«Citation: Chan, K. and Cheng, Y. (2012). Portrayal of females in magazine advertisements in Hong Kong, Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 22(1), ...»
(Frith et al., 2004). Caucasian female models are employed to associate with modernity lifestyle, western taste, and high-living. This indicates that the Hong Kong society tends to think highly of foreign models and western beauty trends, and an interest in embracing globalization.
The support for using Caucasian female models in the Chinese Hong Kong culture can also be linked to the cultural interpretation of color (Fung, 2006). Dark color symbolizes secrecy, and mystery, while white color symbolizes beauty and mystery. Traditional Chinese women believe the Chinese axiom that “one portion of whiteness can hide three portions of ugliness” (Fung, 2006). A qualitative study found that Hong Kong females perceived that pursuing white skin tone color is equivalent to making a great change in their lives. Interviewees expressed their concerns to stay competitive when compared with other women in beauty (Mak, 2007). The adoration of western modern lifestyle and a cultural belief of whiteness as beauty and modernization contribute to the dominance of Caucasian female models in Hong Kong.
The combination of female figures less often depicted as cute beauty types, less often depicted in professional roles in the current study demonstrates the conservative gender orientation among
physical beauty in order to gain self-confidence and approval.
In terms of product categories in which Chinese and Caucasian models appeared, skin care and facial beauty products as well as slimming services occupied the greatest proportion for Chinese models. Clothing and accessories as well as skin care and facial beauty products occupied the largest proportion of advertisements for Caucasian models. On the other hand, there were a high percentage of Chinese models employed in slimming services advertisements. We believe that advertising for slimming services tends to employ local celebrities with whom the target audience is familiar, and who are more likely to be Chinese. Previous findings suggested that western female models were more likely linked to body beauty while Asian models were more likely linked to facial beauty (Frith et al., 2004). The current study provided a different pattern. In the current study, Caucasian female models were used to a similar extent as Chinese female models for facial beauty. However, Chinese female models were more likely to be used in remedial body beauty products such as slimming, while Caucasian female models were more likely to be used in enhancement body beauty products such as clothing.
Analysis of target group products found that gender stereotypes was more severe for female target products than for products targeted for both males and females. The high percentage of portrayals of female figures as sex kittens for females target product is communicating to females that they need to be sexy in order to gain admiration from males. Advertisements for female target products portray women in predominantly decorative roles and as sex kitten beauty type. This is worrisome as female audiences are exposed frequently to restrictive beauty types and occupational roles for product categories that aimed at them as target audience.
To conclude, a content analysis of advertisements from a popular lifestyle magazine in Hong Kong was conducted. The results provide evidence of gender stereotypes. Female models were portrayed mainly in decorative and celebrity roles. The beauty types showed a lack of diversity, with classic beauty type dominating the scene. This emphasizes the advertisers’ universal belief in classic beauty type and the importance of classic beauty for Hong Kong women. Further research should be conducted to examine whether the drive for beauty is inner-centered (i.e. to enjoy self-confidence) or is outer-centered (i.e. to please the significant others or to gain higher social status) in the advertisements. There was significant difference in the portrayal of Chinese and Caucasian models in the advertisements. Caucasian female models were more often portrayed as trendy beauty types than Chinese female models. Advertisements for products targeting females were more gender stereotyped than advertisements for products targeting males and females. Reader response studies should be conducted to investigate how females and males in Hong Kong interpret these gender stereotypes and restrictive beauty types. Further studies can be conducted by examining more different types of magazines as well as investigating audience interpretation of the magazine advertisements.
Beauty types Classic/feminine. The model is slightly older than an average fashion model, feminine, usually wears soft and feminine apparel.
Cute. The model wears clothes more suitable for younger age. She may have small ponytails, accessories with cartoon characters, or childish facial expression.
Sex kitten. Usually wears sexy attire, lingerie, and revealing or tight clothes. She may show suggestive facial expression or body posture.
Casual. The model wears everyday clothes or clothes for physical exercises/recreational activities.
She usually has no or light make-up.
Trendy. Wears faddish clothes and displays oversized accessories, colorful attire, and often wild or tousled hair.
Others. Other beauty types that do not fall into the above categories.
Race The Caucasian models are ethnically white in appearance and usually American or European. The Chinese models are ethnically yellow in appearance. As it is difficult to differentiate Chinese from Japanese or Korean, we therefore assume all of them are Chinese.
Occupational roles Celebrities. The model is a famous person from the entertainment world and other recreations or sports, including popular film and television stars, sports personalities, fashion models, and so on.
Decorative roles. The model is not depicted as having a functional role. She is shown only for her attractiveness and beauty.
Housewives. The model is represented as housewives in family roles, as mothers with children or carrying out household activities.
Professional. The model is featured in a career or business environment that showed her in some occupations in terms of dress or using accessories typical of the profession.
Recreational. The model is dressed in a way that suggests she is engaged in some recreational activity such as visiting friends, shopping, sports and other outdoor activities, walking or jogging.
Source: Frith, Cheng, & Shaw (2004)
Chi-square=29.7 (p0.001); expected frequency for four cells were less than 5.
Note: The eight print ads featured Spanish/African/Indian female figures were excluded in Table 2, Table 3, and Table 4.
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