Written by Noor Zahra Zamalik
There are thousands of examples of women being exploited in advertisements. Just view the local and international brand ads especially perfume, clothing, food and beverage companies, which seem to portray women explicitly. Since the beginning of entertainment media centuries ago, this industry has objectified women in many ways. In some instances, the images of women are portrayed as being degraded or insulted as well as being the object of sexual desire. According to a quote by Shirley Chisholm, “The emotional, sexual and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl”. The trend of objectifying women is growing within the entertainment industry, particularly among the society of today. More dominantly, in music videos, movies, television, music where women are the strong focus as sexual objects. However, why does the advertising industry choose to portray women in such ways?
Advertisements are the means of promoting and selling products. In order to get consumers to purchase goods, advertising play an important role to persuade by playing upon emotions such as creating a scenario that could heighten an emotional state of the consumer. The servicing head of Elipsis Malaysia, A. Ashvin stated in The Star, “Truthfully speaking, who does not want to look at a pleasant picture? Advertisements have to look presentable to appeal everyone”. When people are portrayed in such advertisements, they are either actively involved with the advertised product or service, or are passively decorating and enhancing the advertisements (Sheehan, 2004). Don’t you realize that such portrayals of women are not the real thing?
What is the ideal image of women in advertising? The woman has to be free from wrinkles, scars or blemishes, showing perfect skin. She has to have smooth, long, as well as shapely legs with a small waist and ample breasts and buttocks. The woman also has to have silky, radiant hair on her head, beautiful eyes whilst her teeth are beyond white, nearing perfection, radiant and almost unreal. This type of woman normally appears in perfume or lingerie ads. Hence, the images are intended to arouse men to desire this type of woman. Do people realize that the players in the ads industry are building a fantasy around the consumer’s life because desire can lead to product consumption or purchase? Advertisements sell values, images, love and sexuality (Dhanyashree, 2015). Thus, sexual explicit advertising is devastating to the self-esteem as it creates unrealistic expectations of gender portrayal such as being beautiful and thin, having make-up and accessories as well as designer clothes.
However, the massive exploitation of women in the ads and media industry is becoming mainstream as many are no longer censoring or taking discretion on what they have displayed for media coverage and the public, as their main focus is to generate profit rather than uplifting the dignity of a woman. The sexual objectification of women is deemed as a social norm for many media and entertainment industries with little concern of the effects it will bring to women. Many ads tend to send mixed messages about gender ideals and body images which affect how women view themselves. Most ads and magazines depict women as beautiful, thin and sexually skilled without realizing this could contribute to eating disorders, low self esteem, depression, and negative feelings regarding sexuality.
Scholars agree that these sexualized images may legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, anti-women attitudes among men, and sexual harassment. For instance, Dolce & Gabbana portrayed a ‘Gang Rape’ ad whereby a woman lays on a floor as if she is raped as the man is holding her hand whilst other men are waiting for their turn to finish her. The other ad is by Air Asia, depicting a cartoon close-up image of a woman with her upper chest as well as two-semi circles visible with the caption of “OMG!” (tap to see). Once people tapped onto the indicated area, the full image reveals a woman holding 99 cents in front of her chest which actually refers to the low air-fares. This ad triggered a controversy as it illustrates sexism and simultaneously degraded a woman’s value.
Clearly, there’s not much that can be done to stop advertisers from portraying women in such a way, and it could be a tough road ahead. Advertisers and media players need these irrelevant images to advertise certain products, mostly those targeting men because this could be attractive for them. According to Daphne Iking, a Malaysian television personality who wrote for The Star, the blame does not entirely lie on the advertisers, but the consumers as well. Other than that, product owners have their demands too, leaving advertisers with no choice, says Anton Lim, Creative Director. However, there are several brands such as Dove and Aerie that have tried to move away from the typical images of perfection. The images of their models were claimed to be “Photoshop-free” as they celebrated real and diverse women. The world knows that these debates about women as sex objects would never end in advertising. Selling with sex is brainless but also a no-brainer. Why not create ads that does not rely on sex to lure consumers, but instead, portray good values which will make better and stronger ads in gaining consumers’ attention?
Dhanyashree. (2015). Objectification of Women in Advertisements: Some Ethical Issues. Research Journal of English Language and Literature (RJELAL), 117.
Malaysian Digest. (2017, September 27). Is This Sexist? Air Asia’s ‘Cheap’ Fare Ad Comes Under Fire. Retrieved from Malaysian Digest: http://www.malaysiandigest.com/features/699548-is-this-sexist-airasia-s-cheap-fare-ad-comes-under-fire.html
Sheehan, K. (2004). Controversies in Contemprorary Advertising. USA: SAGE Publication Inc.
The Star. (2013, September 19). Sexualisation of Women in Ads a Social Norm. Retrieved from The Star Online: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2013/09/19/sexuality-women-in-ads/