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By Kelsey G.

Sexism in advertising is all around us. It starts as sexualization of men and women in magazines, billboards, commercials, and posters. We have been exposed to it enough where it shapes our views without our realization. Sexism should not be acceptable in the media or in our everyday lives. It is up to us to make everyone aware and change it from cultural norm to obsolete.                                                

Sexism in advertising starts with the sexualization of models on the front covers of magazines. In the September 2005 edition of Sex Roles, a study was done about Cosmopolitan magazine and how their covers of women can change by country due to factors such as cultural values or economic and political systems. These factors affect the sexual content from country to country such as India and Indonesia where sexuality is toned down. Even with this knowledge, the investigators of Sex Roles wanted to find out more. Through research they found what is inside of Cosmopolitan’s private 50-page manual that contains the criteria of selecting cover models. The manual says, “The women of the Cosmo cover—it is always a woman—should have large hair, remarkable features and not too much clothing” (Nelson and Paek). Cosmopolitan insists on putting a woman on the cover to show their readers that the featured model is who they think is the most beautiful women that month and that their readers should look up to them. In addition, they only want their models to wear limited clothing    which gives off the impression that their female readers should do the same in order to be beautiful. The sexualization of these models shows the sexism within the magazine. They show that this is the ideal woman and that their first priority should be beauty followed by what their articles say such as finding the perfect man. Women should not feel obligated to live like this and magazines should not encourage them.                                       

The sexualization of women continues behind the scenes of the photo shoot, or rather what happens after the photos are taken. Photoshop is used to make expectation for beauty even more unrealistic. For example in Canada’s fashion magazine, Fire, Jennifer Lawrence’s body is significantly transformed ( Even after going through hair, makeup, and wardrobe, Jennifer Lawrence’s face, figure, and even hair are still altered. Fans everywhere admire The Hunger Games star for embracing her figure that reflects the average woman rather than a stick thin model. Other features are altered such as the volume of her hair, hairline, trademark freckles, and collarbone. The outfit that she is wearing already sexualizes her by showing her stomach and making her breasts pop out. It is unnecessary to sexualize her even more by adjusting her figure and other parts of her body. From the book All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity, Anita Harris writes, “They are coming of age in a more dangerous, sexualized, and media saturated culture. They face incredible pressures to be beautiful and sophisticated…” (pg.17). This quote is absolutely correct. Girls grow up in a culture where media is impossible to escape as well as the pressure that comes with it. They look up to the women pictured on the front of and inside magazines and grow up to idolize their unrealistic beauty. That is the point. Their beauty is unrealistic. Celebrities usually do not look like they do on the cover of magazines but it does not mean that they are not beautiful. Magazines and other types of media create this version of beauty that everyone strives to be even if it is incredibly unrealistic. This further emphasizes the point that sexualization leads to sexism when women are expected to have impractical beauty before anything else. When will these magazines tell women things that matter like how to succeed in school and actual real life problems?   

Although it is harder to find evidence of sexism in advertising against men, it absolutely does exist. In the book Proving Manhood: Reflections on Men and Sexism, Author Timothy Beneke writes, “In the last fifty years we have seen a massive dissemination of erotic images in advertising, contrived with increasing skill to distract, arouse, and awaken male sexual feeling” (pg.79). Even though this passage relates more to women being sexualized in advertising to arouse men, it certainly goes the other way around as well. It is a proven point that sex sells. Whether it is a male or female being sexualized in an advertisement, they are being paid to attract others in order to sell a product. For example, in a recent commercials for KRAFT Italian dressing, a well-built man talks to the audience in a “sexy” tone while cooking a chicken and showing off his legs. At one point rips off his apron to reveal his abs. There was no need to sexualize a commercial about salad dressing but the writers were clearly aware that sex can sell nearly anything. Even though sexism against women is more prominent in our society, men are victims as well and they are also expected to look great in order to find a woman to take care of them. It is clear where the priorities of advertising lie.                           

Sexism in advertising is incredibly difficult to avoid. It can sexualize and completely alter women in magazines in which young girls grow up to idolize their unrealistic beauty that harms their self-esteem. It can also be used to sell products by using models or actors that are as “sexy” as possible. Either way, both men and women are victims who need to be saved. In order to stop sexism, we need to stop sexualization and although there are many people who want to stop this, we still have a long way to go.

Works Cited:

Beneke, Timothy. Beneke, Timothy. Proving Manhood: Reflections on Men and Sexism. University of California, 1997. 79. Print.

Harris, Anita. All about the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity. New York: Routledge, 2004. 17. Print.

Nelson, Michelle R., and Hye-Jin Paek. "Cross-Cultural Differences in Sexual Advertising Content in a Transnational Women's Magazine." Sex Roles 53.5-6 (2005): n. pag. Print.