Women

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

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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 spends most of her time in France, but still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC and has traveled extensively around the world, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

58 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 🙂

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Monica CONOVER

    Objectifying is bad because of the way it manipulates people. It has nothing to do with the models supporting the product it has to do with the mental backlashes that can come from the conformity suggested in the commercial. The integration of psychology into commercials has infected this message of conformity since the 1950’s. The underlying message has only grown strong since the birth of our mass society in the 20’s but recently the ads have become more effective at what I would like to call inception. They make you think it was your idea to get this product and to lose your weight and be incredibly good looking. It promotes eating disorders, and bankruptcy even if we don’t see it on the surface. A perfectly fit woman may see a clothing ad talking about being ‘curvy’ and the picture of the girl looks exactly the same weight, this might bring the woman to think she needs to lose more. This can happen beyond health and that is what makes this wrong.

  11. I believe that the objectification of women in today’s society is a growing problem. The media allows young children to believe that what they see in television and video games is OK. In the future, I do not want my children to see women parading around in their underwear and think that it is acceptable. We must teach our younger siblings and future children to carry themselves with respect. It is bad enough that we have to listen to songs where women are being portrayed as sex objects, but the worst part is the fact that women themselves are the ones dancing to those types of songs.

  12. Hi Hilary!

    Objectifying women especially as objects is sad. People are judged by what they wear. If you dress a certain way on purpose, it’s your prerogative. People should not be objectified by what they wear, but society holds people accountable for what they wear.

    Models and actors know they are being objectified. We know they are and don’t have to follow suit with that. It’s just like how beauty is portrayed with models and actresses. We know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that being thin to the point of being anorexic is not healthy. Yet models, actors, and actresses are made to believe that being extremely thin is they only way they can be accepted and keep their jobs.

    Wearing an attractive outfit versus wearing a revealing outfit might be a different thing if one knows the difference.

  13. Objectification leads to adolescents who see themselves as only the sum of their physical parts, which leads to teenagers who are insecure and shallow, which leads to adults who star on Jersey Shore. Sure, I like it when people think I’m attractive, but it really bothers me when they think that’s ALL I am.

  14. Dana Rosatti

    In my opinion some occasional objectification is a reminder or notification that a person is attractive to others. A long term or frequent objectification of a person however, just lets them know that their only value to others is their ability to look good. What is the person left with when their beauty fades? So a little objectification is not that bad, but a lot is extremely negative.

    • I think that’s also why there are so few roles for older women. In Hollywood and the media, as soon as a woman shows signs of aging (or, enough so that it’s a hassle to Photoshop them out), their value goes down. I am so sick of seeing older men being portrayed as sexy, and sleeping with younger women. Speaking of that, I think I’m going to write an article about how sexist the James Bond franchise is!

  15. Sonja Fallow

    I definatly understand where you are coming from I just graduated from a small woman’s college. On a daily basis we talked about how women are objectified everyday. You don’t see men in the tighty whiteys all time. why is okay for women to be in there bra and underwear. If women are supposed to look like Victoria Secret model shouldn’t we expect men to look like Abercrombie models?

  16. Lena Dzeko

    The real problem is that objectification in general is bad and reduces people to their bodies and/or looks, male or female. One can’t reduce a person to the role they play on a daily basis-that means yes, objectifying an actor as ‘just’ an actor is also wrong.

  17. Matilda Parker

    Great write up and very much in line with my thought process at this time. To put this in fewer words, blatant objectification encourages oppression. To this day women are still valued solely for their bodies, attractiveness or sexual potential by some people.

  18. I have been objectified and I hate it. Women in general are objectified- not just ones considered pretty. Seeing nude women all over magazines objectifies all women.

  19. Christina Norelli

    Attractive women get accustomed to being objectified and it gets tiring. They want to be appreciated for themselves. I do not think any women, attractive or otherwise really wants to be treated in that way.

  20. Jae Medina

    I do not agree with anyone, male or female being seen a s asexual object as is common these days. It is not about feminism or jealousy as these guys seem to think. It is a simple matter of respect and decency. I have had attention from men and been told by a guy that he was only with me for my looks. That sort of attention has always made me feel uncomfortable. Men don`t seem to understand that.

  21. Felicia Stewart

    Being a human means you deserve respect! Given that they are a good person…. Also, I’m a kind woman and have been objectified and groped when I was doing nothing but having polite conversation. A woman doesn’t have to earn men’s respect to not be objectified.

  22. Thank You, Hilary, for this insightful article. This is the best one on the subject of objectification i have read. I was just chatting about this with a guy colleague over lunch yesterday. He agreed that he feels repulsed by women without a sense of shame.

  23. Emma Blackwood

    I’m not trying to claim mitigated responsibility for men that abuse women. I do think, however, that our culture objectifies and sexualises women as the norm, and that representations of women as whole human beings are rare. In this atmosphere, our individual choices are either supporting or challenging that societal norm.

    • Lana Urie

      I agree our culture objectifies women as the norm insomuch as we still tend to be represented as “other” in popular culture but, of course, that very atmosphere means there are social consequences for challenging such societal norms entirely. This sometimes makes it hard to pin down whether an individual choice can conclusively be said to support or challenge those norms. It also means the reality for many women in terms of support/challenge is a complex picture full of twists, turns, ruses and compromises.

  24. Kimberley Thompson

    IMO, those men who view all women as sex objects are entirely responsible for any consequences or abuses stemming from that. The choices or otherwise of those women who like being objectified are not. The same surely applies if we take both the gender and sexual elements out. People who consent to being objectified in some transitory way for financial gain are not responsible for the behaviour of exploitative businesses that strip workers of their rights and view them as nothing more than machines for profit.

  25. Celine Carter

    The question of definitions is something I often get stuck on myself. If we define objectification as something that is all-encompassing and entirely dehumanising, we can surely conclude that objectification is just plain wrong. No ifs, no buts, no turning of the tables. However, it seems to me that things become less clear if objectification can be seen as something potentially transitory: the idea that switching between subject and object in different circumstances is all part of the negotiatory push/pull of life as we know it. But maybe that’s the thing? Life “as we know it” is pretty fucked up. I guess the answer lies in radically critiquing dominant ideas about work/workers and sex/power (to name just two key areas).

  26. Sydney Nowak

    The other thing that people often say is to chill out, ‘you don’t have to do that, but some women like being objectified’. Well, yes, but that does that mean that I have to pretend I support their choice as wise or even feminist? We don’t live in vacuums, our choices affect other people. If countless women in all kinds of media are presented as objects, some men will view all women as objects, which contributes to women getting really hurt.

  27. Amanda Roberts

    It’s also pretty much impossible to do this to men qua men (purely on the quality of them as men, without taking into account any other qualities). It’s not individuals who objectify, it’s an *entire society* including many powerful mechanisms as well as individual actions which, summed, cause objectification. An objectification machine does not exist with men qua men as its target.

    • Camila Hilhorst

      I agree with you that whether individual behaviour results in “effective” objectification depends very much on the power structures and systems surrounding the behaviour. That said, I’m not sure it’s true that the machine/society/system couldn’t shift toward objectifying men in addition to women – or perhaps to put it more accurately, since I think societal masculinity standards already contain elements of objectification, evolve to include more sexual objectification of men as well.

  28. Ashley Moore

    That was just what I needed to read this morning. This is not only one of the best blog posts you’ve written, but one of the best I’ve read. Look at the woman’s face in that “Tom Ford” ad. She doesn’t look happy or comfortable with the position she is in. If your model isn’t comfortable with it, you shouldn’t be doing it. 🙁

  29. Julia MacLean

    If you objectify someone you will not treat them with moral consideration, assuming you are locked into objectifying them and never can treat them with human dignity.

  30. Catherine White

    First of all, I am strongly against objectifying women. And yes we are much more than Promiscuous body parts. However there is a great paradox regarding objectifying women in society today. People, specially women are against objectifying women, but their actions say and show otherwise. We talk about how it is wrong to see a woman ONLY as a pretty face, pair of breasts, buttocks and legs. Yet society today begs the difference, starting with us women.

  31. Hazel Collins

    Undoubtedly, these sexual portrayal of women in the media have negative outcomes. These negative outcomes are not only affecting adult women but also young girls. Women are buying beauty products at increasingly younger ages. People who self-objectify never truly feel happy with themselves and their appearance. This causes eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, depression, and general anxiety.

  32. Olivia Peterson

    The problem is that objectification makes a woman’s value as a sexual object be the only thing that matters. It’s okay to think a woman is attractive. It’s not okay to have this idea be the basis of any interaction with a woman. It’s not okay to talk to a businesswoman and primarily think of how attractive she is and not about her status and accomplishments. That’s the problem with objectifying.

  33. Anna Kaplan

    Power and privilege are at the core of objectification. For example, cat calling isn’t about commenting on the attractiveness of a person; it’s about saying “I am allowed to look at you as an object, put there for my pleasure, and assert my power in this situation by publicly making a comment on you”

  34. Danielle Wilson

    It assumes that women are public property to be critiqued and commented on with or without that individual’s consent. It is wrong because it is an assertion of power, which is a reinforcement of male privilege. This is why objectification of men is talked about less; men have the power in this society.

  35. Emily Sauer

    Thank you for the reminder of this perspective. I’ve read about this and I believe that it was a nightmare experience. Even reading about it sounds terrible. Can we stop looking at other people as sex objects and start valuing them. Appearance matters on some level, but it shouldn’t ruin someone’s life.

  36. Diana Hewitt

    Objectifying women is a huge and growing problems in the technological age we are in. I believe we are going to start seeing more people talking about this in the future, as the effects of exposure to highly stimulating images & video of women is commonly consumed by younger and younger males, who are online in ever increasing numbers. Many parents are too tired or confused about how to control the internet at home, so very young males are being exposed to extremely graphic amateur pornography!

  37. Cynthia Keller

    Women who usually read magazines and consume other forms of media are more likely to rate their appearance as most important, and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders and depression.

  38. Andrea Schuener

    Very sad 🙁 I’m teary-eyed! Your article left me thinking what can I do in my own little way to help change this???

  39. I refuse to buy from companies that demoralize women! If these companies have so much confidence in their products, they wouldn’t need to objectify women to “sell” and “earn”.

    The images you included make me feel sick. Sadly, we live in a patriarchal society that degrades women to their lowest value 🙁 Terrible…

    • Applause! I guess the best way to start creating change is really not patronizing products of the companies that objectifies women! We can do something, we are not helpless!

  40. Thought-provoking piece! The more people understand this, the better. Women objectification has been normalized and encouraged in our society and IT REALLY NEEDS TO CHANGE.

    Respect!

  41. Hannah Mayers

    Shame on these companies who objectify and exploit women! But is it right if I say, shame on the models for allowing themselves to be treated this way??!! I understand economic reasons push these models to be “exploited” but is it really an acceptable reason?!

    I think it’s high time that women education be prioritized, this is the only way I can think of to lessen and eventually stop all these…

  42. Anne Dawson

    Sadly, objectification does not only affect the model, the actress and the product endorser. It objectifies ALL women and even young girls. Objectification in ad sends the message to everyone that it’s the right way to treat, regard, view and use women.

    I don’t have to personally appear and be objectified on ads. I’m already objectified simply by being a woman in a society where negative images and ads like this are normal and widely accepted :cry::cry::cry:

    • Ariella Louisa

      Think for yourself. You really don’t have to be offended. Everyone is different and no one should give in to “group thinking” regardless of what side it’s on. What offends one person won’t offend another. I assume the women in these ads would not agree. Some women celebrate and use their sexuality and sexual nature and enjoy it. Others get offended and will say those women were brainwashed, raised wrong, etc, etc. In other words, think for yourself. And kudos for being brave to post your opinion!

      • Francis Woods

        Well, I’m thinking for myself!!! I understand that we are different, but I feel and agree with Anne Dawson!!! When I see a friend, man or woman, holding a magazine with ads objectifying women, I can’t help but feel ashamed!!! And instead of approaching that friend and starting a good conversation, I would just walk away because of that offended feeling!

  43. This is an informative illustration of how advertisers exploit female bodies to make money for companies that sell not just a product, but a lifestyle to consumers. Unfortunately, younger people are heavily influenced by these images, consequently developing a distorted understanding on how the female should be viewed and treated…

  44. Sex actually lowers the ease with which people remember the brand in an advertisement. But even if it did sell, it comes at too high a cost.

  45. Sadly, SEX sells. Whether it's objectifying women or not, I doubt this a marketing strategy that will never die.As long as people enjoy sex and barely naked women they will continue to be used in ads. Male consumers and many women don't care if it's degrading.

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