Thursday, May 22, 2008

Disembodied gendered objectification in images of masculinity and femininity

While we’ve already heard the cliché “sex sells”, does anyone even know what that really means? What does it mean to say “sex” is “selling” something. This concept is used as a marketing strategy and can be seen in billions of ads. The truth is that “sex” itself doesn’t literally sell the product but it does draw and attract consumers to the product. For example, you can have the same car in two different ads but if you put a hot girl in a string bikini on top of the one of them, the car with the girl will more attention and in turn will give it more sales. Advertising products by using sex makes the product stand out from the rest of the clutter of ads. Unfortunately, if all the ads start using “sex to sell” it’s going to make them less shocking and therefore grab less attention. Jean Kilbourne, one of the best known advocates for the exploitation of women in advertising, claims that, “we are exposed to over 2000 ads a day, constituting perhaps the most powerful educational force in society (Kilbourne 194).” If that is the average are exposed to a minimum of 104,000 ads a year. Kilbourne claims that the portrayal of women in advertising is negatively influencing the view men have of women in our society and how women view themselves. She claims that the constant barrage of images and texts depicted in ads, suggesting the idea that ‘the thinner a woman is, the better she is’, has a strong influence, especially in female adolescence, that contributes to eating disorders and low self esteem issues. She has published several books and films on these subjects that seem to support her claims.
The female body (as well as the male) is always being objectified in the media. For sex to cell, women have to be used to in a less than respectful manner. Unfortunately there are many ramifications to this objectification. “This struggle starts with the media depicting unreasonably "perfect" bodies as attainable and continues with the confusing profusion of beauty, diet, and "health" advice from profit-making corporation (Biber 63).” In other words, since the advertisements use women with perfect, bodies, breasts, legs etc. you women today believe that this is what they need to look like to be a beautiful, sexy woman. When in fact even the women in these ads don’t really look like that. It’s all about the lighting and airbrushing of the picture. These objectified roles play a huge role in how girls as young as the age of 6 view their bodies. What’s worse yet than using the female body to sell ads is using only one specific area of the female body in a objectified manner to sell a product. The ads basically give the message that “women, you are an object, not a person.” This can be seen in the ads with the pear and the where all you see are the breasts. The whole woman doesn’t even need to be seen just the most “important” parts. Moreover, the single reason behind the incredible amount of body dismorphia that the objectification of the female body causes is simply cold hard cash. “And the unconscious hallucination grows ever more influential and pervasive because of what is now conscious market manipulation; Powerful industries-the $33-billion-a-year diet indusry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, the $300 million cosmetic surgery industry, and the $7 billion pornography industry-have arisen from the capital made out of unconscious anxieties, and are in turn able, through their influence on mass culture, to use, stimulate, and reinforce the hallucination in a rising economic spiral (Wolfe 124).”


Kilbourne, Jean. “Beauty… and the Beast of Advertising.”
New York: Longman, 2001. 193-196

Wolfe, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth”
Chapter III. Gender and women’s bodies

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The cult of thinness
by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber.-2nd ed.