Advertisement’s objectification of femininity

On Monday, Oct. 22, Wetlands Magazine screened the film Killing Us Softly 4. The film features Jean Kilbourne and looks at advertisements and how they depict women.

Jean Kilbourne has been producing these films and researching the advertisement industry for over 40 years, and she claims that advertisements about women’s body image have “only really gotten worse.” She has devoted much of her adult life to raising awareness about these images and how they have caused a health issue for women because they essentially depict how every woman is supposed to look like the “ideal beauty.” Kilbourne’s motive is to prove that these images are wrong.

The film argues that there is no such thing as “ideal beauty” because no one actually looks like women featured in advertisements. They are almost always altered in some form; some images consist of four different women configured in to one perfect or “ideal” woman.

In the film, Kilbourne brings up three major points that surround this “ideal body” issue: eating disorders and plastic surgery that result from the “ideal body” model, food being sinful and sexual and the violence against women that has been depicted in advertisements.

This kind of advertisement has been almost promoting body image issues among their viewers, causing depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem and the deep desire to change one’s appearance.

According to Kilbourne, around 12 million plastic surgery procedures are performed on women each year. Another major change that women are making to their bodies is their weight. Kilbourne blames this desire to be skinny on the media where quotes like, “The more you subtract, the more you add,” exist.

Women are also highly influenced by celebrities, so when model Kate Moss said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” many of her fans likely took that to heart. These kinds of celebrities encourage women to feel like they must look a certain way to be successful socially. Many celebrities have become aware of this poor influence. One example is Kate Winslet, who was photoshopped to look thinner than she actually was, which outraged her. She went to the press to explain that this was the case and that was not her real body. Because being skinny is promoted through the media, more people have become aware of the dangers of this advocacy and are attempting to prove that there is not an “ideal body”, and no one should look stick-thin and be starving him- or herself to look a certain way.

“I caught myself watching it [the advertisements in the film] and thinking, ‘Gee, that girl is so beautiful’, but then I was able to analyze why I think that (because that is what we are told is beautiful!). I found it very enlightening,” Audience member Soraya Bodaghi said.

Once women realize what exactly these advertisements are promoting, the more they will realize how skewed the perception of beautiful is.

The next disturbing issue that Kilbourne brought up in the documentary is the idea that food is depicted as sinful, for women especially, and it is often sexualized in the media. A concrete example of a company that uses this tactic is Carl’s Jr., a hamburger company that hired sexy and voluptuous Kim Kardashian to sell their new salads. In the commercial, she is eating a salad in a bed, wearing nothing but a silk robe, and putting the salad in her mouth with her hands. Her cleavage is shown several times as she tosses and rolls around on the bed. Again, this is a commercial for a salad.

Other advertisements along the same lines as this one include billboards of women who are literally beer bottles, making women an objects, not human beings.

“I think the idea of ‘food as sinful/sexual for women’ was really the most eye-opening to me, because I had never thought of that type of advertising in that way before. It is clearly a norm and an accepted one, and it really shouldn’t be…the sexual objectification of women to sell things, especially things like beer in order to get male attention, are constantly disturbing me,” Audience member Paige Maney said.

The initial perception of these advertisements is just to attract attention to the product being sold, but the way in which the advertisement companies do it is degrading, Kilbourne believes.

The last major point that Kilbourne addressed in the film was sexual violence and violence against women. She made the claim that these actions have been “eroticized in advertisement.” She presented the example of the high-fashion company Dolce and Gabana producing advertisements in which the only woman in the spread was being held down by one male, while several others surrounded her. Another example is an ad in which a woman is followed by a dark shadow, but this stalker does not frighten her; she is intrigued and infatuated by the man.

“I was incredibly disturbed by the images that depicted sexual assault (the ‘romantic stranger’) as mysterious, alluring, and sexy,” audience member Bebe La Grua stated.

Too many problems in today’s culture have become normalized in the media, such as eating disorders and violence against women, and it is only a matter of time before this becomes a serious issue, Kilbourne believes.

Kilbourne ends the film by firmly stating that this is a “public health issue.” She thinks we need to change the environment we have created in advertisement and media, but she also states that she is no longer alone in this struggle. She points to the city of Madrid, banning models from the runway if their body mass index is below 18 (healthy BMI is between 18.5-25).

“Education and events. I also think it’s a personal choice to choose one day to care more about what’s on the inside of a person than the outside and also to challenge personal beliefs of what it means to be attractive,” La Grua said.

There is no such thing as “ideal beauty” according to Killing Us Softly and Kilbourne. It is about who we are, not who we should be.