Growing up, I never really noticed what was happening in fashion ads. For the most part, I just remember being a little girl looking at them and seeing extremely beautiful women and stunning clothes. I did not pay attention to how they were posing or, at times, what little they were wearing. All I saw was society’s standards for what it meant to be beautiful.
The older I got, the more I began to question all of it.
“Why is that woman in that perfume ad naked? What is the point if they’re selling perfume? Why is this woman washing a car for this burger commercial? Am I the only one who thinks this is a little weird?”
But it wasn’t until my first semester of college that I stopped and realized how sexualized women were really being portrayed in the media.
My Communications professor that semester had our class watch a documentary about different fashion ads that came out over the last 20 years one semester. The women in the ads were not standing up straight, nor were they photographed being shown as strong and independent.
They were slouched over, popping their hips, lying down, and their faces looked away from the camera. I remember our professor saying that the way these women were being portrayed was how we were being looked at throughout our history, which is submissive and fragile.
The documentary used brands such as Guess Jeans and Gucci as examples of fashion ads which have both women and men in their spreads, but have the woman posed as innocent, sexy, and docile while the man is dominant.
It really hit a nerve when she pointed that out, because someone actually sat down and thought it was a good idea to decide, “This is how we’re going to portray all women and make this the visual representation of what being a ‘real’ woman is all about.”
But this all doesn’t stop at fashion ads, because even food companies have taken things too far. For instance, in the early 2000’s the fast food chain Carl’s Jr. started their series of advertisements of women in swimsuits sexually eating their signature cheeseburgers on cars.
The minds behind the M&M commercials not only chose to make one of their flavors a female, but also decided to have her embody sex.
To take it a step further, in 2014, Burger King was the subject of public scrutiny when they released a magazine ad that showcased a woman with her mouth wide open and the new sandwich they were promoting in front of her mouth with the headline “It’ll Blow Your Mind Away.”
When does it get to a point where the people who make these ads realize how disturbing this is?
I find it all unsettling because for one thing, women are being objectified.
There is no problem with women being comfortable in their own skin and with their sexuality. But there is an obvious difference between being all about yourself and having a man or woman with camera deciding how you should be shown to the world based on a product a company wants to sell.
I also start to think about how oblivious I was to all of this growing up and how my little cousins and children in general are being exposed to the same thing now.
And while yes, the people raising them are the ones who are responsible for telling them right from wrong, but there are outside forces that can make an impact.
But the people who are creating these ads are not the only ones at fault, there’s a reason why many of us have yet to notice how alarming these ads and commercials are. We are the targeted audience. They use tactics that appeal to our demographic.
Maybe it is up to us to see that these social norms change.