Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??
Is it really about seducing men, or is it more about tapping into female insecurities?
I believe I speak for all women, and very few men, when I say I know what it feels like to self-objectify. But how do I know I’m self-objectifying? Well, I ask myself this: “Do I think that the prettier I look, the more lovable I am?” In other words, have I somehow learned that if I get my hair and makeup just right, and if I hide all of the flaws on my body well enough, and if I am passive and doll-like enough, then he’ll fall for me harder or want me more? Well, time to unlearn.
Remember the lyrics to this classic song? It may sound dated because it’s so straight-forward, and marketing is so much more subtle nowadays, but believe me, we’re still getting the exact same message.
What’s cute about little cutie?
It’s her beauty, not brains
Keep young and beautiful
It’s your duty to be beautiful
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved
Don’t fail to do your stuff
With a little powder and a puff
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved
If you’re wise, exercise all the fat off
Take it off, off of here, off of there
When you’re seen anywhere with your hat off
Wear a Marcel wave in your hair
Take care of all those charms
And you’ll always be in someone’s arms
Keep young and beautiful
If you want to be loved
Sexual objectification is nothing new. We see it every day – in magazines, on television, plastered to the sides of buses. The objectification of women is such an utterly common thing that most people rarely ever notice it (at least consciously). They never really step back and wonder why there’s a half-naked model in that beef jerky commercial, or why breasts are the focal point in that ad for shoes. That’s just how it is, we’re told. It’s human nature.
The images we see on billboards and in magazines present the ‘ideal’ image for women, as created by the advertising media. Depicting the ideal woman as young, sensual and “perfect”, the images create the subconscious thought that women are judged according to looks alone. Because the “young, tall, flawless, thin, and hot with a tiny waist, big round boobs and a round butt” ideal is almost always unattainable, real women go through impossible dieting and compulsive cosmetic surgery procedures to become significant in society.
The increasing sexualization of little girls has also led to the increasing rate of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And then, there’s the existence of double standards that expect women to be innocent yet seductive, virginal but experienced.
These same images that objectify women and eroticize violence, often lead to violence against women and a general lack of respect for the gender.
Ads showing women without heads or without faces reduce them to nothing more than loose body parts – choice cuts of meat to salivate over.
And in the end it’s us, the consumers, who keep the process going. In consuming we only reinforce these crude commercial tactics.
Objectification is a phenomenon that not only changes the way we view models or actresses, but also how we see every woman — and ourselves.
The skyrocketing sales that result from ads that objectify women further affirm to marketers that this method is the way to go, fiscally speaking. It’s easy to imagine how one business, noticing the success of another, might adopt the same advertising model and embrace sexual objectification as a means of selling their products.
It’s a vicious cycle that’s brought society’s view of women to a whole new, perverted level.
And while that old adage ‘sex sells’ may be true when marketing to men, it’s not sex that brands and the media are marketing to women — it’s self-objectification. It’s the idea that in order to be desirable (and, ultimately, lovable), you must act/look/dress/etc. like this (this being the ‘ideal’ du jour). Oh, and if you don’t, well then you’re the only one to blame when you’re an unhappy, unmarried, dowdy 40-something spinster — right? I mean, they told you how to be sexy. You really should have listened! /s
‘Sex sells’ when it comes to men, but self-objectification sells when it comes to women.
We buy glossy magazines that tell us what clothes to wear and what overpriced perfume to buy if we really want to ‘sell ourselves’ and get the guy we want. Through the media, advertisers define what’s sexy and what’s beautiful. They set the standard for every woman; poster girls we all need to measure up to.
But how can we all? Not every woman has a 23-inch waist and a C-cup, and not every woman should! What’s more, these depictions are almost always digitally altered (blemishes concealed, cellulite removed, waist tightened, face reshaped, abs added), making it impossible for anybody to reach this so-called ‘standard of beauty’. No wonder so many women experience debilitating insecurity, self-objectification, depression, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction after looking at these images.
Is it really about teaching women how to be attractive, or is it more about tapping into female insecurities?
Objectification is what makes girls and women feel the need to look perfect in front of peers and prospective dates. It fuels our insecurity and says, “Hey, you’d be more desirable if only your thighs were more toned, your skin was more tanned, your abs were flatter, and your lips were fuller. Go hit the gym — or just buy this product NOW!”
On the other side of the gender line, it subconsciously gives men the idea that these models are what a really ‘beautiful’ woman should look like. It tells them that they’re not man enough if they can’t ‘score’ with a woman like that. As both women and men begin to internalize these images, they begin believe it’s okay to treat women as objects or tools, and the problem worsens.
So, can you guess where we find most of these objectifying ads? Women’s magazines.
When I was a child, I used to look at the cover of Cosmopolitan and get angry. I couldn’t articulate exactly why, but I knew something was very wrong. Although reactions are varied when it comes to the topic of objectification, most women feel offended, degraded, and disregarded by the way our society accepts this objectification — even if they don’t yet consciously realize why.
Many women feel that worrying about these issues is rewarding, and by transcending these commercial standards of beauty, they can ‘feel sexy’ on their own terms. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that no matter how conscious we are of the facts, our brains have an intellectual side, and a lizard-brain subconscious. And it’s been proven that no matter how educated you are, it’s near impossible to escape the effects of advertising.
We all know women who endorse this messaging and openly self-objectify, not realizing that they are slowly (collectively) damaging not only themselves, but society. While feeling sexy is something every woman should experience, there is a difference between expressing sexuality and being used as sexual object.
A woman’s sexuality is a reflection of her own self-image. It becomes more difficult for women to develop self-confidence when they are regularly bombarded by perverse depictions of the female body.
But in the new MeToo world, this is slowly starting to change. Women are getting educated and choosing to support companies like Aerie (which uses real-ish un-retouched women in their campaigns) while Victoria’s Secret’s sales and runway show viewership is on a downward trend. Sales of magazines like Cosmopolitan are down, and a new breed of unconventional models are becoming well known.
Change can only start if consumers take a stand against sexual objectification by boycotting products of companies that practice it. Hopefully a day will come when women can be confident about their naturally given attributes, rather than worry about the size of their breasts or the circumference of their butts.
Want to learn more? Here are a few great videos:
For more information about the above film, visit their website at MediaEd.org
Below is another great, 8-minute video on the topic (you can watch the full 90-minute film here):
…and a 16-minute TED Talk about this topic:
This is really an alarming issue. Personally, I don’t know who to blame, is it the advertisers who intentionally objectified women to increase sales?
…or is it the women who allow themselves to be objectified just to earn?!
I believe that self respect is the key to addressing this issue.
It’s sad that the media paints this portrait of the “ideal”woman that doesn’t even exist. We see celebrities on magazine covers, photo shoots, television and etc, who don’t look like that in real life. Everything we see has been enhanced to perfection. I remember the chubbier younger me, wishing and fantasizing that I looked like the girl on the cover, thin and beautiful. Not until I lost 80 pounds I started to notice my beauty. I wish I was able to recognize this when I was younger. It’s hard to feel “comfortable” with your body when everyone expects you to look a certain way. I wish the idea of the “ideal” woman would be eliminated. Everyone is different and beautiful in their own way.
Then when it comes to the objectification of women… women are always used in an sexualize manner in society. I get it, sex sells but there is more to a woman than her body. There’s is a mind too. But since we are more often speculated on our appearance, it pressurizes us.
We have to be “sexy” and “experience” but still “innocent”.
Another awesome article from Urbanette 🙂
I really hope this article serves as an eye opener not just for the women who allow themselves to be objectified (because it is called by their profession) and for the advertisers who intentionally objectified women for ‘wonderful’ advertisements.
It would be nice if all it took was an article. A sad and alarming truth is that objectification is ACTUALLY being embraced by almost everybody 🙁 I believe this is where women empowerment is of its utmost importance. If a woman will only know her WORTH and if only she will discover her SKILLS and CAPABILITIES, I’m sure “objectification” issues will no longer be in existence.
I believe that women who allow themselves to be objectified should be taught the value of self-respect, self-love and self-worth!
Definitely! Every woman should understand her worth and that “objectification” is not really needed in order to be known or famous!
Right on! This disturbing trend of portraying women as objects upon which to sell a product has to end. Aside from spreading overly idealized visions of femininity that can only be a detriment to women's self-image, a massive problem in itself, it dehumanizes an entire gender by using their bodies as nothing more than selling tools.
Awesome article, Hilary! I totally agree that women today are being objectified and “sexed-up” in order to “fit in” into the media’s version of a woman. The tall, thin and hot woman in ads is hard to live up to! And it’s sad how this kind of objectification affects the way women, and most especially young girls, see themselves.
Yes, totally sad. Advertising materials that primarily show women as “objects” of pleasure and sexual gratification is ever increasing on free TV, TV on demand, magazines, newspapers, etc., and social media in the form of subtle (and sometimes even outright) scenes that depict women (and even men) as hypersexualized individuals, they are almost soft-core porn! I notice this every day. The search for fame, stardom, and wealth must be the drive for those models to accept this self-degrading role as a means of increasing sales profit of greedy companies.
My wife educates me about this on the regular (she sent me this link, too). It’s important that men get educated about this too, not just women. The media nowadays portrays physical attractiveness as the primary source of woman empowerment, as depicted in many fashion magazines, both printed and digital. Instead of centering on equal opportunities for women, women’s education and development, or women’s rights that can help boost their confidence, those advertisers use women for their own or their clients’ gain, that only help increase abuse and harassment direct to women by depicting them as mere objects and not as humans with emotions and aspirations. I see this happen with my guy friends. Thanks to articles like this and my smart wife, I now know how to talk to them about it.
I find it very hard to explain to my young daughter such images of women in compromising positions when she sees it on TV or tablet screen. I hope she doesn’t get that idea that being “pretty” or “sexy” is equal to being lovable. I cringe when I envision my daughter having to wear such slutty dress and make-ups used by sexy models. It is VERY settling for a mother. :/
I totally agree. I try my best not to let my daughter watch too much tv or use the internt. I don’t want her to grow up insecure because of all the things that media is displaying.
I agree! It is really alarming that children are growing up in a culture where beauty has a "shallow" definition. Media continues to objectify women and we see these everyday — in TVs, magazines, movies, Internet, etc. It is really horrifying that this culture is being accepted and embraced 🙁
As a mother, I really try to teach my children the value of "respect." I don't want my children to grow dishonoring "beautiful" women around them just because they're not naked or "almost naked" in front of them.
I’m a mother of two girls and I worry a lot about this too. Maybe Hilary can write an article about tips for mothers of girls??
Great idea! I’ll work on that 🙂
To hell with those selfish advertisers who think that women are only merchandise they can buy and then dispose of if not needed anymore! They will throw those models just like that if they don’t look appealing to the public’s eye and not making any cash flow to their pockets. It plants to the public’s mind that we humans are commodities, that we are greedy like they are, and that we only respond when we see sexually arousing images…
Nowadays, it seems that women care less of their true worth. I’m not trying to be “conservative” but I personally think every “model” should set boundaries / limits on what they do. But then again, I guess they’ll just find some other model who’d do the job. It needs to be regulated, I guess…
Almost all of us, women, are sexual beings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are sex objects. And that is what the media is subtly injecting on our minds. It builds a culture in which men are always thought to be the consumer of media, a culture in which men do the looking and women are looked at, in which men are the subjects and women are the objects. I believe that our sexual desires must not be mistaken for weakness or vacuity. Nobody should demean us as mere objects.
We must learn the difference between self-appreciation and self-objectification. When we look at ourselves as beautiful both inside and out and continue to recognize our non-physical flaws to improve them, it’s self-appreciation. But when we see our body as a mere physical tool for seduction and attraction, we are self-objectifying.
I believe those women who engage in commenting about their weight, dieting, or eating habits, and complain about their appearance are more likely to struggle with having satisfaction with their body and thus become more self-objectified. They focus on their physical attractiveness and attempt to reach an unrealistic standard. It seems like a sad, vicious cycle. 🙁