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Women: Eroticized, Idealized & Objectified

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Women: Eroticized, Idealized & ObjectifiedI 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

Women: Eroticized, Idealized & ObjectifiedStanding in front of thousands of university students, Jean Kilbourne eloquently narrated the topic, with the help of advertising images of women that she’s been collecting since the 1970’s. The images often look humorous or creative but, according to Jean, also portray women as sex objects. This isn’t the first time someone has spoken out about the über sexualization and objectification of women in the media. But what’s changed?

Jean explained that the images present the ‘ideal’ image for women, as created by the advertising media. Depicting women as 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 big boobs and big butt” ideal is almost always unattainable, real women go through impossible dieting and compulsive cosmetic surgery procedures to become significant in society.

Women: Eroticized, Idealized & ObjectifiedThe 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.

From all of these über sexualized images of women in the media, Jean pointed out that the purpose of advertisers was actually not to sell sex but to sell consumerism. However, the effect of advertising is so powerful that it’s become a dominant educational force in society. To men, it presented toughness and violence as the ultimate measure of masculinity. To women, it created the idea of being “hot” as the most important measure of success. It’s led many women to equate being sexy with empowerment. To this, Jean argued:

“When the culture only offers girls and women one way to be sexy, it can hardly be considered an authentic choice to choose it.”

Women: Eroticized, Idealized & Objectified

Killing Us Softly (Advertising’s Image of Women) is a 45-minute video lecture presented by feminist Jean Kilbourne. It’s the fourth revision to Jean’s documentary series of the same subject – how women are portrayed in the advertising media.  The latest update includes contemporary images of digitally altered cover models, new fashion trends, and today’s young stars like Miley Cyrus.

In the film, Jean urges people to become aware, to speak up against how women are objectified in the ads not in the name of censorship but in the name of free speech, and to get involved – to change not just the ads, but the attitude towards women. She also cited few developments to this cause, like the banning of very thin models in the high fashion runways.

Women: Eroticized, Idealized & ObjectifiedKilling Us Softly is a must-have for classroom discussions in colleges and high schools, and at women’s conferences and community meetings.

The film also serves as a strong support for the many causes that women’s groups have pushed for. Because it was produced without a big studio paying the bills, Killing Us Softly comes with a hefty price tag ($295.00 for colleges and universities, $150 for high school and community colleges and non-profits), but the funds go back to creating more educational films. This, however, should not hinder you from watching the documentary.

Women: Eroticized, Idealized & ObjectifiedIf you are a student, encourage your school and public library to screen it. If you are a member of civic organizations, tell them to spare a portion of their budget for A/V materials or encourage them to put up a collection jar to raise funds to purchase the video. If you know the town officials, talk to them about purchasing the video for community screenings. And if you are actually wealthy parents who can spend hundreds of dollars on Manolo Blahniks, then grab a copy and let your children watch this film at home and in your family gatherings and reunions.

If you want to raise healthy children who are untethered by body image issues and uninfluenced by violence in the media, this video is the best investment we can think of.

A 5-minute trailer:

For more information about the film and the company, visit their website at www.mediaed.org

Here’s another great, 8-minute video on the topic (you can watch the full 90-minute film here):

…and a 16-minute TED Talk about the topic:

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 lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 16 Comments

  1. Michelle Norris

    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.

  2. Phoebe Mueller

    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…

  3. Anna Hendrickson

    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 unsettling for a mother. I think I should buy and watch that video and learn more. Even if it is a bit costly, I think it is worth the price.

  4. Blaise Dalton

    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.

  5. Jennifer Hartmann

    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! 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.

  6. Definitely! Every woman should understand her worth and that “objectification” is not really needed in order to be known or famous!

  7. Gabby Williams

    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.

  8. It is really alarming that children are growing up in a culture where beauty has a "shallow" definition. Media continue 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.

  9. Courtney Watson

    I believe that women who allow themselves to be objectified should be taught the value of self-respect, self-love and self-worth!

  10. Hannah Mayers

    A sad and alarming truth that 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 this “women objectification” issues will no longer be in existence.

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