Sexual Objectification and the media
Part 3 of series
The relationship between the body and sex is unambiguously portrayed in contemporary media. Conforming to a thin body ideal is crucial to sexual attractiveness. Sexually objectifying images of women can be regularly viewed across all types of media from their music and the barrage of images available via the Internet to TV programs and movies they watch and magazines they read.
Although influences on self-objectification might include a variety of interpersonal, social, cultural, and even biological factors, an aggressive purveyor of sexual objectification is undoubtedly the mass media.
Women’s magazine covers often place weight loss messages next to messages about one’s sex life, implying weight loss will lead to a better sex life. They combine articles about weight loss with tips to keep your marriage hot. Stay skinny articles linked with ‘‘What Men Want Most’’ on their covers. Moreover, teen and women’s magazines regularly feature articles on attracting the opposite sex interspersed with advertisements for beauty care products and fashion merchandise. Finally, in television shows popular with adolescents, the most common sexual theme is that women are judged as romantic or sexual partners based on their physical appearance.
Cultivation theory purports that television teaches audiences to adopt certain ‘‘cultivated’’ views of the world around them, the current study predicts that sexually objectifying media content can teach audiences to adopt a certain perspective of the self, one that places primary importance on physical appearance (Harrison & Fredrickson, 2003).
Extensive research has demonstrated the negative results of female objectification in the media. Depression, appearance anxiety, body shame, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders are only a few among the growing list of repercussions (Fredrickson & Noll, 1997).
Kilbourne (2002) pointed out that advertising is a 100 billion dollar a year industry. Each day we are exposed to more than 2000 ads. Advertising can be one of the most powerful sources of education in our society. Many women feel pressured to conform to the beauty standards of our culture and are willing to go to great lengths to manipulate and change their faces and bodies.
Kilbourne suggests that women are conditioned to view their faces as masks and their bodies as objects. Through the mass media, women discover that their bodies and faces are in need of alteration, augmentation, and disguise.
In addition, women are taught to internalize an observer’s perspective of their own bodies. This phenomenon is called objectification (Fredrickson & Noll, 1997).
Advertisements are loaded with objectified women, and only recently have the effects of objectification been explored. However, the effects of the dismemberment of women in advertising have been neglected.
Dismemberment advertisements highlight one part of a woman’s body while ignoring all the other parts of her body. Dismemberment ads portray women with missing appendages or substitute appendages.
Kilbourne (2002) suggested that the dismemberment of women is a monstrous problem in advertising. Dismemberment ads focus on one part of the body, e.g., a woman’s breasts. Typically, dismemberment ads employ female body parts for the purpose of selling a product. Dismemberment ads promote the idea of separate entities.
These ads overtly and covertly encourage a woman to view her body as many individual pieces rather than a whole. Dismemberment ads leave many women feeling that their entire body is spoiled on account of one less than perfect feature. If a woman has less than satisfactory legs, then her potential for beauty is spoiled.
In other words, if every body part is not flawless, then the possibility for beauty is ruined. As previously mentioned, girls and women are conditioned from a young age to view the body as a “work in progress” or something in constant need of alteration. Instead of being satisfied with their body as a whole, they concentrate on what separate entities they lack. Many women compare their bodies and sexuality to the eroticized images that are plastered on billboards and television and in magazines and movies (Kilbourne, 2002).
Self-objectification largely stems from what we see in advertisement. Publishers use magazines to influence society's expectations for beauty, popularity, and fashion. A recent cover of Cosmopolitan, shows the guide to perfection. The idea of "perfection" is shown in the airbrushed model and "how to" guides the magazine headlines. First off, the model on the cover is seen in a red dress that shows that she has a very slim body and emphasizes her hourglass figure. Unlike most women in society, this model has no blemishes, no fat on her body, and has perfect hair. She is seen as flawless and perfect. These types of models have always been the face of magazines like Cosmopolitan, and will continue to be as long as they attract subscribers. The models are chosen to set the standard of what beautiful and sexy is. It can be assumed that the purpose of this magazine is to guide ordinary, average women into the ideal women that they should be.
The headlines of the top articles say a lot about the magazine as well. "15 Things All Girls Need to Learn to Do" is one of the top stories that show the nature of the magazine. The wording in the title is very demanding. The word "need" shouts out to the audience as a demand; if they don't do these certain things there will be repercussions. This idea of having to act in a certain way or do certain things in order to be a girl shows how influential the media can be on society. The readers of Cosmopolitan, for example, are being told how to live their life without them realizing the demands given to them. They see images and subconsciously think that in order for them to be beautiful they need to act and look a certain way. The models are an example of this perfection that should be achieved by all women.
The centerfold syndrome is defined by five principal characteristics: voyeurism, objectification, trophyism, the need for validation, and the fear of true intimacy. Brooks mentioned several possible causes of the centerfold syndrome such as biology, instinct, and survival of the fittest. However, it is exceptionally interesting to note that of all the possibilities mentioned, Brooks found the socio-cultural explanation to be the most probable.
Brooks claimed that the centerfold syndrome is a product of the way in which men have been taught to think about and experience relationships, intimacy, and sex. The widespread sexualization of women in our culture easily lends itself to the adoption of the Centerfold Syndrome.
Men are not the only ones who have adopted this harmful attitude towards relationships, intimacy, and sex. Women can just as easily adopt a negative self-image and attitude, perpetuating the negative stereotypes about women, sexuality, intimacy, and relationships (Brooks, 1995).
The problem is not that media is showing these objectifying images; the problem is that people see those images and then start to see themselves as nothing other than a sex-object. She adds that there wouldn't be a problem if society knew to separate what they see from how they see themselves. Having your self-esteem based only your physical appearance rather than your intelligence or personality is the underlining problem. People need to see themselves as human beings and not objects. If they believe that all they are is an object and act like an object, the result is that society will see them as the object that they are portraying.
Change can happen if people can try to make the conscious decision every day to promote themselves as a human with thoughts and feelings rather than an object to be used. The way society can start to "dis-objectify" itself is to look behind the images you are seeing and trying to see the underlining story of the person in the image.
The Sexy Lie February 9, 2014 by Caroline Heldman:
Heldman doesn't just describe to her audience what sexual objectification is but she also gives her plan of action to provide knowledge on the topic and hopefully fix it. Heldman splits up her solutions into two categories, personal and political action plans. Heldman's personal plan of action is also split into girl and boy action plans. The girl action plan included, "stop consuming damaging materials, stop competing with other women, and stop seeking attention for your body".
The boy action plan included, "be a supportive ally, don't evaluate girls/women based on appearance, and speak out against objectification". Both of these action plans are ones that can be done on an individual basis and by any age. This is important because this speech is aimed at youth in the country and they need to be able to have the option to make a difference. If the action plan they are given isn't possible for them to do, it will only lead to discouragement.
Heldman also includes a political action to help aid in change. This action plan includes,"boycott objectifying media, contact media producers, produce your own media, and new media activism".
An excerpt from her show:
“Good afternoon. Are we having a transformative afternoon so far? Let’s hear it. Well, I am here today to talk about a lie, in specific, a sexy lie. I know there are lots of lies. Some of them are sexy, some of them are very unsexy.
I’d like to talk about specifically about the lie or the idea that being a sex object is empowering. I’d like to convince you that it is not empowering, first, by talking about what’s sexual objectification is, and then moving on to theoretical and data driven analysis of why it’s damaging. Lastly, provide you a plan of action, so that you can both navigate objectification culture, and change objectification culture. Let’s jump right in.
What is sexual objectification? It’s the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another sexual pleasure. What’s so interesting about sexual objectification is we used to have a vocabulary for it.
In the 60’s and 70’s, we were concerned about sexual objectification and its harm on girls and women. In the 80’s, 90’s, and today, we’ve actually been relatively quiet when it comes to public discourse. Even though our sexual objectification culture is more amplified, we see more images, and 96% of them are female of sexually objectified bodies. We don’t have a vocabulary to talk about it. In fact, young people I think have even mostly lost the ability to identify it.
New objectification culture has emerged in the past 10 years, and it’s marked by two things. One is an increase in the number of sexually objectifying ads in television, movies, videogames, music videos, magazines, and other mediums. The second advertising component is that the images have become more extreme, more hyper sexualized.
Why are we experiencing this now? It can really be boiled down to technology. New technology has increased the sheer number of images that you are exposed to everyday. In the 70’s, we saw about 500 ads a day. Now, we see about 5,000 ads a day.
Children, those ages 8 to 18, are spending an average of eight hours a day hooked up to devices where advertisers can reach them. What do advertisers do? They cut through the clutter with increased emphasis on violence, hyper violence, and hyper sexualized.
How is this not empowering? I want to make an appeal first to logic. When we’re talking about sex objects, we’re talking about dichotomies. In Western thinking, we think of black and white, yes/no, two opposing categories. When we’re thinking about sex objects, we’re thinking about the object subject dichotomy. Subjects act, objects are acted upon.
Even if you become the perfect object, the perfect sex object, you are perfectly subordinate because that position will always be acted on; so there’s not power in being a sex object when you think about it logically. Beyond that, this idea that sex sells, I like to challenge that directly because the fact is if sex sold, most women are heterosexual and we are sexual beings, so why wouldn’t we see half naked men everywhere in advertising.
I would like to propose that something else is being sold here. To men, they’re being sold this idea constantly that they are sexual subjects. They are in the driver’s seat. It makes them feel powerful to see images of objectified women everywhere.
Also, sexual dysfunction. This idea that sex sells, isn’t it strange that if you think of yourself as a sex object, and we’re raised in a society that raises little girls to view their bodies as projects to work on and be sex objects that it actually gets in the way of good sex?
What tends to happen is that women who are high self-objectifies actually engage in what’s called Spectatoring Drink-Sex Act. Instead of being involved and engaged in the pleasure and what’s happening, you tend to view yourself from a third-party perspective, a spectators perspective where you’re worried about rolls of fat hanging out, what that leg looks like. Again, it gets in the way of sexual pleasure.
If there’s anything I can pitch to you about why you don’t want to live in a culture that sexually objectifies, it diminishes your sexual pleasure.
First, Sociological Images, a blog run by Dr. Lisa Wade; worked with students to pull Abercrombie and Fitch’s padded bras or padded swimsuits for toddlers. They ran a campaign where they blogged about it. It got some press coverage. There were some petitions, and they pulled the product nationally from their stores.