Date of Award


Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Business (Research)


Management & Marketing

First Advisor

Ms. Rose Leahy


This study explores the portrayal of women in advertising in the fashion and cosmetic industry. While traditionally, companies have employed the use of highly attractive thin women known as the thin ideal in their advertisements, there have been some moves in the industry towards the use of women of various ages and sizes in an attempt to celebrate female beauty as a whole instead of focusing on the thin ideal. This has been in response to criticisms of the industry as dominant contributors to high levels of negative body images, dissatisfaction, extreme dieting and eating disorders among girls and women. Given the lack of research in the area of socially responsible advertising, this research focuses on the consumers’ reactions to the portrayal of women in advertising and on companies who act more socially responsible.

Focus groups were adopted as the primary data collection method, given the desire to discover female consumers’ general attitudes to socially responsible advertising. It is conclusive from the research that respondents are receptive to socially responsible advertising and that most would be inclined to a product from a company that is acting socially responsible. Specifically, it emerged throughout this that education in schools and educational adverts could be used as a tool to educate women about the dangers of advertising and that cultural opinions of perfection need to be changed with a change in advertising standards as a contributor to that overall cultural change. Although most believe Dove’s approach to advertising is ethical and that their “real women’’ campaign is a positive step for women, the respondents that took part in this research believe Dove adverts are boring and non adventurous and that they take the gloss away from the product.

Debate on the thin ideal has been prevalent for many decades, however given the substantial increase in eating disorders and the omnipresent influence of the media the time is now ripe for decisive action in the area of women in advertising. Most research in this area has focused on the psychological impact of the thin ideal. This new research is important as it explores the marketing implications of the portrayal of women in the fashion and cosmetic industry. The success of this industry depends entirely on how receptive consumers are to the images portrayed. Thus this research paves the way for the use of alternative images and encourages wider societal research and debate on standards of female perfection and beauty.


Appendices removed due to copyright.

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