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The ultimate consumer market has led to an influx of advertisements, which are being used widely to promote products and services. However, there are some negative ramifications that came along with it: the sexual objectification of women in ads. The history of objectifying women in order to sell a product can be traced back to the early 20th century. Today, this objectification of women has created a “sexualization of culture”. Non-sexual products like food, drinks, cars, and in the case of my analysis, flowers, are sexualized and convey women merely as objects. This widely recognized notion of “sex sells” stereotypes women as objects of desire and sex symbols which is degrading to the overall perception of women and reinforces gender stereotypes in our society.
To gain a better understanding of the widespread problem of the sexualization of ads, I analyzed Teleflora’s 2012 super bowl ad “Valentine’s Night” featuring supermodel Adriana Lima. Teleflora is a company that specializes in selling floral arrangements and they promoted their business on one of the most watched sports events just one week before Valentine’s Day. However, they received a lot of negative attention from the controversial underlying message behind “Give and you shall receive”. This implies that flowers can be used to seduce your date into having sex. As Adriana addresses her message to the “guys”, it is evident that Teleflora’s target audience for this advertisement was men around the ages of 18-40. It is evident that the goal of this advertisement was to persuade these men with Adriana Lima’s sex appeal. This ad is disempowering to women because it portrays women as objects that can be bought with flowers and in return, they will owe you something back. It creates this underlying assumption that women are easy to please. Adriana is depicted as a sexy confident woman who is getting dressed (putting up pantyhose, zipping up her dress, putting on earrings and shoes, and applying lipstick). Jean Kilbourne points out in “Killing us Softly 4” that women in ads are only acceptable with no imperfections and must be young, thin, light-skinned, groomed, plucked, and shaved, and with no surprise, Adriana Lima fits this description perfectly.
Today, as a society we are obsessed with sex and the idea that “sex sells”. Victoria Secret models and severe nudity is the norm when pursuing to sell a product to the mass market. Rosalind Gill also emphasizes this phenomenon in an intersectional analysis of ‘Sixpacks’, ‘Midriffs’ and ‘Hot Lesbians’ in Advertising. She states that “in the late 20th century and early 21st century media in the West are characterized by an unprecedent degree of sexual revelation and exhibitionism in which public nakedness, voyeurism and sexualized looking are permitted, indeed encouraged, as never before”.
As Jean Kilbourne points out in “Killing Us Softly 4”, ads sell more than products. They sell images, values, ideologies, cultural beliefs, and concepts of love, sexuality, success and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should desire to be. We are exposed to so many different forms of mass media and this has a great influence on the way in which we perceive the world. Advertisements create an environment where women are introduced to the ideal image of perfection. This is dangerous as it blurs the lines between what is real and what is fake. The more that women and girls see “perfect” images of women, the more they begin to normalize it and become obsessed with the ideal image of being perfect. This can lead to various forms of mental and physical health problems. Advertising can have several detrimental effects on women’s mental and physical health as reported by the American Psychological Association in 2007. The report concluded that girls and women who were exposed to sexualized images of women from a young age were more prone to low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. Due to pressures from mass media, the number of cosmetic procedures in recent years has dramatically increased. When it comes to the negative effects on men, they are provided with the societal norms of women who are deemed “attractive” and “desirable” and might feel obligated to pursue women that resemble those in mass media ads. They might also begin to feel like they have a sense of entitlement over women and that degrading women is okay because in several cases there is an underlying message of male supremacy portrayed in ads.
Most people, including me, may feel that we can rationally and consciously resist the impacts of advertising on our perception. However, we are subconsciously lured to products from companies who believe it is acceptable to use women’s bodies in a sexual way to generate sales. Advertising has the potential to exert a significant influence on our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and actions, mostly at a subconscious level. Professor Sut Jhally points out in Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse, “20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it”. These are very powerful words that should not be ignored. The effects associated with these types of ads are impacting society considerably and if advertisers do not stop and reflect on the negative consequences their ads create then our society will continue to be deluded into thinking that women are nothing, but merely sexual objects to generate revenue.
Of all types of media, advertising has become an intrinsic part of our lives and has the most powerful effect on us. Media turns women into objects and promotes the idea of perfectionism and sex. It is important that as a society we recognize this growing problem by paying attention and speaking up for our beliefs and attitudes towards the sexual objectification of women in ads.
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