Do you know many “real” women who look like the pictures you see in advertisements?
People in advertisements aren’t supposed to look like ordinary people. Because models are selling a product, advertisers use computer technology to erase models' "flaws" because they believe it will make their product more appealing. In the past few decades, the media’s standard of perfection has grown increasingly unhealthy and unrealistic . While models twenty years ago weighed 8% less than the average woman, today they weigh 23% less. Kate Moss, pictured right, weighed just 100 pounds when this Calvin Klein’s ‘Obsession” campaign made her famous in the early 1990’s. At 5’8, that means she meets the diagnostic weight criterion for anorexia. While many people find images of emaciated women disturbing, not appealing, there is no question that they are becoming more commonplace.
Can you think of any positive portrayals of women in the media? What about women who are speaking out against sexist images? Can you think of any female role models in the media who are strong and healthy? If you can think of one, email email@example.com
Milly wrote us and said that she believes Beyonce Knowles to be a 'positive' portrayal of a woman in the media. Milly says, "She's not ultra thin, she's got actual curves, and she's not afraid to show them off. She's upbeat and confident."
What can be done about it? Don’t advertisers have freedom of speech?
Rather than calling for censorship, many media activists have decided to combat these advertisements by creating parodic images that portray the models as unhealthy rather than glamorous. This mock “Obsession” ad was created by Adbusters in response to Klein’s campaign. At the time of the campaign, the press also reported instances of people writing “Feed Me” on the Kate Moss posters hung in the New York City subway system. However, the negative pubilcity and public resistance to the images did not negatively affect Klein’s sales, nor did he cut the campaign short. There have been a few successful instances in which political lobbying and letters written to corporations have gotten companies to reduce or cease the production of sexist images: Klein was forced to halt his CK Jeans commercials, which were said to reference child pornogrpahy, and Sports Illustrated now offers a swimsuit-edition-free subscription.
How can I recognize a sexist image?
Advertisers often use sex to sell their product, and usually they use female models to associate the product--whether it’s cell phones, pantyhose or dish cleanser--with the sex act. In the Verizon ad at right, the text written in the phone- "I'm easy. Take me home. Turn me on."- refers to the Verizon phone service provided by phone, and the sexual willingness of the model.Both the woman and the phone are portrayed as objects that the potential buyer can acquire and use.
So an ad can be sexist even if the woman isn’t partially naked or too thin?
Yes. In fact, sometimes sexist ads don’t show women at all--just their body parts. In the Dior ad at right, female body parts are used to promote products. In this ad for cellulite cream, the implication is that using the cream will allow the buyer to obtain the legs portrayed. Often, legs or breasts are portrayed as objects that can be bought or sold, instead of as parts of people! An ad is sexist when it portrays a woman as an object of desire, instead of as a person.
“Does a woman’s identity count? Must she be made to want to look like someone else? Is there something implicitly gross about the texture of the female flesh? Is “beauty” really sex? Does a woman’s sexuality correspond to what she looks like? What is female sexuality--what does it look like? Does it bear any relation to the way commercial images represent it? Are women beautiful, or aren’t we? Of course we are. But we won’t really believe it the way we need to until we take the first steps beyond the beauty myth.”
Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women
Looking for women and girl positive media?
Watch Sami Muilenberg's piece, "Routine Check" that she created with Reel Grrls.