Sexuality in Advertising – an Occurring Issue
Abramovitz 1 She arches her back, glancing at the camera with a look of ecstasy. Water pours down her body, wearing only soapy suds from the loofah in her hands. While a pink bottle of ‘Herbal Essence’ body wash sensors a mature view of this woman’s body, the tagline on the side reads “Our new moisture-rich lather turns H2O into H2Ohhhh! ” This is a real advertisement Clairol for Herbal Essence body wash, but there countless advertisements like this one that American society is bombarded with on a daily basis. These ads use women’s sexuality to sell both high end and everyday products to consumers.
Even though the objectification of women in advertising has become more apparent and worse, it is not a new phenomenon; instead the insecurity of women experience through comparing themselves with idealized women in advertising has been an ongoing problem since the 1920’s. As fashion changed though women’s social empowerment so began the sexual objectification of women in advertising. The iconic figure of the Roaring 20’s was the Flapper.
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In Edsels, Luckiest and Frigidairies: Advertising the American Way, a flapper is defined as “A women who could vote, work, drink, and smoke”. 327) Women became more empowered to vote and to go into the workforce, and such large social changes brought new fashions. The once suppressed woman changed out of frumpy petticoats and into short beaded dresses. These were reflected in the flapper style and impacted the sale of silk stockings. “Silk stocking initially had been regarded as a luxury item … few of whom felt any great compulsion to display their social status in such items. But since silk stockings carried status, once they were made more available to middle and lower class women display became almost a necessity ….
Women would become increasingly self-conscious about their legs”. (Mquade and Wright 327-28) Silk stockings, once a luxury to have, now were used to objectify the legs of women. A woman could not read the newspaper without viewing advertisements speaking to her awful, ugly, nude legs. Unless she Abramovitz 1 went out and bought herself a pair of silk stockings she would not be sexy enough to be seen in public. Women would be pressured to go out and purchase stockings so she could be up to par with her female friends.
The beginning of sexual advertisement in silk stockings promoted the idea of one body part being ‘sexy’. As one progresses through the history of American advertising, one will see that the exploitation of different body parts linked with sexual desire as a technique to raise the sales on items. The Roaring 20’s not only brought the flapper and her iconic silk stockings, but the popularity of the Model T. The automotive industry heavily relies on the sexual objectification of women in its advertising, from the 1950’s to today.
One popular car of the 1950’s was the Pontiac Star Chief, a convertible with a roomy interior. In a 1957 advertisement for the Pontiac Star Chief shows a woman in the car, captured at an angle where the viewer cannot see the woman below the waist. A man is right outside the car peering in, and the caption on the ad says “Spread Your Legs! Enjoy maximum leg room in the new Pontiac Star Chief”. While the phrase “Spread your legs” is meant to talk about the interior of the car, it also refers to the woman as she opens herself for the man’s pleasure.
The double entendre links together motors and women. If a man has a faster and better car, he is likely to get a prettier woman. This mentality is still relevant today’s society, even if the design is more refined. In 2006, Audi, a company that designs and sells luxury vehicles, released it’s Designed to thrill advertisements. One particularly is shocking. It’s simplistic; a black background and whites, reminiscent of a blueprint but in the shape of a female breast. On the side in small print the ad reads ‘designed to thrill’ and on the bottom right corner the Audi symbol is present.
The tagline, on the surface, is talking about Audi’s internal mechanics and the fact that engineers improved them to go faster and cause a thrill in the driver. Because of how the graphic is shaped, the catch Abramovitz 1 line entertains a new meaning. When ‘Designed to thrill’ is pictured next to the form of a female bosom, it implies that the woman anatomy was made for the men’s sexual pleasure, or “thrill”. Objectifying the breasts implies that if a man were to obtain the luxury car, he would get women to show themselves and be more promiscuous.
The modern objectification of women in advertisements does not just happen in male oriented products, but female ones too. An online ad for Blush lingerie shows a women in a skirt, a dog and the dog’s apparent owner; a man dressed in a business suit. The dog is looking up the woman’s skirt and blushes because of it sees. Because this is an ad for lingerie, one can assume that the dog is getting a look at scandalous underwear. The professional pleating of the skirt the woman’s wearing, and her low demure heels, the ad represents the woman as a high end professional in the business world; a person to be taken seriously.
The blushing dog takes away her credibility though because if she is allowed to be sexy she cannot be respected and intelligent. Ads like this do not embrace the many sides of women, but force them to choose one or the other, although they may appear to be smart and sexy. Because you can’t see her face, just her legs up, it depersonalizes her, dehumanizes her, objectifying her into the sexy, classy, high end lingerie she’s wearing. Not only do ads promote the objectification through the type of underwear women wear, but they also promote reckless sexual behavior.
Jean Killbourne, who wrote the book Deadly Persuasion, discusses an ad which promotes this behavior. “’ The only downfall to female guests that stay over for breakfast is they leave with your nicest shirts’, says an ad featuring a man getting dressed. His back is to the young women in his bed, who is covering herself up as if embarrassed. People in ads like this aren’t lovers, they are users being used. ” Advertisements like these promote a culture of commodity; people objectify their friends to what they have to
Abramovitz 1 offer sexually, and the aftermath of feelings that naturally come after a sexual connection are thrown in the trash and replaced by a diminished feeling of self worth. When advertisements promote cultures of reckless sex, they pressure people to shallowly judge others by their appearance and how “sexy” they are rather than their moral character. The objectification of women in advertising is not new. It has been an issue in our society since the 1920’s when print commercial advertisement began to boom.
Women today continue to compare themselves with idealized women in advertising and the creates a lasting harm on their self-conscious. Carol Shepard, said “The objectification of women in advertising campaigns psychological ramifications. It socializes women to think of themselves in the manner in which they are depicted, and causes them to engage in self objectification. … [This] creates anxieties relating to their weight, appearance, body satisfaction, and also creates a negative mood. (qtd Harper & Tiggermann, 2008). Thus, their body image causes them to suffer emotionally and psychologically.
Perhaps, by buying the advertised items, the viewing audience of women believes that they will instantly become taller, thinner, younger and prettier”. (Shepard, 5) As the objectification of women in advertising is not a new phenomenon, neither are the mental issues that women deal with because of it. Little girls will always wonder why they look at the pretty models in their mother’s magazines and then glance in the mirror only to wonder why they aren’t as pretty. Although the days of silk stockings and red convertibles are long gone, the advertisements and slogans that destroyed our women continue today.