Images in advertising seem to perpetuate ideas of sexism, racism, and other power hierarchies. Granted the main idea of these images is to sell whatever miscellaneous product to the public, however, these power hierarchal ideas are being sold alongside these products, further tainting our minds and corrupting society. Women are generally the “objects” on display in advertising, and yet these images rarely if ever portray women in a positive light. “Ads portray women as sex objects or mindless domestics pathologically obsessed with cleanliness” (Cortese, 54). This persistent imagery seems to be a brainwashing mechanism that helps to enforce the patriarchy within our society. Girls seem to be given nothing to aspire to other than being “sexy" and “desirable”. But sexy and desirable for whom? The patriarchy that I mentioned sheds light on the recurrence of advertising being in favor of appealing to the standards of the American White male. Women are merely there to be objects of desire for him to gaze upon. Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own” (Berger, 55).
Advertising has taught women of all ages, and races to hate themselves, simply by offering them products to “fix” their imperfections, and if no automatic imperfections can be identified, women are taught what to aspire to, that they most probably do not possess. Makeup, Spanx, Push-up bras, skin lightening creams, anti-wrinkle serums, permanent relaxers, weave, etc. The list goes on and on. All of these products are offered to women an effort to help them “fix” what is wrong with them, and to help make them more desirable. “Advertisers are constantly bombarding consumers, especially women, with the message that they are inherently flawed – that what they are or what they have is not enough, too much, or not good enough” (Cortese, 63). Granted, a lot of these products I condone the use of, so I’m not going to argue that they shouldn’t be purchased and are blasphemous things that should be condemned, however, I do acknowledge the effect that these things have on women and young girls. It is almost sad to see how a lot of women I know change emotionally based on what they wear, whether they have on makeup, and so on.
It is not to say that women are the only ones who are continuously hounded by advertisements to correct who they are. Men are also taught what to do, how to look, and how to act through advertisements and media. However, the ways that men are being targeted are much more subtle and a lot more dangerous due to the fact that it is hard to show men how they are being oppressed by patriarchy just the same as women. Men are taught to be stoic, be a playboy, be “cool”, be “macho”, be fit, muscular, tall, etc. And it’s terrible that people subscribe to the images that are being put out in the media. “Advertising images of women from sexpots to airheads not only sold brand products and services but also helped to shape social attitudes on relationships and 0n the roles and status accorded to women. It follows that these images of men confirmed that some women increasingly view men as sex objects, jerks, or nerds” (Cortese, 61).Women want the tall, muscular, cool guy that men want to be (some, not all, I don’t want to make any false generalizations).
I sit and think about myself and how I envision the “ideal” man or woman, and the “ideal” man would be about 6 feet tall with well define, relatively large muscles, and brooding/mysterious, and the “ideal” woman would be about 5’7 with long hair, breasts that are big, but not too large, a really small waist, and large hips. So basically, David Beckham and Beyonce are what are engrained in my mind as “perfection”. Ironically, Beyonce seems to be one of the only Black women (maybe I guess Rihanna), who is considered beautiful across the board, by almost everyone regardless of color (although she has been getting paler as time goes on).
Changing the way advertising perpetuates all of these power hierarchies, would be difficult, if not impossible. I think that a change would have to occur in the ways of thinking, and the sorts of images that are displayed. I think that ads should be sort of gender neutral. Men should be in ads doing laundry, cleaning the house, (dare I say, be a covergirl?), alongside women. And women should be displayed as mechanics, police officers, and other stereotypical “men” positions. “Real” people should be featured in ads, not just men and women who fit into the patriarchal view of beauty. I feel that if this were to happen, it would bring about a generation of children who are more open minded and not clouded by the judgments of what a “man” does, and what a woman is supposed to do. Change really comes about through children. Trying to force an 80 year old man to change his mind is almost impossible, but raising a child in a way that teaches acceptance, and tolerance, and open mindedness, would help to bring about a slow, but sure change to the ways that have kept society so constricted. This may sound really strange, and generally not on topic with this whole idea, but it is very on topic. In the movie 13 Going on 30, Jennifer Garner works for this magazine called Poise, and they are becoming less popular, so her character, Jenna Rink thins of a way to revamp the magazine by featuring images of real people, and community, and shifting the way that beauty is advertised, and essentially, this idea that was had in the movie, is my idea on what needs to happen in order to bring about change in our society.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin Books Limited, 2008.
Cortese, Anthony J. Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.