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Empowerment Sold Separately: Two Experiments Examine the Effects of Ostensibly Empowering Beauty Advertisements on Women’s Empowerment and Self-Objectification


Empowerment-themed advertisements are becoming an attractive marketing strategy for companies due to their popularity among female consumers, but there is no known empirical work examining their effectiveness at increasing women’s felt empowerment. The explicit narrative of these ostensibly empowering advertisements seems empowering, but the visual messages still resemble traditionally objectifying campaigns, which have been known to lead to objectification in women. This series of two experiments measures the effects of nominally empowering messages on women’s post-exposure feelings of empowerment and self-objectification. In Experiment 1, 135 U.S. college women were randomly assigned to view ostensibly empowering beauty advertisements, traditional beauty advertisements, or control advertisements. They then completed a measure of state objectification and participated in a 3-min public speaking exercise as a measure of apparent empowerment. In Experiment 2, a more diverse sample of 326 U.S. women completed an online version of the study with a new measure of felt empowerment. Results of both experiments indicated higher state objectification following exposure to traditional beauty advertisements as compared to control advertisements, with some evidence indicating that the ostensibly empowering beauty advertisements also primed state objectification. Reported self-efficacy (Experiment 1) and felt empowerment (Experiment 2) did not differ by condition, but speech performance was judged as more empowered for individuals who saw the ostensibly empowering ad. We discuss potential explanations for the findings and offering suggestions for improving the effectiveness of these advertisements while decreasing risk of self-objectification.

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We would like to acknowledge our team of dedicated research assistants, without whom this work would not have been possible: Anna Bahorski, Emma Biggert, Maddie Boyer, Keegan Giffels, Emily Kuchman, Leah Langhans, Megan Lieb, Monica McCoskey, Joanna McKelvey, Yao Tang, and Zhuo (Ellie) Wang. We would also like to thank the members of the Media Psychology Research Group at the University of Michigan for their valuable input on this project.

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Correspondence to Amelia C. Couture Bue.

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This study was approved by the University of Michigan IRB, and we have complied with the American Psychological Association’s ethical standards in the treatment of participants.

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Couture Bue, A.C., Harrison, K. Empowerment Sold Separately: Two Experiments Examine the Effects of Ostensibly Empowering Beauty Advertisements on Women’s Empowerment and Self-Objectification. Sex Roles 81, 627–642 (2019).

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