Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??
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.
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, face reshaped), making it impossible for anybody to reach this so-called ‘standard of beauty’. No wonder so many women experience 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 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.
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 roundness of their butts.