Women are often objectified in the media. They are used as symbols to help sell a product or make a statement. They are also used as eye candy for the male gaze. Minorities in the media are either kept to a minimum or may not be represented at all. It’s a fact that most ads use white women to sell a product UNLESS they need to compare them to a colored woman. This is especially prevalent in skin care products ads. Some News channels objectify women by placing them in an environment where male opinion and male gaze dominate. In the following piece, I will discuss and analyze how magazines portray both women and the women minority.
The bulk of the advertising companies are male-operated. Advertisers use sex to try and sell an item. Men look at women’s magazines for pleasure, while women look at women’s magazines for ways to improve themselves. The items placed in these magazines create this cloud of lies and deception. Advertisers tend to heavily place “…shampoo, fragrance, and beauty products” (Steinem, 2) in women’s magazines because they’re dubbed as “women’s products”. These products can supposedly “turn back time”, or make one look younger, or improve one’s self-esteem. What these items basically do is create a void in people’s hearts for the reason that they just don’t work as advertised. Skin care ads may use many different “shades” of women to convey a message about a product or to show how a product will work with different colored skin. I don’t see men used for this purpose and I don’t see this rampant objectification of men in ads ‒ albeit a few ads may do so ‒ or in any other form of media.
According to Gloria Steinem, women’s magazines are rarely taken seriously and are referred to as cash cows. Women’s magazines nowadays lie heavily on advertising for the “average” woman, that is, the woman that needs to buy things in order to feel important. The woman they use in these ads are not real. They’re a figment of the advertisers’ imaginations.
In an article by Alex Alvarez, she says that in “…so many women’s magazines, both “fashion” mags like Glamour and Vogue and “sexy” mags like Cosmo and Horse & Hound do women so much more harm than good”. Minorities in magazine are often portrayed as being sultry and seductive. They may be represented as helpless and weak mainly because they may not speak the language, which I guess make them more vulnerable?
Latinas are often depicted as having well-defined curves and a well-toned body. According to Alvarez, “They can get away with playing the “bad girl,” possibly because they are allowed – and even encouraged – to have more overtly sexual bodies, with an emphasis on curves, dark eyes and bright, plump, shiny, slick, wet lips shown in loving close-ups, usually while the face to which they’re attached is growling or purring or doing something else that’s totally fierce”. We can see this trend on television in a show like Modern Family where Sofia Vergara is the embodiment of the representations of Latinas.
Black women are often represented as “…“white-washed” in appearance”(Alvarez). “Features that are seen [as characterization] of black people, like curlier hair textures, wider noses and fuller lips, are often downplayed in American magazines, conforming to a white standard of beauty”(Alvarez). Magazines don’t seem to know how to represent Black women. They often choose to create another shade of white, if you will. Alvarez puts it precisely when she says: “…while Latinas are allowed to be “fiery” and “seductive,” the magazine and fashion industry seem [to be] confused about how, exactly, to portray black women, choosing instead to whitewash them and choose only light-skinned women with whittled-down figures, or very dark “exotic beauties” that are treated more like sculptural objects than flesh and blood women”. As you will see in the examples below, the true skin color of a black woman is almost always altered to fit the “image” of the ad.
Eastern magazines are portraying women in a similar light. An article written by Nadia Siddiqui articulates the reasons behind this. Siddiqui states that “Gender segregation and role divisions [in China] have made women conform to traditional value systems. Submission, obedience and modesty have been the accepted qualities for women that subjected them to male power. However, these countries are now steadily gaining economic strength and expanding their presence in global markets” (32). The same was said about magazines in India, Pakistan, and Turkey. The influx of western advertisers in these countries is the main contribution to this increasing trend. Western advertisers are applying western ideologies in their pursuit to advertise to the Eastern market. Below, I’ve chosen a few magazine covers from eastern magazines. As you can see, they are similar to their western counterparts, albeit with more modesty. One can also see that the content in eastern magazines may be of more benefit to society when compared to those in the western hemisphere where content tends to be about aesthetics more than anything else.
In conclusion, portrayal of women in magazines differ slightly between western and eastern cultures. Western culture tends to standardize women to a white standard. They also tend to focus on the aesthetics of the woman more than her character. Eastern magazines tend to portray women in a similar light aesthetically, but the content may be of more benefit to the reader.
Steinem, Gloria. “Sex, Lies & Advertising.” MS Magazine July-Aug. 1990: 1-11. Web.
Alvarez, Alex. “MODEL MINORITY: HOW WOMEN’S MAGAZINES WHITEWASH DIFFERENT ETHNICITIES.” Web log post. Racialicious the Intersection of Race and Pop Culture. N.p., 10 Apr. 2008. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. http://www.racialicious.com/2008/04/10/model-minority-how-womens-magazines-whitewash-different-ethnicities/
Nadia Siddiqui (2014) Women’s magazines in Asian and Middle Eastern countries, South Asian Popular Culture, 12:1, 29-40, DOI: 10.1080/14746689.2014.879423