When considering this assignment and skimming through the text for a writing piece to reflect on, I immediately focused on Bakari Chavanu’s “Seventeen, Self-Image, and Stereotypes.” My mind immediately thought back to the weeks prior in school when I would continuously hear my seventh grade girls complain about the way they looked. Comments like “I look so ugly today” and “My hair looks bad,” were heard multiple times a day. Many female students in particular would ask to go to the bathroom often throughout the day to fix their makeup or their hair because of their self-consciousness about the way that they looked. And most of their concerns about their physical appearance were not only for themselves…it was for a boy.
Bakari Chavanu discusses the role in commercial advertising and the negative affect that it has on the younger generation, mostly based on stereotypes as taught through a seven week unit. Again, my thoughts were immediately redirected to a new unit in the curriculum adopted this past school year that teaches persuasive writing through advertising. As I reflect back on that unit, most of the girls decided to analyze ads that were visually appealing to them such as perfume, make-up, and current fashion. This would have been the perfect opportunity to analyze these ads for common stereotypes or unrealistic expectations that are plastered across them such as flawless beauty and the girl that is posing in a size 00 jeans. Chavanu had her students complete exercises such as ad analysis in both magazine advertisements and TV commercials. One of the most important quotes in this piece describes it perfectly, “ Ads will have you believe that no one is disabled and everyone is heterosexual; that a woman’s body is in constant need of improvement; that women need to look young, ‘beautiful,’ made up, sprayed up, very thin, and perfectly groomed” (28). Because of these frequent advertisements that are plastered in billboards, show up in every other page of a magazine, and is flashed on TV, statistically speaking one out of five women have eating disorders, teenage girls self-esteem is significantly lowered, and women of color question their beauty because of their lightness or darkness of skin.
By asking students to act as the role of critical consumers, students in her 11th grade class discovered the realities of Seventeen magazine. These stark realities consisted of advertisements dominating the majority of the magazine with only a few article scattered throughout, surveys that asked teens questions to reveal how they should think and act, and an unrealistic portrayal of society. One student exclaims this harsh reality by stating, “Well, now I realize that young girl magazines only focus on looks, and not being smart and achieving your goals. [They] never mention schooling or jobs—just malls and cosmetics” (29). This unit caused Ms. Chavanu’s students to question their own identities.
For further claims of the negative aspects that advertisements have, there is a list of fifteen facts in relation to what is wrong with advertising (27). These facts include that the average person spends three and a half years of their waking life watching commercials and how advertising turns almost every event into a sales, for example, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade complete with what else? Disney characters.