Editor Ashley Riegle by email. Follow her on Twitter here.



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