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Sexualized violence in ads

After dehumanizing women by using only part of them in advertising, another trend has come along that promotes violence against women, the glamorization of sexualized violence in advertising. Take these for example:

an ad depicting the execution of a female to sell skateboards

a dead female stuffed into the trunk of a car used to sell shoes

a dirty, dead sexualized female form used to sell jeans

a man violently grasping a woman’s face to sell sunglasses.

Is it any wonder the amount of domestic abuse that occurs in the United States? Women are not only turned into objects, they are turned into objects in which violence upon them is not only acceptable, it is seemingly normal. Normal as it is everywhere, it is used to sell products. But it is not only advertising that promotes violence, it is promoted across genres of popular culture. We will next look into violence in  films and music to further portray how violence against women has become normalized in our culture.


As we have previously learned in studying the tactics of creating acceptance of our war against terrorism, the victims must first be dehumanized for the masses to think that the killings are justified. The same tactic, whether intentional or not is being used in advertising to dehumanize females, creating a more accepting attitude towards violence against women. A huge tactic used in ads in order to dehumanize is using part of a woman’s body to sell a product. A woman is then not fully a woman, only part of that woman was important enough to sell the product.

Here, a set of legs (legs our culture find sexy) is used to sell perfume.

A woman’s butt used to sell Jeans.

Breasts used to sell a racing event.

The sad truth is that these ads are far from unique. Female body parts are used to sell just about anything in a sexualized manner. This sectioning of the female body creates the viewer to look at them as a “thing”, not a human being, dehumanizing females. Next, we will look at ads that normalize violence against women.

It should be no surprise when I say that women are objectified and treated as ignorant, sexual beings in horror films.

Carmen Electra’s character in the first installment of Scary Movie,  a film that parodies stereotypes of the horror drama, is a perfect example of the stereotypical female in a horror film. Below you will find a 4 min clip of her scene in the film. This scene includes her being extremely sexualized: first with her appearance in Penthouse magazine (“I wanna see what your insides look like” “Turn to page __”), then in the killer confusing her boyfriend for another man she has slept with (there are so many it was hard to pick out which one was the boyfriend), then later running seductively in her bra and panties through sprinklers before getting stabbed in the chest, revealing her breast implant.

She is also portrayed as extremely helpless and stupid, for example when she chooses the banana instead of a grenade, gun, or knife to protect herself from the killer and then runs through the house instead of out the front door, running the direction of the “death” sign instead of the “safety” sign. She also looks as if she has a very hard time running, further displaying her helplessness. Her only glimpse of hope is through her father, a man, in the end of the clip. But he, of course, is distracted because of the sexual acts of another female, further displaying sexualized nature of women in this genre.

In the original film being parodied, Scream, Drew Barrymore’s character is called by a stranger the same way Carmen Electra’s was. She is asked to play a game and to answer questions about horror movies. When she answers a question wrong, her boyfriend is killed. During an earlier scene, Drew is seen playing with several large knives in the kitchen, yet, at first, she grabs a small letter opener to protect herself. She also seems to not want to run, she waits for the killer to find her.

This is not the only film in which women are portrayed as dumb, weak, sexual beings in the horror genre. Take the iconic shower scene from the thriller “Psycho”. The female character is first scene attempting to balance a checkbook. Becoming frustrated, she tears up the pages she was working on and throws them in the toilet, then deciding to  take a shower. In the shower she is sexualized, looking overly pleased by the water coming down on her. The killer comes in, and kills the defenseless, weak, naked woman.

There is also King Kong, a film that also portrays women as nearly nude, sexualized, weak and defenseless, in need of a man to help them.

Recently, there has been an emergence of female characters taking on the role of the killer in horror films. 2009’s Jennifer’s Body, is a perfect example. In this awkward time we are living in, Women have yet to decide what an empowered woman represents. This film displays this awkwardness, giving us a female narrator displaying the story through her memories. This narration is given has flawed and biased, and the female character telling us the story is insecure and needy towards the character she is telling the story about, Jennifer. Jennifer’s character has been constructed by men, and what they find attractive. Thus, we learn that the narrator is the “real” woman- the one we are striving to construct, and Jennifer is the woman men want us to  be. Jennifer’s body carries a demon that lures boys in with her looks, then kills them. In the end, our narrator kills Jennifer, becoming the “hero” of the picture. While the directors meant to show us what the “woman” could be, a hero, they instead display the narrator as having man-like traits, further portraying that men are the ones with agency and power, and that women must act like men if they wish to gain a portion of this as well.


With only 5 texts studied so far, a co-relation is already becoming evident. I have begun to uncover huge themes of how media is working against our society’s view of women, leading to how women view themselves. I have covered a small amount of the themes I wish to follow further, all concerning how women create their view of themselves.

First is their body image. Women look at super thin models and actresses and see what they want to look like, and what they think they should look like. As stated, this body type is not reachable, but media images would like you to believe it is. Just take a look at cut-outs from covers of women’s magazines. A large percentage are promising positive results on their bodies, leading women to believe they can gain the body of the model they idolize. This, of course, is impossible. Models such as Gisele Bündchen are not only born with their body type, they enhance it with surgeries. These body types are only naturally given to 5% of the world’s population, yet 50% of the population want it (assuming 50% of the population are women). Something is wrong with that math. Yet in women’s minds they must look like a model to look sexy. It is no wonder women are so insecure, and that 7 million suffer from eating disorders in America. The want for self confidence (which is only given through being thin) is so strong, they are willing to do almost anything to get it.

Next, women are shown through media what their sexuality should look like. Media shows women that they are to dress sexy and comply with men’s sexual desires. This does not sound healthy to me. It is not giving women power over their bodies and their sexuality, in fact the exact opposite. It is also clear through my posts that the objectification of women has become the norm in our society. Female nudity and sexuality has become a must-have in media: from film to advertising. It is true that “sex sells”, it sells movie tickets, sandwiches, shoes, anything and everything.

I wish to further explore how this objectification leads to violence against women, especially linking our view of women as sexual beings to rape and sexual abuse. Later on I wish to discuss media working against these ridiculous standards and narrow view of women’s sexuality.



Ads are an extremely important issue when discussing the objectification, the sexualization, the dehumanization of women. I will analyze ads from many different angles, first through sexualization of women through ads, one aimed towards men, one towards women.

This ad speaks for its self. It is disgusting, the women posed as a blow up doll and the sandwich used as a phallic symbol. This ad makes it seem as if women are to be used as sexual objects. The woman is passive, allowing the act to occur, further showing the viewer that women do not have agency of their own. Why blow jobs are necessary to sell sandwiches? They aren’t. But it is normalized in our culture to depict women in sexual ways in order to sell a product (remember the beer ad with the women pillow fighting?). This ad is aimed towards men, as a steak sandwich is seen as a men’s product. This next ad is aimed towards women:

This ad is selling the sneakers on the injured Christina’s feet. Although the outfit on the left may seem appropriate at this time of year (Halloween), I do not see the purpose of the costume, or the injured girls short shorts. Something to note: the majority of films are aimed to please 19 year old males. The thought being girls will see movies with boys but boys will not with girls. I can only imagine that the same is done for advertising. Ads so often are depicting sexy women to sell men products, that ads towards women began doing so as well. Christina looking sexy in a nurse costume does not necessarily make a young girl want to buy the shoes, but if she was in sweats with no makeup and her hair undone it would turn the girl off. Girls respond to beauty and sexuality, as it is what we value in our society.

The ads do not seem to differ according to audience. The only thing I noticed is how blatant the sexuality is in the advertisements. Men’s ads are much more obvious, while women’s are slightly more subtle. But the old phrase is true, “sex sells”. Sexual images are used to sell just about everything. As our ads show anything from food to clothing. These ads also sell attitudes towards sex, such as women will do what you ask of them (first ad). Ads are defining women as sexual beings, showing women that they must sexualize themselves in order to “sell” themselves to the opposite sex, to be attractive.

Jenny Craig is a weight management company that combines diet and exercise with counseling and provided meals. I was instructed to have a more obvious tie to one of our ten topics given: mine ties into popular feminism. As my previous post about magazine covers exemplified, the women’s empowerment movement (creating confidence and promoting competence) has become defined by changing your appearance. In this video it shows us that we can lose weight! And it will earn us confidence! Not saying that Jenny Craig does not have a positive goal, but the goal is shaped by our societies obsession with weight, as our eyes, face, lips, hair, etc. A woman’s self esteem, self confidence, sense of belonging in our society comes from the way we look.

Although Ellen Degeneres is kidding in her opening statement “Inner beauty is important, but not nearly as important as outer beauty”, the joke is funny because secretly we know it is true. Although we all know it should be inner beauty that is important, it is outer beauty our society values. This Covergirl “Simply ageless” commercial is promoting using makeup to look younger, to feel confident and good about yourself. Not only does our society value beauty, they value youth (20’s-30’s).

Both these ads are promoting self confidence by changing or altering one’s appearance. You CAN look better, you CAN be confident and competent. Why is this the focus of feminism these days, while women in 2009 are reported to still only make 77% of what a man makes working the same job, while laws are attempting to take away the rights to our own bodies. Could it be because certain forces want us to be preoccupied and not fight these issues? Something I will have to look into further.


Sadly, when one looks at these images of models Ana Carolina Reston and Luisel Ramos, they may not notice any difference from the models they see everyday. An average non plus sized model wears from a size 00-2. Statistically only 5% of the population have this body type naturally, and it is the size we see every day depicting what girls should look like- it is the size girls strive for. These two models were not exempt from this. Both women died due to complications from anorexia and bulimia.

Ana Carolina Reston from Brazil died at age 21 of kidney malfunction due to anorexia and bulimia. She was 5’7″ tall and at the time of her death weighed only 88 pounds. Before her death she reportedly suffered from both anorexia and bulimia, eating very little and purging, only keeping down a diet of apples and tomatoes. Reston reportedly suffered from eating disorders after being told she was “too fat” at a casting call in China. Just before hospitalization, Reston was due to travel to France for work. She spent 3 weeks in the hospital before hear death.

Luisel Ramos died earlier the same year at 22 years old from heart failure resulting from complications due to anorexia. Ramos was 5’9″ and weighed 97 pounds at the time of her death. She suffered from anorexia, her father stating she had gone “several days” without eating prior to her death. Ramos was reported to have adopted a diet of lettuce and diet coke for 3 months before her collapse directly following walking the runway during Fashion Week in Uruguay.

Now one could look at these two instances as stories of two isolated instances, but the reality is that 7 million American women have eating disorders. These women are striving for a model body type, a body type that killed the two women above. Models literally cannot get any thinner: these models were working at the times of their death!

Luisel Ramos before her death in 2006.

What young girls do not realize when they look at a model like Gisele Bündchen is that it is impossible to diet into her body type. Yet, when they look at her they use her body type to feel inadequate. In February 2008, a result of research was publicized by The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) to reveal how world celebrity images, which overwhelm popular media, influence people’s choices and decisions to undergo plastic surgery. The question asked was “What influences do celebrities have on the decisions patients make?”. The survey was sent to more than 20,000 plastic surgeons in 84 countries. Gisele Bündchen was the number one answer. Not too strange considering Bündchen herself has undergone breast enhancement surgery. Many models, such as Bündchen, further exemplify an impossible body type by going under the knife. Breasts do not come naturally on a size 00 body type, but young girls do not know that, and large breasts are a large peice of the “ideal body” type.

Something positive did come from the death of Ramos: The Madrid Fashion Week held in September 2006set a minimum BMI of 18 for all models (Ramos had a BMI of 14.5 at death. A BMI of 16 is considered starving). The same year, Italian fashion designers joined together to ban size 0 models from modeling their collections on the catwalk. I will continue with more positive feminist action later on.

Warning: Male Nudity

Since 2o05, the Motion Picture Association of America have marked 786 films for containing “nudity”, but as of 2010 there have been three movies noted as containing “male nudity”: “Grown-ups”, “Eat, Pray, Love”, and the recently released “Jackass 3D”. The question here: why do we feel the need to distinguish that the nudity is “male”?

The way I see it: we’ve become desensitized to female nudity. Women are so objectified in our culture, that you hardly notice when you see a nude female in movies, in movies made for adults it seems to be a norm. Female sexuality is used to sell just about everything. Most noticeably this time of year is beer:

How women pillow fighting relates to beer is beyond me. It just goes to show how female sexuality can sell just about anything.

The MPAA changed the ratings after parents complained about 2010’s “Bruno”. The film was first rated NC-17, but after a few small changes was changed to an R rating, meaning children under 17 may see it if accompanied by a parent or guardian. The fact that parents had complained leads me to believe they themselves brought their kids to see the film as a “parent or guardian”. With an R rating, and a warning for “sexually explicit scenes” and “graphic nudity”, it puzzles me why parents would take them in the first place. “Graphic nudity” didn’t scare them away yet “male nudity” would? Why a parent would be okay exposing their child to graphic female nudity, but not male, strongly shows the acceptability of female nudity in our society. To put it graphically: breasts and a vagina shown in a “sexually explicit” way is seen as acceptable, yet a penis in the same position is not. Breasts and vaginas are seen as entertainment, penis is seen as offensive. There is an obvious prevalent inequality in how our society views nudity, and I blame it on the desensitization and objectification of female nudity our advertising has created.

As I stated in my previous post, female body image is a significant issue in our society as 7 million female Americans are reported to have an eating disorder, and an estimate 34% of Americans are obese. How did we get this way? How do the media build and re-enforce such poor body image on females in our culture? Today I decided to focus on how women and young girls are constantly bombarded with messages that they aren’t good enough the way they are. I wanted to see how/if this message changed over time, so I stuck with the genre of magazine focused towards women. I chose Seventeen Magazine for the younger generation and Cosmopolitan Magazine for my middle, and More Magazine for my older. Below are cut-outs I did from multiple recent (2008-2010) covers of each magazine.

These are cut-outs from Seventeen Magazine covers. Seventeen targets teenagers from 12-19. From a young age we are taught that having a “bikini body” will bring us “major confidence”, showing young girls that confidence does not come from within, it comes from what we look like. The message girls are receiving from covers like this: our body is never good enough. They are too fat, they need perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect clothes. They are urged to “Make more money, for the mall”. These covers are showing girls that their main objective is to fix how they look. “Fixing” how we look is impossible at any age, but is especially difficult at Seventeen’s target age as girls are going through puberty. Girls at this age are lanky, have acne: far from “perfect”. Seventeen magazine is setting them up on a search for perfection that will never be reached, from a very early age.

Notice much difference? I don’t. These are cut-outs from Cosmopolitan Magazine, whose target age range is 25-39, give or take a few years. Here we are still sent the same message: you must be sexy, work out more, we must be tan, our hair make-up and clothes must be perfect. The message of what is important about women, their looks, is continued and supported in this next age range.

These are cut-outs from covers of recent issues of More Magazine. More magazine targets women over 40, and as you can see the message continues at this age as well. More continues to tell women that they must be thin, have beautiful hair, perfect make-up, eyelashes, no wrinkles or signs of age whatsoever, perfect wardrobe that makes them look younger.

With these messages, it is no wonder women are getting eating disorders. Women’s entire lives they are told that their ass is not firm enough, their abs are not tight enough, their thighs are too big. And if they are all of these things, you always need to improve them. They can become firmer, tighter, and smaller. Magazines promise these things to women, and they promise it will be easy. Countless covers promised weight loss without the gym, Cosmopolitan promised mind tricks to “melt the pounds” and also promises ways to “lose weight while you eat”. If this works for anyone, id love to hear it!

This entry was looking strictly over Magazine covers. I have not even touched down yet on ads in magazines, or the impossibly thin goal of these work outs promise: the body type of super skinny models. More to come!

Introduction to my blog :)

Inspired by Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” documentary series, I plan to focus my blog around female gender representation, and how the media affects how women in our society view themselves. I decided to focus on women as they seem (emphasis on seem) to be more susceptible than men to media influence. I also chose it because I am a female growing up in our culture, and I find it really interesting to separate myself and take a deeper look into why I am the way I am. Our media’s representation of women is a pertinent and current issue, and I plan to explore two specific outcomes of media’s influence on women in my research.

I see female body image as a significant issue in our society as an estimated 8 million Americans have an eating disorder (7 million of those women), and an estimated 34% of Americans are obese. Both of these conditions lead to serious illness or death, and I hope to uncover how the media is both supporting and producing these illnesses. I plan to do so using the three D’s, starting with pointing out the dichotomies set up within our culture. There seems to be a binary set up of fat vs skinny. The “skinny” in America’s culture is an unreasonable, unachievable low weight and body type, while “fat” seems to be any weight or body type that is not “skinny”. How did this happen? How did the media produce these images we have of what is beautiful? How do they continue to support these images? How can we change our view of what a beautiful female body looks like? Are there currently any efforts to do so?

Another issue I plan to look into is that of violence against women, and how the media may support or produce this violence. An estimate 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence each year, and my age group of women, 20-24, are estimated to be at the greatest risk. From birth we are introduced to our gender roles: girls are put in pink, boys in blue. Growing up we have different toys, different activities, different roles in the household. Boys are taught to be strong and independent, while girls are taught to be passive and kind. How does the media produce and portray these roles? How does their portrayal affect the rates of violence targeted against women? Why is it important that men are seen as strong and females as weak?

I think it will also be important to note how the media affects different women from different backgrounds. I will look at the messages directed at different races of American women, as well as how financial status effects how the image is taken in.

In my research, I am interested in looking at the aforementioned issues across genres of media to discover any differences in the portrayal of women. For instance in film I plan on looking both at action films and romantic films. Looking into the production of these films will be key, as the target audience will be different, therefore the message the images are meant to send will be different. I also plan to look at songs in different genres from hip hop to country, as well as magazines with different audiences, television, ads, and video games. Gender representation appears in any and all forms of media, so it will be interesting to see how it shows itself across the board.