The world is fueled by consumerism and capitalism, which leads to advertising tactics to encourage people to buy and sell. Constantly surrounded by the mass media and technology, advertising is an unavoidable part of media that refers to the ideology of the male gaze – in terms of images, sexism, racism, and power dynamics – to objectify women and use them as commodities for capitalism.
The male gaze is the ideology that women are viewed as objects in the eyes of men, and women exist in favor and pleasure of men. Advertising in vast mediums supports the male gaze because the images of women as sexualized objects or victims of violence are displayed. In Beauty and the Beast, Jean Kilbourne writes:
“Advertising images do not cause these problems, but they contribute to them by creating a climate in which the marketing of women’s bodies – the sexual sell and dismemberment, distorted body image ideal and children as sex objects – is seen as acceptable” (125).
In commercials, runways, and print ads, the female body is a mannequin or an object used to sell another object. Certain clothing styles are made to exemplify parts of the female body – short skirts or short shorts to show legs, crop tops to show midriff, tight clothing to outline silhouette of the body, and or low-cut tops to expose cleavage. In print ads, the female body parts are zoomed in on, as shown in the Tom Ford for Men ads. Referring to the Tom Ford for Men ads, the female is nude because she is art, and nudity pertains to the absence of identity. If she has no identity, then she is an object, and since her body parts are exploited, blown up for the male gaze, she is sexualized, and putting these two subjects together, she is a sex object.
The images of the female as a sexualized object have a subliminal message of sexual violence. In Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads, Cortese says: “Advertising not only makes this sexual genre of violent abuse tolerable but also unmistakably glorifies it. Sexual violence has become romantic and chic instead of being seen as grievously contemptible” (72-74). Images of sexual violence in advertisements are modeled by the male touching the female in an aggressive, dominant, and or inappropriate way, as shown in Fig. 3.65 (73). It may be misinterpreted that it is acceptable for the male to touch the female in this fashion. The greater ratio of men to women in advertisements is a message of gang rape and sexual violence, as displayed in the Dolce & Gabbana fashion ad:
In the Dolce & Gabbana ad, there are four men and one woman. Three men are watching the man pinning the woman down in a sexual position. This glorifies rape culture and sexual violence because the female is an object of perfection, and the men are an image of attractiveness. In reality, rape and sexual violence is the interpretation of women as sex objects. It is the stripping of the female identity and using her body for the male’s sexual pleasure. After, the female’s body is discarded (murder or negligence) like an object. Advertisements that deliver these glorified messages of sexual aggressive behaviors towards the female need to be considered because advertisements contribute to the actions of the public – not only persuading consumers to purchase, but also giving the acceptable idea of glorified sexual harassment. The harassment is often committed by men, which makes them dominant since they control the way women feel.
The female is blonde, blue-eyed, thin, and symmetrically proportioned figure that represents beauty in advertisements. Advertisers promoting this standard of beauty are racially discriminating people that are not the female described. They are telling the public that if they do not look like the female (Candice Swanepoel) below:
then they are ugly and unworthy, so they should buy this product to at least feel good about themselves. The decision-makers and advertisers are mostly white males that decide what is beautiful. This representation of perfection and beauty has become the beauty standard because the public has come to believe it is, as a result of constant bombardment of these ads of perfect beauty. The beauty standard is not natural, but learned through mass media, and detrimental to vulnerable young girls that are in the process of developing and vulnerable women. In The Media and Body Image, Wykes and Gunther say this message: “stay young, slim, and sexy if you don’t want to stay single” (212) is implanted into the minds of females. Women has learned to believe that they must look good for men and to someday be married, so they self-annihilate themselves.
The sexual objectification of women and the beauty standard is found in popular culture. Female celebrities present themselves through media and must look their best in the public eye. In Shakira’s Can’t Remember to Forget You music video, she wears multiple revealing outfits and flaunts her body. She represents Eve in one of the shots as she ascends from the water with her nude body and hair over her chest. Popular culture is influential, and if girls see their favorite artists flaunting their bodies or wearing revealing clothing, they will too. There are magazine spreads that compare celebrities’ no makeup faces to their make-up faces, and this is negative. Women will see the comparison and think they need to buy make-up because it is apparent that the make-up faces are more appealing to the eye. Advertisements should deliver positive messages that include all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. Popular culture is powerful, hence, female and male celebrities should coalesce to create a campaign or music video like, 2010’s We Are The World 25 For Haiti music video that helped promote awareness after the earthquake in Haiti. This project should remind young girls and women that they are beautiful just the way they are and to love and accept who they are. Troubled females should realize that there is no such thing as perfection and this can help them realize they are unique and beautiful through the message in the form music. The Dove Real Beauty Sketches commercial is a moving way for women of all shapes, sizes, age, and race to understand that one is too critical upon oneself. This is brilliant way to tell women they are beautiful because they are themselves and no one else.
Dove Real Beauty Sketches:
Eleonore Pourriat creates short French film, Oppressed Majority, about a feminist society:
We Are The World music video:
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Cortese, Anthony J. “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising.” Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising. Lanham: Rowand and Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2008. 45-76. Web.
Kilbourne, Jean. “Beauty and the Beast of Advertising.” Los Angeles: Center for Media and Values, 1989. 121-125. Web.
Wykes, Maggie, and Barrie Gunter. “Conclusion: Body Messages and Body Meanings.” The Media and Body Image: If Looks Could Kill. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2005. Web.