This semester I enrolled in a Speech Communications class at the University of Georgia entitled Rhetoric and Pop Culture taught by Dr. Stahl. The class was filled with so many interesting subjects that truly made me think about culture in ways I never had before. Yet the subject that suck out the most to me was about women and their role in advertising. I'm guessing this is probably because I am an advertising major but regardless I was fascinated and yet disturbed. Therefore, I chose to do my final project on the effects of objectifying women in advertising. The introduction and instructions to the creative project are below and my research paper follows. Enjoy!
The Objectification of Women in Advertising
Many studies have been conducted to explain the effects of the objectification of women in advertising. The debate has never centered around if women are objectified; it has focused on the effects of this type of advertising. The effects that have been found are unique and substantial, and how could they not be? According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, we view up to 3,000 advertisements every day, which adds up to over one million per year (“How Many Advertisements”). It is clear that this amount of sheer exposure to ads has an impact on people and scholars have found their impact to be boundless. Research shows that the objectification of women in advertising has affected how we view women’s roles in society, desensitized views of violence, and through the Social Comparison Theory, led women to have an overall more negative self body image.
Studying the effects of objectification in advertising began in the 1960s with books such as The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. This book and others of its time highlighted how the role of women in advertising and roles of women in everyday life differed greatly (Reichert, Issues 169). Most advertising of the time promoted the idea that a woman’s place is in the home, that women are dependent upon men, and that women are viewed by themselves and others as a sexual object (Reichert, Issues 170). This trend; however, still continues today. In fact, women are only shown in “progressive roles,” meaning roles that display women as managers or executives, 3% of the time. However, in 2006 studies show that women owned 40%of all businesses in the US (Reichert, Issues 171). This means that out of the majority of advertisements, 73%, feature women in a “decorative” manner: focusing on the female figure and sex appeal (Reichert, Issues 171). Research has shown that the amount of this type of advertising has both long-term and short-term effects on people (Reichert, Issues 172). It is important to note that because children learn by observation, the roles of different genders in society are absorbed at a very young age through exposure to media (Reichert, Issues 173). When the media shows women in only certain roles, this teaches children that women’s roles are as housewives or decorative objects. Additionally, consistently viewing these sexist or objectifying advertisements can change how people view themselves, sometimes affecting ambition and worthiness (Reichert, Issues 173).
Women in advertisements, as mentioned earlier, are often featured for sex appeal. And according to Kleppner's Advertising Procedure, an advertising text book used by students at the University of Georgia, sex sells. But what kind of message is that sending to young women and men? Studies show that viewing these images can lead to “devaluations of one's— and one's partner's—attractiveness, attitudes supportive of aggressiveness toward women, triggering of gender stereotyping and gender role expectations, and distorted body image” (Reichert, A Test 82). The impact that these advertisements have varies based upon the person and their gender. Females tend to be able to recognize and respond negatively toward sexist advertisements more easily than men for many reasons. Involvement has shown to be a leading reason in why men do not respond to sexual images the same way that women do. Studies show that because females, not men, are the object on display in these images, men can distance themselves from the objectification more so than women can (Reichert, Issues 83). Sex might sell but the impact it is having is enormously frightening. Now other scholars have begun to recognize the more serious impacts of sexualized advertisements.
Advertisements present a framework for what is considered normal, which makes it an incredibly powerful medium in society (Bessenoff 580). Resent studies have started to research how this medium constantly links sexuality and victimization and the impact that has in society. Research has proved that by presenting women as both sex objects and victims, society is desensitized to violence against women (Bessenoff 580). This desensitization towards violence has been documented through studies that have proven that repeatedly showing women as sex objects clearly shows that a woman’s appearance and sexuality are what makes her valuable (Stankiewicz 587). It is not difficult to believe these findings because the effects of sexually objectifying ads are substantial alone. Additionally, the studies show that when women are seen simply as objects, sexual violence appears to be justified and, “can increase men’s acceptance of rape myths, interpersonal violence, and gender role stereotyping” (Stankiewicz 587). Clearly the link of sexuality and victimization in advertising is having a dangerous effect on men by causing them to inadvertently become desensitized to the fusion of sex and violence. But these ads do not just negatively affect the male psyche, The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls has noted that sexually objectified images of women in ads are linked to negative ramifications such as low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and ill ideas toward sexuality. And as other scholars report, the tendency of women to compare themselves also attributes to the negative ramifications of advertising (Bessenoff).
When we are often presented with advertisements that show an untrue version of reality, and compare ourselves (whether we mean to or not) to that version, we are overcome with a false sense of reality. The standard that the media sets is impossible to reach (Richins 71). Yet, when that false image of reality is viewed as the standard, the average person is left feeling inadequate. Currently, the difference between women’s body weight and their ideal weight is larger then ever, resulting in lowered self-esteem, excessive dieting, increased depression, and eating disorders (Tiggemann 23). Other researchers have found that these images lead to unhappiness and neuroticism (Richins 71). Everyone experiences some sort of social comparison by nature but not everyone responds the same way to images of objectification. In fact, women with high levels of body dissatisfaction have proven to respond more negatively to these images (Tiggemann 26). Additionally, the type of image that women are exposed to helps to determine how women respond to the advertisement. Advertisements that focus solely on one aspect of a woman’s body, such as her legs or stomach, have come to be known as “body-isms” (Tiggemann 27). Women tend to respond more negatively when comparing themselves to body-isms versus full body images because in full body pictures, there are more attributes to critique (Tiggemann 27). The strength of these effects of ads depends on women’s overall self-perception; however, with both body-isms and full body images, the fact is that women will compare themselves to these advertisements and become dissatisfied and unhappy with their bodies (Tiggemann 27).
It is fair to state that most advertisers do not create an ad with the intention of lowering the self-esteem of women everywhere. Yet, the amount of advertisements that objectify women has had detrimental effects on both men and women. Although it is true that everyone is affected differently, these advertisements have caused both men and women to have a distorted view of the place of women in society. Men have also fallen victim to these ads because constantly seeing sexuality and violence linked together in ads has made them more likely to become desensitized to and justify violence against women (Stankiewicz). Furthermore, the Social Comparison Theory shows that because women compare themselves to these images they are likely to experience a more negative self body image in addition to unhappiness and even eating disorders (Tiggemann). It is clear that although these repercussions my not be the intention of the advertisements, they are truly having a negative effect of society. Recently, some advertisers have become more aware of this and have taken a stand. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty shows more full figured/ real women in their advertisements (Reichert, Issues 174). Their “Evolution” video, a YouTube sensation with almost 11 million views, shows how tools such as Photoshop can completely alter the way people look (Dove Evolution). The last line of the advertisement states, “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted” (Dove Evolution). It is true; today’s tools can merge numerous people’s features to create the so-called perfect person that doesn’t actually exist. Although Dove has received some negative press about these images, stating that the models are still a small size and better than average looking (Vye), it is a step in the right direction. If advertisers can become more aware of the impact that their images make as a whole, hopefully we can save the next generation from an endless cycle of comparison, objectification, and desensitization.
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