An investigation of images of women : the development of an awareness campaign to boost self-esteem amongst South African women
The aim of this study was to investigate how images of women in the media that espouse women’s empowerment can indeed have the opposite effect and may even contribute to lowered self-esteem in women. To this end, this project is intended to explore issues such as body image and image manufacture in order to find a possible answer to the question of what is ‘real beauty’ in the South African context. A semiotic approach seeking to review the ways in which women are seen through visual communicative images was undertaken. This visual research revealed the importance of the ‘gendered gaze’ at the centre of issues that relate to self-esteem. An in-depth analysis of the literature, pertaining to self-esteem, interrogated the works of Naomi Wolf, John Berger and Susie Orbach, amongst others. This was carried out in order to understand more about how the dictates of consumerism pervade the work of the style industries. These sectors are well supported by the diet, food and cosmetic surgery industries who tend to effectively increase and add to a sense of body related insecurities. In addition, content analysis of selected South African editions of Cosmopolitan magazine was conducted. The images described represents a significant development period in the emergence of certain beauty ideals in South Africa. The British Unilever marketing campaign, The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, was used as a base model for the applied design component of this study. In addition an action research approach was employed through a series of interviews and questionnaires directed at mostly female participants in South Africa. This method revealed that self-esteem issues have far reaching implications, affecting women of all ages. As a response to the perceived need for a South African based campaign, this research project informed the development of The Sisterhood Self-Esteem Crusade. In contrast to The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty which was created to promote increased sales of beauty products, The Sisterhood Self-Esteem Crusade’s focus is to interrogate and raise awareness of self-esteem. Underpinning this was an attempt to build confidence, cascade new ways of understanding and to propagate sense making, informed through action research, amongst South African women.