In advertising, the female form over the years has been employed as a medium of psychological persuasion, used as a compelling element to promote and encourage the purchase of products. Advertisements are motivating as well as convincing tools that leave essential impact within the perception and minds of audiences. They are employed as a means of communication intended to convince listeners, readers and viewers to act on certain stimuli or to make purchases. The media through the use of pleasing images and narratives tend to attract the attention of its projected audience. The female form has been one of the most used and portrayed images in advertising in the 21st century (Riechert, 2002). The female form thus has become an ideal medium for conveying messages to the audience. In a bid to sell products, advertisers and the general mass media make use of the female form often with an emphasis on facial features, breast, midriffs, thighs, bare behinds, and legs to reinforce the notion that women should be viewed as objects rather than humans with ambitions, emotions and ideals. Advertising has successfully come to portray the feminine gender as an object.
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The implication of such conceptualization has led to the exploitation of the female form and women as a whole. The role, as well as the perception of women within society, has become stereotyped. Looking critically at a billboard or watching an ad on the television, it is easy to come to a realization that such portrayals would be demeaning to most women. Every individual who has watched the news, movies, musical videos and adverts of some products has in one way or the other witnessed stereotypes. The designer label “Gucci” has a somewhat distasteful commercial where a woman is seen placed at the feet of a man. Many have asked what Gucci what trying to establish with such an illustration. The ad definitely makes a point of the superiority of the male gender and thus, its dominance over the female which literally puts women down. Stereotyping has existed since the dawn of civilization and is observable in every sphere of the society in which we dwell (Reichert, 2002). The female empowerment enthusiast groups, as well as feminist movements, have pointed out that gender stereotyping roles has become so rampant in today’s society and many aspects of our everyday life. The long-term dominance of the male gender over the female has been a focal point of feminist movements’ argument. Today’s society is bent on the notion that sex and sexuality sells. Advertising has exploited this notion and uses it to get products and brands noticed. Brands, firms and products make their ads go viral by putting a sparsely clad model in the ad.
Advertisements promote gender stereotype via the exploitation of the female form, undermining the female intelligence and portraying women in roles and manners that are demeaning and insulting. Above all, these illustrations of the female form portrayed in ads are not completely true.
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Is it right to transform the image of the body and face of women in order to promote a specific kind of look, which defines how a beautiful woman look like?
Every individual, every woman is made different. Uniqueness is what spices up our society. Hence, one may begin to wonder why the same society is trying so ridiculously hard to compel people to believe or think everyone needs to be perfect. The notion or ideology that a particular look is the most ideal and appreciated by society has been sold to women. Social theorist, Kilbourne establishes that while the average human sees close to two thousand ads on a daily basis, they are subjected to seeing images of what society portrays as the ideal woman, a sense of digital manipulation where women are beautiful, slim, perfectly shaped, long-legged and model like. This portrayal of women in the ads has made real women think they should look like models, an artificial concept of the notion of beauty. Mass media ads use models to sell products on billboards, magazines and on TV, most of the time these models are completely unclad or provocatively dressed. Men see these ads and build the notion that the women are objects to be desired. Women, on the other hand, strive to look like what the male desire. Kilbourne further establishes that advertisements will have anyone believe that women in the real and ideal world are all white, below the age of 40, women have no disability, no imperfections and all women are heterosexual, that the female body is constantly in need of improvements and alterations, women need to look young, beautiful, always made up, sprayed up, slim, perfectly built and well groomed. Unfortunately, these images of a woman are part of a culture that is completely false, unfair and unviable. It has brought about the fact that one in every five women thinks herself ugly, has eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia), and has low self-esteem. Black women have had issues and prejudices concerning the tone and lightness of their skin (LATour & Henthorne 1994).
Another study undertaken by Hargreaves and Tiggemann exposed 80 average women to certain images. A sample of the women was shown images of models that were regularly used in advertisements. The other sample of women were exposed to images of non-ideal women as depicted by mass media and advertisement specifically. Forty-eight months following the experiment it was established that the group of women who had been exposed to the images of the models were more dissatisfied with their own physical features and body image. It was also noticed that they had developed a sense of low self-esteem about themselves. This study proves that what we as humans and as a society see on a daily basis plays a significant role in our perception of ourselves. Not only do advertisements have negative implications on the way women feel and view themselves, and their physicality, it demeans their intelligence thus exploiting them in a bid to look better. A lie generated and spread by the media. Women spend thousands of dollars constantly on cosmetic surgery and self-esteem therapy in light this exploitation propagated by the mass media (Reichert and Alvaro, 2001). An online commercial video put out by Dove further validates the extent at which the mass media specifically advertising has completely altered the way women see themselves. A forensic artist draws a number of women based on each one’s description of herself. The artist then draws another image of the same woman, only this time based on how another individual sees her. An outstanding finding was made. Both sketches were hung up for each woman to see. In every examination of both sketches of each woman the second sketch is more flattering than the first and looks more like the women as opposed to the sketch where they described themselves. This validates that advertising has constantly sold lies to women about what beauty truly is.
Advertisements portray women as simple-minded, dumb and without ideas of their own when they show these models with little or no clothing. In plenty of ads, these women are portrayed as sex symbols, an ideology most brands and company’s belief will get men to notice and identify with the products they project. Take the Mercedes-Benz commercial where a man driving the luxury car gets every beautiful woman on the street. In this commercial, every woman who falls for the driver is provocatively dressed and extremely gorgeous. The ad generally propagates the notion that if one buys the car, he is likely to get such a woman. This notion alone is quite disturbing to note that certain individuals and society itself would believe something so absurd and unrealistic. The women in these ads in themselves do not help in the depiction of a positive image for the ordinary woman, it sends out a lot of negativity when one woman who is a representative of all permits a photographer to take photos of her half-naked. Even though the women in ads come off as being physically beautiful, a picture is incapable of capturing the true beauty that lies inside a woman. Advertisements make women simply sit and look pretty when in reality women do far more than that. Women have come significantly far and have validated their equality in every sphere and strata of the society we live in.
Advertising has further exploited women through the spread of bias via the reflection of existing social values. By portraying the man in most cases as powerful, a high achiever or a professional, and at the same time portraying women as the weak, compliant, emotional homemakers, men have come to assume the main focus in real life roles a such as in medicine, law, and politics as well as other notable career positions.
Who is to blame?
The very aim of advertising is to persuade individuals that a certain type of commodity or service is something they need. Advertisements and how they are rendered reflects the manner and ways society has come to perceive the narratives inculcated in ads. An analysis of American advertising professors Reichert and Alvaro (2001) showed that only 3 percent of women were depicted in a progressive appropriate manner in print ads, occupying professional roles with the emphasis on underlying aspects of their personalities, competence, abilities and inner beauty. Firstly, this number tells a whole story, Stakeholders within the advertising sphere are to be held responsible for selling such a negative notion to society. The notion of the ideal woman could be portrayed positively as in the case of the Dove advert, which was viewed 7.5 million times and liked 2000 individual on the Dove Facebook page and shared by a thousand (Vega 2013). This one single ad depicted social responsibility on the part of the advertising community which other advertising stakeholders should emulate. Growing concerns and criticism towards the use and exploitation of the female form on its negative implications on individuals and societies as it negatively impacts the socialization process, attitudes and behaviors have so far fallen on deaf ears and the advertising world has continued to bank on this exploitation and false portrayal of the ideal woman (Zillmann, 2000).
Society as a whole is equally guilty of buying into such absurd portrayals of women. Beauty should not be perceived and defined on an outer layered basis but on a much deeper level. Firms of the products who are involved in such false portrayal in trying to promote their products equally have a significant role in this societal vice.
Aristotelian approach validates that actions that improve human capacities are ethical, while those that undermine and deter these capacities from developing are unethical. The use of women and their form in advertising is deemed unethical because it exploits the female gender, objectifies them and portrays them as unintelligent and worthless. This undermines human capacities. This approach further emphasizes the recognition of the rights of others before the rights of oneself. Many studies have established that exposure to such ads undermines the right of the ordinary woman as well as may prevent the younger generation from becoming practically wise and virtuous (Reichert and Alvaro, 2001).
It is recommended that advertisers, marketers, and society at large consider the ethical aspects of the exploitation and abuse of the female form in ads and marketing processes. These stakeholders should take into cognizance and account the possible negative implications of their actions. They should avoid the violation of ethical principles of society. Women should be portrayed in a more positive and respectable light and should not be used as instruments of marketing campaigns. The society equally needs to hold advertisers and marketers responsible for further violations and exploitation of women. Campaigns aimed at aggressive awareness should be initiated to tackle this ill of society.
LaTour, M.S. and Henthorne, T.L. (1994). Ethical Judgments of Sexual Appeals in Print Advertising. Journal of Advertising, 23, 3, September, 81-90
Reichert, T. (2002). Sex in Advertising Research: A Review of Content, Effects, and Functions of Sexual Information in Consumer Advertising. Annual Review of Sex Research, 13, 241-273.
Reichert, T. and Alvaro, E. (2001). The Effects of Sexual Information on Ad and Brand Processing and Recall. Southwestern Mass Communication Journal, 17, 1, 9-17.
Vega, T. (2013). Ad About Women’s Self Image Creates Sensation. Retrieved form http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/business/media/dove-ad-on-womens-self-image-creates-an-online-sensation.html?_r=0 May 14, 2014.
Zillmann, D. (2000). Influence of Unrestrained Access to Erotica on Adolescents’ and Young Adults’ Dispositions and Toward Sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27S, 41-44