It is no secret that women are being used as ‘selling points’ in advertisements. The overexposure of these advertisements is both disturbing and debilitating to women of all ages. These ads contain conflicting messages, expecting women to be two things at once. The ‘double standard’ of advertising makes (already) unobtainable ideals even more unreachable, by always keeping women one-step behind. These messages depict stereotypical images of what women should be. Socialization of women’s identities is clearly revealed through these ads. As destructive as these advertisements are, they are integrated into today’s society and can be seen in magazines, television commercials, and on billboards, everywhere. With every message saying “No” a different ad will say “Yes”, and it is this contradiction of messages which prevents women from ever winning the battle over advertisements. Conflicting messages about women in advertising has become normalized, so that many times they go unrecognized, and unchallenged by women, and are therefore all the more dangerous.
Paradoxical images are seen (above) from messages telling women to be “sexy” and “promiscuous” but yet “material” and “innocent”. “Girls [and women] are put into a terrible double bind. They are supposed to repress their power, their anger, their exuberance and be simply “nice,”” (Kilbourne 259). The repression socialized as normal, is repeatedly illustrated in such ads (for example) depicting women visually ‘under’ men; literally looking up at them with faces of fear- or appreciation. Messages depicting women in a ‘less-worthy’ position emphasize societies fear of female power (Kilbourne). An infinite number of inconsistencies can be found with each message, especially in ads for underwear. ‘Be sexy, yet angelic’ is the message from the Victoria Secret campaign, showing rail-thin models caressing themselves in angel wings. Women are shown as sex objects, ready and waiting for their man.
In a study published by Diana Crane, women were asked how they felt about the way women were shown in fashion magazines. When asked about a photograph showing a woman wearing a “very short, sleeveless, flesh-colored dress and high- heeled shoes, with her body bent forward, leaning her buttocks against a wall” (320) one participant said, “I think this photograph expresses a woman’s point of view. She’s ready to take on the world and she can “live-on-the-edge” kind of thing. Because it’s sexy in a way that it’s powerful- she’s the one in control. It’s not like sexy like you know, she’s lying on a bed half naked” (Crane, 320). Images such as this, confuse and manipulate women into thinking that the message they are trying to send positively reflects women, when in fact it most certainly does not.
Other images do display women in positions of “power”- granted, that these images are usually found in tampon or cleaning product ads- but nonetheless send the message that women can be powerful and independent… (As long as they use the right tampon.) The problem here is that the message of power is void because of the woman’s need for a certain product. Again, the woman looses her power if not for the product. Additionally, there are many ads in which the woman becomes the product; either the product itself, (i.e. through disembodiment or contortion of the body) or, the woman becomes a mannequin or doll, by which the product can be displayed.
Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 259.
Crane, Diana. "Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women's Interpretations of Fashion Photographs." Gender, Race, and Class In Media. 2nd ed. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2003. 320.
(All images) Lukas, Scott A. “GenderAds.com: Ads, Education, Activism.” 22 May 2008