Fitting the Criteria
Time after time magazines are put on display in a local supermarket or CVS. Subconsciously we walk by them casually noticing the woman on the cover wearing next to nothing because that is normal. Their luxurious presence adds an element to the advertisement that the product cannot do on its own. Advertisers strategy to utilize attractive women poses a problem because these images become objectifying and portray women in a promiscuous light. Whether it be Kate Upton licking an ice pop in a bikini on the cover of GQ magazine or Kim Kardashian on the cover of Cosmopolitan, the sex appeal of women is constantly being exploited. The unrealistic beauty standards implied by these women then dictate what society deems attractive. What message are these sexy advertisements sending to young girls? That women must have a skinny figure with giant breasts and showing skin to allure attention. Similarly, music videos incorporate scandalous looking women to attract publicity. This content is accessed easier and more frequently than ever. However, this representation puts pressure on women to look and act a certain way and harms young girls by damaging the way they see themselves and beauty. This representation of women and its direct effects on society must be repaired.
In this essay I will look at how this issue is relevant in society through three discrete sections: images in the media, content of music videos and the effects it is having on girls. I will also examine theories of how this problem can be solved and through what means. In the book Repair by Elizabeth Spelman, she discusses the concept of mending social fabric. Members of society, especially influential in the public eye, must work towards repairing the social fabric regarding women in the media. As large of an issue that this is, there is hope. Companies such as Dove are adding women of all sizes in their advertisements. Also, female celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Sia act as the needle and thread to reweaving this broken fabric. As a result of these women having big fan bases and being symbolic in the media, they are starting to fix this problem. A selection of female celebrities rejects the ideology of how women in the media should look attempting to eliminate the over sexualization of women. Society needs to recreate and repair what is deemed beautiful, attractive, and sexy so all women feel confident and beautiful.
Images of women in advertising: When creating an advertisement, advertisers incorporate images of women to help sell their products. The use of their bodies adds interest to the products that they are selling, but because of the evolution of society, magazines have new sexual freedom. This freedom allows the use of sex orientated advertisement to expose women’s bodies more than ever before. Cortese writes, “advertisers are the kings of soft pornography” (23). The dehumanizing images of women in advertisements perpetuate a loss of female humanity. As seen below in figure 1, perfume ads almost always have a scandalous looking women holding the bottle. These models typically consist of skinny, size zero, tall women with big breasts, a full face of makeup and wearing barely any clothing. In advertisements “how female breasts are displayed is a key part of sexual attraction” (Cortese 22). Implementing sexual appeal in ads for clothing, lingerie, and beauty care products pressures women to look sexually attractive. The tools used in an advertisement’s agenda diminish women’s self-esteem making them feel obliged to meet these standards. These beauty standards are very unrealistic for the everyday girl and misleading for men. When young girls flip through magazines and see these images, they subconsciously feel like they should look that way too. By teaching women and girls that their appearance is more important than the person they are, degrades women and causes damage to their self-esteem. There is a very small number of advertisements that include models who are larger, have smaller breasts, or have no makeup on.
Women in music videos: Music has become a huge aspect of pop culture and with the rise of Youtube, artists create music videos that are watched by millions. The context of these music videos visually and verbally exploit women. Music videos, particularly rap and hip hop typically have graphic content of women usually wearing revealing clothing. Many popular rap songs casually sing about sexual acts with women thus promoting it as a common occurrence. This is degrading and represents women as possessions or trophies. As a result of the general public listening to these degrading songs every day, people become immune to the wrong concepts rappers are condoning and fail to recognize the damage it does. Again, it is a subconscious message sent from these songs because the content discusses women in a derogatory manner resulting in boys thinking it is acceptable to talk about women in this objectifying way. Rap music like this has helped to create a society where male dominance over women is accepted.
An example of music videos that utilize women in a disrespectful way are “Love Me” by Lil Wayne. In the video “Love Me” there are multiple women in cages wearing tight, leather-like outfits. They are filmed holding whips and rolling in a shallow pool in a suggestive way. Throughout the video the chorus of the song repeats, “Long as my bitches love me.” This normalizes referring to women as bitches. The women’s sole purpose in these videos are as accessory and to attract attention. The problem with rap videos is that they give the impression that women must be in revealing clothing acting suggestively to appear appealing to men.
Reichert Lambiase writes,
“Early studies of music video noted that sexual content was often implied rather than blatant, focusing on flirtation among characters or innuendo such as strategically placed microphones or camera angles. Studies employing the same definitions of sexual reference have found that roughly two thirds of music videos contained sexual imagery, however, noted that when female characters in videos are not participating in such activities, they appear either be preparing for sex — taking a sensuous bath, for example — or scheming to obtain it.” (33–34)
He continues to explain how earlier music videos did not have the same intensity of graphic content as they do now. This creates problems because music videos are more easily accessible with the rise of computer displaying these images to young minds with the click of a button. The sexist portrayal of the women creates unrealistic standards and certain expectations.
The effect on women and young girls: “Media images have a potentially indirect effect by forming an unrealistically thin ideal, as well as a potentially direct impact on body image disturbance” (Botta 23). As a result of this being a subconscious message, media’s definition of beauty is just automatically being embedded in girls’ minds. The effect of this subliminal message of how women should look has taken a toll on many of my friends. As young as sixth grade, my friend Sarah started to diet. She started calorie counting and not eating candy to try and lose weight. Similarly, my other friend Emma is very cautious with what she eats and actually cries about her weight. Neither of these girls are overweight but because society promotes super skinny as pretty, it resulted in these girls not feeling comfortable in their own bodies. It is disturbing to think that because of the effects of media images, young girls are struggling with self-love and acceptance. I, as a female, have also felt pressure in my appearance based off of society’s portrayal of women in ads and music videos. When I was in middle school I can remember looking up, “How to be pretty” because I wanted to look like the girls in the Victoria Secret Magazines. Many of my friends to this day will not go out in public without makeup because they think others will see them as unattractive. Botta writes about the alarming statistics that “media variables accounted for 15% of the variance for drive for thinness, 17% for body dissatisfaction” (22). Media creates a misleading message to young girls about how they should act or dress to appeal to a man. When advertisements present women in an attractive way and claim that attractive means skinny, naked, and polished it implements this ideology. Similarly, when music videos present promiscuity as a way to get the attention of men, young girls start to think this is how they should act.
What would happen if society continued to represent women as over-sexualized beings in the media? Young girls going through puberty will have low confidence because they do not have the same sex appeal as these media models. Girls may not be taught their worth and potential if they are constantly watching music videos feeding them promiscuous content. Lastly, men and boys will have expectations for women that are unrealistic. In the book Repair Elizabeth Spelman even acknowledges that women’s bodies are materialized by noting, “indeed, for the most part, women are much more likely to appear in pinup calendars in the offices and shops of repairmen…” (27). This appearance of women has become a normal aspect of society but Spelman proposes a solution. Spelman writes of a method to repair a societal issue which is, “reweaving rips in the social fabric” (31). This form of repair is thought to pertain in a larger sense to an issue that is not easily fixed. Although she does not explicitly mention how to reweave specifically, people can examine her concepts and implement her ideas. In order for the problem of the representation of women to be resolved, different people must work together to reinvent how women are perceived and valued. Therefore, Spelman’s theories are obtained by people who are trying to revise ideas of how women should be represented.
Certain companies and celebrities are running with Spelman’s reweaving rips theory by initiating change. Despite the fact that the majority of advertisements consist of this degrading representation of women, one company is actively trying to change that. The brand Dove uses women of all sizes and ethnicities to advertise their product. They created “The Campaign for Real Beauty” to try and empower women to feel better about themselves. As seen in figure 2, the Dove advertisements include women with large breasts, small breasts, bigger sizes and different completions. This opens doors for other companies by demonstrating that a product can be successfully promoted without promiscuity. Similarly, female pop artists are working towards changing how the music industry views women. Sia who is a popular new artist has hidden her physical identity from the public. Her success shows that women do not need to be sexual to be successful in pop culture. Similarly, celebrity Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup for her television appearances. This is huge for girls to witness someone with tremendous pressure to be flawless and aware of her public appearance not wearing makeup.
Between advertising and music videos, people are constantly being fed promiscuous, seductive, and suggestive images of women. This graphic content is objectifying and creating subconscious ideas of how women should look or act. When society detaches women in the media from having feelings, opinions and personalities, they are dehumanized and objectified. Solely using women for their appearance puts pressure on young girls and women and gives men misleading messages. Furthermore, society manipulates how we perceive women and beauty which poses a problem. This repair project cannot simply be fixed with glue or tape; therefore, we must implement Spelman’s ideas of repairing the social fabric in society. Spelman’s method can be seen through companies such as Dove and music artists like Alicia Keys and Sia. With the help from more companies and music artists that are rejecting this ideology, it is possible to change how women are represented in the media. If this tear in societies social fabric is not repaired, it will be damaging to young girls’ self-esteem. So next time a magazine is put on display in CVS, actually notice the women on the cover because she is a real person.
I would like to thank my group members: Andrea, Ryan, Sarah, and Aarif for always critiquing my working and giving me feedback. I would also like to thank Seda for always working with me and pushing me to write my best. Lastly, a big thank you to Professor Harris for his dedication to helping students improve their writing and for embracing the good in everyone’s essays.
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