Objectification: What's the Big Deal, Anyway?? - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

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Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??

Is it really about seducing male consumers, or is it more about tapping into female insecurities?

By 

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.

Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??

Seeing these images is almost completely unavoidable

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.

Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??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.

Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??

Victoria’s Secret ads don’t do women any favors

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: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??

This ad asks women: “Are you beach body ready?” I’m happy to see that somebody stuck their own message on it.

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. 

Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??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.

Objectification: What’s the Big Deal, Anyway??

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.

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she spends most of her time in France, NYC, London and Switzerland, and travels extensively around the world. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 60 Comments

  1. Hersh

    In my life some people tell me to lose weight and women who are fine tell me they want to lose weight.
    So many young women and some older women wear skin tight clothes how uncomfortable aren’t they encouraging some of this dont know for sure.churches try to block out these feelings. Hasn’t this been going on since the dark ages?

  2. People are people - not parts

    So I found this article listed after a search for “viewing beauty without objectification”. And while It has some good points I was annoyed that the images in the article were exactly what we DONT want to see here.

    Wouldn’t this be a more powerful article to show good examples of marketing that do NOT objectify women OR men?

    I’m in the process of re-programming my perceptions of the world around me. I’m guilty of objectification of women and seek out resources to find products and media (movies, books, tv shows, etc.) that do not use the ‘sex sells’ credo. Even better are those that actively don’t.

    So thanks for writing the article – next time be sure to show us the change not the problem.

  3. Molly Twain

    There should be a “How Not To Objectify Woman” guide book for men. Because they just don’t get it.

    • Chris

      It’s women who don’t “get it”. You cannot want to be the center of attention by virtue of your exterior AND not be valued on the basis of your exterior at the same time. Also, the phrase “being treated like an object” is nonsense. Even with no verbal communication (people don’t talk to objects with a few notable exceptions who are called mentally ill), the simply fact that you are getting an admiring (or disapproving) look means you’re not treated like an object. Objects don’t get admiring (or disapproving) looks.

  4. Sabrina Grattidge

    Excellent piece, which led me to think about those who do self-objectification… I think this contradiction of self-objectification and the desire for empowerment comes from the fact that in our culture Sex sells and makes money, which is a form of power. I think women like that allow men to think it’s okay to objectify women.

  5. I think the media using women to sell sex contributes more to women and girls being slut shamed. When a girl is accused of being a slut she is accused of “giving her body away for free or for a cheap price” unlike girls who are using their sexy parts to make a lot money. Once a girl’s sexuality is used as a commodity it is not empowering to other women, or herself…an object cannot have power. People judge us on our sexual activity, and the more partners we have the more we’re devaluing ourselves(like a car-the more miles it has the less valuable it is). So girls who are selling sex are just contributing to the dichotomy that men want sex and will buy it and the most valuable thing a women has is her sex so she sells it. Nobody takes into account that women too are sexual subjects, and can enjoy sex the same way a man can.

    • Wow – great insight! That would make for an interesting article… taking notes 🙂

  6. Pearl Nguyen

    To be honest, a certain degree of objectification is inevitable in a sexual relationship. I think that’s where the discussions between sexualization versus objectification kind of diverge. With sexualization, there’s a much more clear implication that it can be good in certain situations and bad in others. You wouldn’t want to view your coworkers as sexualized in the same sorts of ways that you view your relationship partner, for example.Whereas objectification is much more of a unambiguously negative concept and is harder to pin down as particular behavior.

    • Roberta Bennett

      In my limited understanding, objectification is where sexualization meets dehumanization. This is why there is plenty of sexualized art and fashion that is fine because the person in question is still being fully expressed as a person, rather than as an object.

  7. Pamela Sanabria

    I keep seeing comments that men keep arguing that men, like women, are also objectified. No. They are not. It is true there are a growing number of men developing eating disorders and becoming obsessed with fitness trying to get to be that ideal man. But seriously guys, it is not the same thing! For women, it is not about femininity, it is about being objects here for men’s “amusement”. Both are harmful for society, but they really are not the same thing. Men don’t get denied a job because of the size of their biceps, many women however likely have at some point been denied jobs based on appearance. That is the difference.

    • Rick

      Men are objectified too. You see a man driving a porshe, he’s very attractive to a woman. He becomes nothing but a bank account. It’s very myopic to claim only men do these things.

      • Ryan

        ^ exactly this.

  8. Kaitlyn Barrett

    People need to stop teaching younger women to view themselves as sexual objects. If you’re taught that your whole value is based on what you are to men, then you’re going to buy into that same mentality later on in life. Was thinking of the cheerleaders at football games. serving as eye-candy for men. that’s their sole purpose. If they honestly thought they were athletes, then they should demand making cheer-leading as a whole new sport with competitive spirit. Not just some semi-nude women gyrating in front of some of America’s best athletes. Instead, they can BE the best athlete in their sport without just being there as an objectified performer.

    • Agreed! I always found the concept of cheerleaders offensive. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were 50% male, and they dressed in non-sexual outfits, but it’s such a super objectifying thing the way it’s currently set up.

  9. Emily Wentz

    I think that the everyday experiences of women is, more or less, a cumulative depersonalization via portrayals on television, magazine covers, etc., and in social interactions, such that the societal and experiential message many women receive tells them that their looks and sexual attractiveness are the currency upon which their value is, at least in part, based.

  10. Leslie Williams

    I think there’s a false dichotomy between treating someone as a “depersonalized object of desire” and treating them as “an individual with a complex personality.” Is not it possible to treat someone as a sexually desirable individual with a complex personality? From where comes the assumption that finding someone’s body desirable depersonalizes them? Last I checked, most people want to have sex with people, not with objects. Sexual desire and desirability, being part of “the human experience,” ought to make us feel like more of a person, not less, or so it seems to me. This is something that has always bugged me about this subject area.

    • Helena Stevens

      The dichotomy is not false. Key words: DEPERSONALIZED OBJECT. You can desire a person, or you can desire an object. But you can’t do both at the same time. You either view women as people, or you don’t.

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