Live media literate.

Join Understand Media to get access to our forums, the latest media literacy news, member-only articles, early access to our journals, and much more.

We will never give your info to anyone!

By Julie S.

No need to open it. The cover page already presents the whole problem. Whoever is the “lucky” star this week, no doubt she is young, tall, thin, and wears nothing meant to cover her overly tanned athletic body. Magazines, like many other media, set a physical standard or ideal for women, that is neither reachable, realistic, or healthy. From their youngest age, girls learn what they should look like in order to be perfect, and that image will follow them and get more and more detailed as they grow old. The contrast between what they see in the mirror and that image they built up in their head with the years, can dramatically alter their self esteem and confidence; most importantly, it will take a disproportionate place in their life. By looking more or less closer at these ideals, sexual features will ultimately make their appearance. Especially in advertising and commercials, women are victims of  a stereotypical depiction. They are represented as sexual objects, things, and/or they are given a role closer to the one they used to endorse one century back than to the one they actually play in today’s society. They are the key product of a sexist marketing.

Sexism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex” (Wikipedia). Undermining women, advertisers and publishers promote a poor image of women that has become an obstacle in women’s social ascension. Women ultimately end up wearing the stereotyped costume of the poor fragile little thing that need men. They are enclosed in that image, for advertisements have the same dangerous power as any other media, when incautiously handled. That power resides in the high exposure of advertisements and in the constructed message decoded by the audience. The influence of advertisements is thus limitless.

Like a dictatorship, advertisements tell people what it means to be perfect. They provide women, and even men, with a rigid standard of beauty and perfection unreachable, because if it was, then nothing would be left to be sold. As Stuart Ewen explained it in his book, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1976, “satisfied customers are not as profitable as discontented ones”. Thus the furthest to his or her ideal someone feels, the more opportunities remain to sell products “able” to fix one’s flaw. Since the early 1920’s and “the birth of modern advertising industry” (Michael F. Jacobsen and Laurie Anne Mazur, Sexism and Sexuality in Advertising, Los Angeles, 1995), a new market has been rising selling us things we would not need if that market itself was not telling us we do.

Even more confusing and revolting is the use of sexual images in order to insure and increase sales. One would not be surprised anymore to find a woman, wearing the tiniest kind of bikini, arching her back in a seductive way, to promote… a new car or beer. Yet, there is no connection between a sexy woman and a car or a beer, but the image appeals, and women suffer the prejudice of the cliché imposed to her. They are reduced to one word, “beautiful”. Advertisements usually depict men as strong, athletic, courageous and professionally successful. One could argue that it is a lot of pressure for them, and that is not easy to respond to that “ideal”. But, at least, they are not resumed to only a physical object of desire, empty of feelings and mind. I am not trying to claim that men are luckier than women; the curse thrown by advertisements is gender-blind and massively destructive.

Today’s women seek an equal status in society. A change in their depiction in media would not solve the problem, but it would at least stop bringing them back to their old role of housewives and men’s servants. More parity in their mediatic image could open the way to more parity in society. Advertisers and publishers should be proud to be given the lead on such an important step for society. Women can be glamorous and beautiful, “even” as men’s equals. Women are humans and not sexual objects, and that should be how they are portrayed in advertisements.

Works Cited:

Wikipedia. Definition of Sexism,

Ewen, Stuart. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1976.

Jacobsen, Michael F.  and Mazur, Laurie Anne. Sexism and Sexuality in Advertising, Los Angeles, 1995.