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Sexualized Women in Media

Updated on April 21, 2012

Sexualized Women in the Media

Although women have come a long way since the 1950’s ideal that the only role in society women should play are housewives and child bearers, it seems that women still cannot shake the idea that they are not as valuable or important as men, and that their main purpose is to look good for the opposite sex. The main reason for this is most likely because of the advertisements we are exposed to multiple times during our average day. On one of the most watched TV events each year, The Super Bowl, the most popular commercials revolved around thin, beautiful, young women half-clothed, and selling a man’s product.

One of the most controversial commercials that premiered on the evening of the Super Bowl was an ad for a flower company called Tele Flora. Adriana Lima, an international super model who’s known for being a coveted Victoria’s Secret ‘angel’, was the star of the commercial. She seems to be in a hotel room, readying herself for an evening out on the town. She seductively pulls up her tights, zips up her zipper, and puckers her lips for lipstick. The bulk of the commercial is simply her getting dressed and sashaying around the room sexily. Not until the very last couple seconds of the commercial do you know that it is a commercial for a flower agency. Lima seductively says into the camera, “Guys, Valentine’s Day is not that complicated. Give, and you shall receive”. Following this last line, up pops a flower arrangement with the words “Happy Valentines Night”.

The ultimate message the advertiser was trying to send to their male audience was that they should send their sexy girlfriends flowers on Valentine’s Day, and they will be happy. However, the underlying message is actually quite appalling after its dug into a little bit. By choosing an international super model to be the spokeswoman for all women around the world who may be receiving flowers on Valentine’s Day, the message is that only sexy, young women can have Valentines. Why would an older, over-weight woman be receiving flowers on Valentines ‘Night’? You can only receive flowers if you fit into a slinky black dress. The commercial also touches on an ideal that men like to think, as well as women. Women control men. Men are stupid, and women can trick them into doing whatever they like. When Lima says “Guys, it’s not that complicated”, men feel excited by the idea that a woman is more powerful than them on this one evening, where they will be rewarded with something at night time if they buy their special (or not special) someone flowers. Women also like this idea that they are in control. They like the idea that they are smarter than the idiots who don’t realize that if they buy women something “shiny and pretty” they’re going to get lucky. This idea is the one that’s most troubling in the commercial. If you buy me flowers, you’re going to get rewarded with my body. Unfortunately, 99% of the population does not look like Adriana Lima, and men will not be rewarded with her body, they will be rewarded with their significant other, which makes women feel like they don’t measure up.

Another ad that has been critiqued is not as obviously demeaning to women, although the ad does consist of a naked woman in the shower. The ad is for Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner (Gender Ads). It makes sense that when you’re promoting something that you use in the shower, the ad might be in the shower, but the main point of the product is how your hair looks like after it is dry. The advertisers are really playing on beautiful, slim women in the shower, and how great they look all sudsy (covering all the important parts of course). If these women on the cover look beautiful in the shower, you will too if you use these shampoos and conditioners! If a man happens across this advertisement, and the next time his wife or girlfriends sends him out to go pick up some more shampoo and conditioner, guess which one he’s going to buy. Although this doesn’t say outright that if a woman uses this product, a man is going to also get lucky, it does remind men what their significant others should ought to look like. Similar to the Adriana Lima ad, not everyone looks that beautiful, with perfect makeup and glowing skin, naked in the shower.

Another commercial that could definitely be deemed as weird by society’s standards today (this commercial must have come out in the 1970’s) is an ad for the Wonder Bra (Gender Ads). The ad is of a very sexy woman, curvy in all the right places, simply wearing a lacy black bra and thong. The ad literally says in big, bold, black letters “HELLO BOYS”. If this isn’t tailored to a man, I don’t know what ad is. This is as obvious as it gets, and we may think that we’ve come a long way since these times but we are just getting a little slyer with the wording. This ad is basically saying, if you wear this bra, the boys will come running. It makes sense that women would buy these bras back in the day, because the standard then was that you needed a man to fulfill your life. If this wonder bra did the trick, then most of the female population was going to buy one.

What all of these commercials have in common are beautiful women. They all are young women, probably under the age of 30. Advertisers choose women who look especially young, because our society accepts young people as being sexy much easier than they would of someone older. Our society puts so much emphasis on trying to prevent teenaged and younger people to stay out of sexual relationships, but ads are constantly showing them that they need to wear these sexy clothes, and alluring makeup. Older women are dressed up as dolls, which are supposed to be a play toy for little girls. In the article “Media Cited for Showing Girls as Sex Objects” multiple studies were taken that came out with the following results. The studies included a variety of media, from television and movies to song lyrics, and looked at advertising showing “body-baring doll clothes for pre-schoolers, tweens posing in suggestive ways in magazines and the sexual antics of young celebrity role models”. The researchers found such images may make girls think of and treat their own bodies as sexual objects (Sharon).

In all of these ads, these women are thin women, however they are curvy in the right places with round butts and curvaceous busts. Usually, they are barely clothed from start to finish (if it is a commercial on TV) or they begin by getting dressed, or end by getting undressed. Regardless, you will see some skin in ads and commercials because sex sells. Men love to see naked women, but women also enjoy seeing products that could improve their image. In all of these ads, the women look happy that they’re being sexualized. They are smiling, or they are intriguing the audience with eyes that seem to say “Come get me” or “Be like me”. The commercials almost always revolve around pleasing men.

The advertisements that young people, and older people alike, are exposed to today do nothing but make women feel like they don’t measure up. Most women might not even realize that they are thinking badly about themselves after seeing an unrealistically thin model, and they think “Wow, I really should buy that.” Advertisers are smart. They know that making people feel bad about themselves is the way to get them to purchase their product. Since this is a world in which men still prevalently run things, if a man wants his significant other to look a certain way, she most likely will attempt that because of the advertisements she is surrounded by on a daily basis. Although some advertisements can be obviously sexually demeaning to women, like the Adriana Lima ad explaining to men that if they buy women flowers, they will get lucky, many are viewed positively by both men and women, regardless of the hidden meaning. One day, hopefully the message will get across that women are worth a lot more than posing naked to sell a product to men.


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