In the year 1999, $120 billion was spent on marketing products to consumers (Killing Us Softly 3).
Along with products, the advertising industry sells the intangible: “Ads sell a great deal more than products. They sell values, images, and concepts of success of worth, love and sexuality, popularity, and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be. Sometimes they sell addictions” (Kilbourne, Beauty and the Beast).
When the average person is bombarded by 2, 000-3, 000 ads a day (Kilbourne, address), it is impossible to remain unaffected by the aforementioned concepts and stereotypes (Still Killing Us Softly, video).
Ads use insecurities to promise betterment with the purchase of a certain product. They are breeding grounds for stereotypes; most, if not all, are negative. They provide impossible body images for women to strive towards, and sadly, many women do. The repercussions of these images and stereotypes are quite serious. The female body image is distorted, and many women and girls, in effort to reach the distorted image, develop serious eating disorders.
The perpetuation of sex in ads creates a casual attitude towards sex. Sex is used to sell almost anything: from lingerie to makeup, perfume to food and household items. Advertising tells viewers that if they aren’t sexy, they are not acceptable. The female body is repeatedly objectified in advertising, and whenever a human is turned into a thing, violence is going to follow. Rapes and beatings often result from the dehumanization of women (Still Killing Us Softly, video).
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Advertising creates unhealthy and even dangerous stereotypes and mindsets in the people of today’s society.
Advertisements play upon people’s insecurities, promising the viewer that, with the help of the product in question, the viewer can become a better person. There are many insecurities taken advantage of, but the most obvious and frequent is beauty. Women are strongly affected by this. After all, how could they not be when media is promoting a body type thinner, taller, and sexier than their own? Less than 10% of the female population is genetically able to be as thin and tall as the women used in the ads (about-face.
Advertising sells an impossible image for most women. Many times there is an indirect message such as a beautiful woman wearing the makeup the ad is selling, but sometimes it’s more blatant, such as in one advertisement for Philips’ FLAT TV (see fig. 1).
The text reads: ‘Introducing a television so thin it will give regular TVs a complex.’ Not only is this extremely unnecessary to sell a television, but it is very offensive. There have been many people who claim that advertising doesn’t affect them; they say that they don’t let the images of advertising affect them and they don’t buy into what they ” re being told. $28 billion was spent on cosmetics last year (Ode, Mirror, Mirror).
If no one buys into the idea that beauty is essential to happiness and success, no one would be spending so much money on products manufactured to enhance a woman’s looks. Advertising enforces and teaches damaging stereotypes. “After all these years, advertisers have shown women in almost every mode possible…
it amazes me, though, that after all of these stereotypes, advertisers have yet to come up with a realistic woman that will leave no hang-ups or illuminate unnecessary insecurities (Friedrich).” Women are told through ads that they should first and foremost be beautiful and thin. Women are taught to seek power through beauty. Seldom is a woman encouraged to seek power and security on her own grounds, and it is hardly ever looked upon with approval when one does (Friedrich).
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However, men are encouraged to seek power through materialism: something that they can control much more easily than a woman her beauty. Almost all domestic items sold in ads are geared towards women (Still Killing Us Softly).
The stereotype of the “domestic woman” still remains while the reality of it dwindles. Many women work outside the home, now, and the man and the woman are starting to share the responsibilities of the domestic realm. Whether it is a woman portrayed in advertising as a housewife or a sex object, she must be perfect (Killing Us Softly 3).
Women are taught that flaws are not beautiful, and that they must buy whatever will take them closer to perfection. They are almost always shown in positions that are sexually vulnerable and willing (Zarchikoff).
When women are shown in a more take-charge, aggressive way, they are still only sex objects actively seducing the perfect man in the ad.
This tells women that they are not going to attract a man unless they are willing to display their bodies and be sexually willing. They tell women that unless she has a perfect body, she isn’t going to be attractive, playing on the fear of being alone for life. Women who are portrayed as working women are also shown as sex objects (Zarchikoff).
This probably contributes to sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the advertising industry, “Women are considered acceptable only if they are young, beautiful, made up, sprayed and scented, carefully groomed, and of course with all unwanted hair removed.
Women who deviate from this ideal in any way are viewed with disgust” (Still Killing Us Softly).
Ads have had a tremendous influence on our society. They have distorted the image of the female body type and beauty. Rudman, a columnist for Women and Health, said in a 1993 article, “Media definitions of sexual attractiveness promote either extreme thinness or a thin waist with large hips and breasts.” The problem with this image is that it is impossible for most women to attain. The body types of models are completely genetic: tall and very thin, and the only way models maintain a C or D cup is by implants (Killing Us Softly 3).
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Because of the image of thinness that permeates the advertising industry, 80% of women think they are overweight.
In reality only about 58% of American women are overweight or obese (Still Killing Us Softly).
The worry about weight has begun at a very young age in the past years. Studies have shown that 31 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. The discontent with self-image can often lead to dieting, and dieting can easily lead to eating disorders. Even fourth graders are going on diets (Geidrys).
It is estimated that about 7 million women in America have an eating disorder, and that 86% of eating disorders appear before the victim turns 20 (Thomas).
There are websites that support anorexia and bulimia as “lifestyles”; something they can turn off and on at will (Thomas).
Lauren Solo tar, vice president of clinical services and operations at the May Institute of Walpole, Massachusetts, counters this mindset. She says, “It is most definitely not a lifestyle choice. It is avery serious disorder that can lead to death.
There are many medical and physical complications. There is a high mortality rate.”Arguably, these disorders have the highest fatality rates of any mental illness, through suicide as well as the obvious health problems” (Udovitch).
Advertising is in part responsible for the casual attitude about sex within the United States. Society is drenched in sexual images such as those in fig. 2 and fig 3, and yet there is hardly ever any emphasis on responsibility (Still Killing Us Softly).
While sex is very obviously marketed and flaunted in this culture, it still seems to be a topic that most parents don’t talk to their children about. Many schools do not have sex education classes or health class in which the subject is approached with honesty and facts. Jean Kilbourne, former model and expert on advertising and its impact on society says of the issue, “The problem isn’t sex, it’s the trivialization of sex. It’s the of sex.” There is not enough honest information readily available to the public, and too much overt sexuality surrounding people everyday. It is hardly any wonder that the United States has a greater problem with teen pregnancy than any other industrialized nation in the world (Killing Us Softly).
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With so much sex and objectification in ads, violence seems inevitable.
A quote from an editorial in the magazine Advertising Age, a magazine made for advertisers, reads as such: “Clearly it’s time to wipe out sexism in beer ads; for the brewers and their agencies to wake up and join the rest of America in realizing that sexism, sexual harassment, and the cultural portrayal of women in advertising are inextricably linked (Killing Us Softly 3).” Clearly this is not something that advertisers are not aware of. Why then, has it not changed? As well as ads that encourage sexism in general, there are also quite a few ads that portray violence in a twisted plan to gain attention for their product; for example, a woman with a bloody nose seen in fig. 4, or such as a woman with a cut on her face and a belt wrapped around her head in fig. 5. There are many other ads like this, and many that are worse; in one ad there was a woman’s body in a morgue with the words “uh-oh” written on her forehead. Another showed a woman sprawled on the pavement, one shoe missing, and blood pouring from the back of her head.
Images such as this, if showing an animal instead of a woman, would have many animal rights activists up in arms. Why is it that these ads don’t get an even more drastic response? Ads are not, of course, a direct cause of sexual violence. It is not because of an ad that a man rapes a woman, for example. However, when a human being is dehumanized and objectified, violence is almost sure to follow (Kilbourne, Beauty and the Beast).
This is seen when we look back in history in several examples. In the pre-Civil War era, black people were looked at as less than human.
They were considered as property. Because of the color of their skin, they were considered different, and therefore in superior. They were looked upon as animals, and therefore treated as such. During World War II, thousands upon thousands of people were killed in death camps.
They, too, were in superior because of some genetic flaw that made them different from the “superior Aryan race.” They were herded like cattle into these camps and put to work, whipped and beaten like beasts of burden, and sent off to gas chambers like sheep to the slaughterhouses. In both of these cases, none of the people in the role of persecutor would have been able to treat a fellow persecutor in such a manner. This is because they did not have humanity stripped from them. They were not looked on as property or in superior beings.
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When women are viewed as objects, they are dehumanized. They are turned into objects, a road which could lead to injustice and violence. It is necessary for society to become aware of the subliminal messages of the advertising industry. People need to stand up and take action to change the image of the “beautiful” woman to one with a realistic body type and a healthy portrayal of independence and strength.
There are many resources on the Internet and in books. One website, web is an activist website working to improve the image of women in advertising through education and protest. They have a list full of pages that suggest various forms of protest, including a page of ten things a woman can do to empower herself. It lists practical things such as don’t talk about your weight in front of young girls, stop weighing yourself, question the motives of the advertising industry, and voice your opinion to the media itself.
It also lists many company addresses that are notorious for their racy and offensive advertising. On the website are posted letters that others have sent to companies and the replies that they receive. In case anyone is still dubious about the level of offensiveness in certain ads, they have a gallery of offenders in which they display the most offensive ads they have found or been sent by readers of the site. For encouragement there is also a gallery of winners, showing encouraging steps forward in the advertising of some companies. Advertising has created an unhealthy image for women to try to fit in our society. The results of this are disturbing: enforcement and encouragement of stereotypes, eating disorders, and objectification, which often leads to violence.
Women are not objects, and it’s time that society realizes this and takes steps to correct this gross manipulation of women displayed by the advertising industry. There is a need for better sex education programs into the schools to combat media’s flippant use of sex in ads, and media literacy classes to teach young people, girls especially, how to see through the techniques of the advertising industry. Friedrich, Abby. “All of Your Insecurities Wrapped Up In a Thirty Second Spot.” Gie drys, Sally Anne. “Creating a Curriculum To Help Girls Battle Eating Disorders.” The Harvard University Gazette. Harvard University.
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11 February 1999. Kilbourne, Jean. Address. Viterbo Presentation. April 22, 1996. Kilbourne, Jean.
“Beauty… and the Beast of Advertising.” Media & Values Winter 1990. Center for Media Literacy. Issue 49.
3 March 2004. .” Killing Us Softly 3.” Video. Cambridge Documentary Films. 2000.” Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women.” Video. Cambridge Documentary Films. 2000.
Thomas, Jennifer. “Websites Promote Anorexia and Bulimia as a ‘Lifestyle’.” HealthScout News. Udovitch, Mim. “A Secret Society of the Starving.” New York Times Magazine. 8 September 2002. Zarchikoff, Rebecca.
“Sexual Images of Women to Sell Products- ‘Fascism’ and ‘Bodyism’.” University of Victoria.