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sexist advertising: show us some boob and we’ll buy anything

Sex sells. I’m not denying that, but it shouldn’t have to be used to sell everything. Anyone with even an online advertising degree would agree. There was a time when advertisements for socks didn’t include a mostly nude woman lying in a provocative pose just to guarantee sales. Now it seems that the advertising world has become completely reliant upon this method of advertising its products. If it’s not a half naked woman, it’s a man with a perfume bottle between his legs (because that’s the practical place for it), or a girl in bra and panties promoting the latest version of the iPad.

I acknowledge that it’s not only women who are being objectified in ads these days, but also men. My issue is that the vast majority of unnecessarily sexy ads feature women rather than their counterparts. To top it off, women are often portrayed in ways that appeal to heterosexual men but not women. Think, innocent, submissive, available and weak. Women don’t want to see these ads, they want to see images that show them as sexually powerful not available, as strong not weak and as equals, not submissive mice in the corner willing to go along with whatever the strongest male thinks. We don’t get ads that appeal to us – only ones that appeal to men.

(Sure, plenty of women will say that images of other women in bra and panties make them feel empowered but I beg to differ. These images only allow those who conform to social beauty norms (based around the desires of men) to feel this way. What about those women who want to be perceived as beautiful because of what is on the inside and not what cup size they are? When a man looks at images of women in a bra and panties he doesn’t praise them for their intellect or integrity but assesses them based purely on their sex appeal and similarity to standardized beauty ideals. That is hardly empowering, indeed all it does is reinforce male superiority and spread unrealistic body image expectations for women.)

When males are portrayed in the media they emphasize features that are appealing to males – strength, masculinity and lack of emotion. Like everything, there are exceptions, but the point is that both males and females see these as desirable and the message is clear and concise. In contrast, females are portrayed as both feminine and muscular, naughty and nice, sexy and girly/innocent. The message is mixed because it is tailored towards masculine fantasies and as such is totally unrealistic and unachievable. (Who can satisfy more than one of these fantasies at once? Women are destined to fail the moment they begin to try. The sad part is that these ads make women feel as though they should have to try to be something else, when without them they would likely be content as themselves.) The main message here is that everything hinges on what women look like whereas with males it’s more about how they act – strong, masculine or if they show emotion.

To make it worse, women’s bodies are being objectified left right and center to sell products that often have nothing to do with being naked, having breasts or a bootylicious behind. I’m all for seeing ads for bras that focus on breasts because breasts are relevant to the product. But the amount of ads for products like socks, men’s underwear and even sprinkler systems that use semi-naked women in them are only increasing and it is driving me mad. The relevance of a girl in pearly white lingerie to the new iPad 2 is non-existant, except for perhaps the rare few who might use their iPad while in their underwear. But then people in all kinds of outfits will use iPads at some point. The question is why we need to use this particular image? The answer: we don’t.

 Technology magazines like the one pictured above are not the only ones using more and more objectifying ads to push their products. American Apparel Advertisements have been widely considered as borderline soft porn for their use of provocative poses, scant clothing, little make-up and young models. More than this, the ads promote women as being sexually available to men rather than being sexually powerful. This is hardly empowering for women and again only appeals to men.

Rush magazine featured the below ad which shows a woman draped over a chair with breasts exposed. The ad is there for the purpose of selling the pants, the shirt and some rings. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to notice that the majority of these products have been made blurry while the models breasts are in clear focus. Indeed, the top that is being advertised is barely seen at all. I have heard the argument that images like these are forms of art and celebrations of the female form. The fact remains that these aren’t displayed in an art gallery. They are created to sell a product, sold as ads and placed strategically within the pages of magazines so as to create the most interest in a certain product. They are not art – they are ads.

Too many males already view women as little more than objects of sexual desire – do we really need to encourage this thought pattern by plastering every billboard, magazine cover and bus shelter with these subliminally sexual ads? The answer is no. Even if these ads didn’t encourage the objectification of women they still aren’t necessary. The day someone can make me understand why it is essential to show a woman with a bare chest to advertise a shirt you can barely see in the ad, or why we need to see a young girl wearing nothing but socks in order to be convinced to buy them is the day I will change my mind. Until then I will continue to boycott brands that objectify women to sell their products. It definitely limits my choice but at least I won’t be supporting this objectifying method of product promotion. I suggest you do the same.

If you’re hungry for more about sexist ads and the objectification of women in the media, click here to watch Jean Kilbourne’s four-part documentary ‘Killing us softly’. Well worth a watch.

3 thoughts on “sexist advertising: show us some boob and we’ll buy anything

  1. Love this article! I could not agree more.
    The recent Diet Coke campaign, ‘One Calorie Burnt in a Moment’, is a prime example of using sex to sell a product that has nothing to do with sex. The main advertisement which seems to be plastered everywhere is a sexually charged image of a woman and a man about to kiss. The connection they have made of that kiss neutralising the calorie in the Diet Coke is tenuous at best. An image of someone going to the store to buy their Diet Coke would make more sense- that would easily burn a calorie and is a more obvious connection to the drink they are selling. But apparently selling sex gets their point across more, and makes women feel insecure about themselves to boot.

    • Hi Natasha,

      Great point – that ad is driving me crazy as well. Advertisers love using the sex angle and unfortunately, it works. If only people would stop buying products that are advertised in this way…wishful thinking maybe?


  2. You know what’s even worse than this? The fact that these pointless, totally gratuitous female nudes are increasingly seen by the main public as REAL art.
    Just today I’ve made a visit to the offices of Taschen, one of the most important art-book publishing houses, and they had in their catalogue several photography volumes about sex (and when I say “sex”, I mean of course naked women, since the male body was rather non-existant). They had an entire book about “boobs”, another for “pussies”, and another with women (only women, again) masturbating.
    I certainly couldn’t see a great difference between these photos and the porn pop-ups that plague Internet. I don’t care if those photos were made by famous photographers, if they payed a lot of money for them, or if the books cost 50 euros; if a normal person can’t see a difference between this and porn, IT’S porn and NOT art.

    Unfortunately, most people seem to disagree with this. I’m sure that lots of women, when seeing those ads would say: “Hey! That’s neither disgusting nor sexist, because it’s art! If you don’t like it, you have no sensibility for art”.
    At least, when those ads were seen just as filthy commercials one could critize them. Now even women think that this crap is cool and totally ok.

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