Portrayal of Women in Advertising Damaging

Use Me. Abuse Me. I'm An Ad Babe

Feminist Naomi Wolf says that the beauty myth isn't good for men or women. "It prevents (men) from actually seeing women...in suggesting a vision in place of a woman, it has a numbing effect, reducing all sense but the visual..."

That's a fairly poignant statement regarding the numbification of society because marketing images portray impossible-to-achieve beauty and the representation of women as playthings. Granted, marketers are never going to show an ugly slob in an ad because no one wants to see a slob and we all aspire to something greater. But if all we see are unachievable representations of ourselves then certain unhealthy illusions of self are sure to emerge. And have. Just visit a highschool hallway.

About Face, whose mission is "to promote positive self-esteem in girls and women of all ages, sizes, races and backgrounds through a spirited approach to media education, outreach and activism," examines the portrayal of women, specifically, in advertising and comments on how damaging the images can be to the psyche of consumers. Part of the site has a list of the top ten marketers who, in the opinion of About Face, damage society through their imagery of women advertising.

by Steve Hall    Oct-31-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Opinion   

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Get ready for the comments to roll in on this one in...3...2...1

Posted by: John Boy on October 31, 2005 12:46 PM

If they are serious about this, there are a lot of places to start other than advertising - men's magazines, Hollywood, music videos, the massive amount of online porn, etc. I think that most consumers are smart enough to see through just about any advertising and realize the actors are merely a prop to sell a product/service.

Posted by: Bevo on October 31, 2005 12:52 PM

Not to in any way belittle the obvious and important effects our current facination with "beauty" has on girls and women, the same is true, to a lesser or similar extent, for men. We are faced with images of male-ness that most of us either cannot or do not want to acheive. There are no men portrayed in adverstising that look like me. Why can't we just say that the current images of PEOPLE in adverstising do not reflect reality, etc.? If we leave gender out of it, we can be much stronger.

Posted by: stephen on October 31, 2005 12:54 PM

Ahhhh...it's my buddy, John Boy. How've ya been?

Posted by: Jonathan Trenn on October 31, 2005 12:57 PM

Great googily moogily, do we have to HELP the poor, helpless women with their sefl-image problems by censoring the creative interpretation of the female form?

The young woman in the Sisley ad is HOT. If you're a guy, that is the first thought that went through your head, admit it. So, what is so wrong with directing advertising toward the first impulsive thoughts in the reader's brain? Do you think General Motors was trying to appeal to owners of the "average" vehicle on the road when they designed the Hummer? Do you think Sisley is trying to appeal to the "average" Wal-Mart shopper with their ad of a hot chick on a PVC lounger?

Posted by: GoogilyMoogily on October 31, 2005 2:26 PM

I have always thought it extremely odd to have beautiful women in beer advertisements. After all, in every bar I have been in most of the women avoid the srious beer drinkers.

Posted by: Blue on October 31, 2005 2:46 PM

I'm not surprised that someone mentioned a form of the word "censor". Why is it that whenever someone points out how certain types of advertising could be potentially harmful or degrading, do some feel that that's censorhip?

Posted by: Jonathan Trenn on October 31, 2005 3:09 PM

Jonathan, you say "point out potential harm or degradation", I say "censor". What do you want? "Examine"? "Scrutinize"? "Evaluate"? Maybe "polemicize" would have floated your boat?

Whatever. The chick is HOT, and Sisley hopes that her image will help sell more of their product. I guess this About Face group thinks no higher of my self-restraint and ability to value women based on things other than advertisements than they think the average woman is able to accord self-respect without their coming to her "rescue".

We have monolithic educational, political, and corporate institutions that do more to devalue women than any Sisley ad will ever do, but nobody's got the energy to tackle the BIG issues, I guess.

Posted by: GoogilyMoogily on October 31, 2005 3:20 PM

Its a serious issue, but while these ads continue to sell; they will continue to be used.

Maybe its a catch 22, shame really.

Using a stick thin model in a suggestive pose is such a creative cop out. Its not bold advertising, it doesnt really say anything new or different. It just conforms to the old stereotypes.

I dont think these ads should be censored, but surely its time for women to wake up and stop buying these products; then the ads will have to change.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer on October 31, 2005 5:33 PM

GoogilyMoogily - the issue is not about this photo. OF COURSE SHE IS HOT. Naomi Wolf and About Face are pointing out how an overabundance of this type of advertising could end up being harmful to women - especially young women - as many of them get their self-worth from their looks and how men react to them.

It may sell more product - which is the point of advertising - and it may have some negative effects in the long run as well. Why is that hard to understand?

Posted by: Jonathan Trenn on October 31, 2005 11:23 PM

I agree with jonathan. I have been researching the effects of advertising on consumers in general, and most of the effects are negative and most of the effects are on adolescent girls. Young teens have a difficult enough time identifying themselves as it is, with the media splashing 5'10" 117 lb super models all over television, magazines, bilboards and several other media sources how are girls supposed to feel? They all think that in order for men to find that "SOOO HOT" they have to imitate those models. Young girls should not have to worry about all those things, they have enough going on in their bodies. I think About Face is doing a great thing in informing the public and showing how sexist advertisments can be.

Posted by: sarah on November 1, 2005 12:21 AM

Women love to see beutiful women, but sometimes it has become too common. The Dove campaign was quite successful, no?

Posted by: Vini on November 1, 2005 3:02 AM

I believe so yeah, it certainly got publicity for using genuine women like that.

Hopefully that will have an impact upon other advertisers.

Posted by: Rob Mortimer on November 1, 2005 6:02 AM

Here's a thought -- if teens are so misconstrued by skinny models as to what to do with their bodies, why is teen obesity (and adult obesity, for that matter) at an all-time high?

Could it possibly be that advertising is seen as ART, and not LIFE? If we as a society look at and place high value on Picasso paintings, should we wring our hands in fear that young teen girls are going to go out and pluck an eye out, so that it can be artistically repositioned under their nostril?

Danger lurks around every corner for some of you, it seems.

Face it -- some people are skinny, and that's an attractive trait for some people. Some people are funny, and that's an attractive trait for some people. Some people are mysterious, and that's an attractive trait for some people. Some people are pleasantly plump, and that's an attractive trait for some people. Why do so many of you see HARM in that?

Posted by: GoogilyMoogily on November 2, 2005 2:21 PM

I've just finished reading the comments on this post and find the overt denial from many of the posters to be quite disheartening. Refusing to take any ownership or responsibility for creating and reinforcing stereotypes is flat-out wrong.

Stop passing the buck and do the right thing. Find real, compelling stories to tell and then tell them well. It's harder work than coming up with the painfully obvious but ultimately better work results.

And would it kill ya' to admit that maybe, just maybe, our creative efforts that manage to persuade people to buy products can also persuade them to see other people as objects (or two-dimensional stereotypes used in a :30 spot) rather than as human beings?

I've included this post in Thursday's (11/10) "Much Ado About Marketing" blog. It will be interesting to see if any additional comments are forthcoming.


Mike Bawden
Brand Central Station

Posted by: Mike Bawden on November 10, 2005 12:46 AM

erm...why is it women mostly on adverts and billboards naked...dont you women feel oppressed, i mean like you are selling yourself to the world, where is your sense of shyness? what is so great about a womans body anyway? why cant it be equally a mans naked body showing all across the world hey?!!!!

Posted by: sam on October 29, 2006 4:40 PM

First of all, what makes Sisley girl hot? Because her dress is see-through? LoL. The only thing you can see about how she looks is her behind. But then again, that's all someone needs to see to make the "hot" judgement, I'm assuming. Could you pick her out of a line-up if needed? Or would they all have to pull up their skirts and bend over for you to have an idea?

Now I'm not going to attack this issue with all negativity because I, myself, am a promotional model for a company in San Francisco. I understand both sides of the issue. What is portrayed in those ad's are images that are meant to sell a product. You wouldn't believe all the touch-ups done to every picture, every commercial you see on TV. For all you know, Sisley girl could have a huge pimple on her backside that was edited out, or cellulite on her thighs...the point of this is that the girls you see are not as perfect as they are portrayed, much of it is altered by computers and their many wonders. And why do you think most music videos are taken in a dark club? Because those girl's are FLAWED. Completely normal. I have posed with impalas for a magazine and guess what? I am sitting at my computer doing research for a powerpoint for school with a HUGE zit on my forehead. LOL. And my man still thinks Im beautiful. Even if I had a shoot tomarrow they would just smear on the makeup and edit it out. They only show you what they want you to see. AN ILLUSION OF PERFECTION.

One more point to make before I continue on with my research is that I DO believe that the majority of models these days are WAY too skinny (disgusting)and from what I have read, this is the #1 is the most damaging factor to someones self esteem. Their weight. So ladies...don't be afraid to have some curves. You never know, those skinny models may be envying YOU.

Posted by: MJ on November 26, 2006 9:18 PM

To represent women in a sexual pose and half nakid targets a male audience a female product. A women sexuality is not the only thing a woman has to offer to society. However images like these shown in the media influence women to dress provocatively, undergo dangerous lipsuction, burn their skin to appear tan, and loose their self worth.

Posted by: Ashley on April 24, 2007 12:14 PM

consider this thoughtful response to a recently released movie:
"...the film emerges as a subtle commentary on a disquieting aspect of our current culture -- a commentary on the nature of a masturbatory voyeurism and how it fosters heartlessness by turning other people into objects. When Mr. Brooks and the other perverse characters in the film are aroused, they have to forget the humanity of others in order to achieve satisfaction. If they remember that other people are people, they'll lose the impulse.
The relevance of this message to the society at large and not just to the characters is obvious, in that we live in a voyeuristic culture, in
which both entertainment and commerce trade on instant and impersonal arousal. I suspect that 50 or 60 years ago, this film would have made
absolutely no sense to people. But today we can see in the cold world of "Mr. Brooks" the coldness of our own world. And we can look at Mr.
Brooks for minutes at a time and forget that he's a villain, or simply not care.
If this says something, it's not something good."
-Mick LaSalle, SF Gate

Posted by: jj on June 8, 2007 4:37 PM

hi my names pia, im from the uk and doing a research project at the moment for college. im researching into the statement:

"Television advertisements targeting a male audience tend to represent women as objects of sex, where as those targeted at women tend to emasculate men"

I would be very appreciative if anyone had anything to say about it to add to my research.

Posted by: pia on June 15, 2007 8:22 AM

hi my names pia, im from the uk and doing a research project at the moment for college. im researching into the statement:

"Television advertisements targeting a male audience tend to represent women as objects of sex, where as those targeted at women tend to emasculate men"

I would be very appreciative if anyone had anything to say about it to add to my research.

Posted by: pia on June 15, 2007 8:24 AM