Debunking Negative Messages In Advertisements

By Chinwe A. Onuoha

In many advertisements and commercials, women have been defined as accessories to appease the pleasures of men and to further emasculate women as submissive, uneducated and worthless sex objects. They have been objectified to the point of no return and as a result people have formed a fixed perception of what they believe women should look and act like in the minds of a lot of people. In fact, such advertisements are used to support their sexist notions whether consciously or unconsciously.

For example, according to Anthony J. Cortese, the author of “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising,” he said that “the perfect provocateur is not human; rather, she is a form or hollow shell representing a female figure. Accepted attractiveness is her only attribute. She is slender, typically tall and long legged. Women are constantly held to this unrealistic standard of beauty. If they fail to attain it, they are led to feel guilty and ashamed,” (Cortese, 54). Sadly enough, Cortese was right then and the notion that he developed stands as a prevalent case in advertising now.

In the 1960’s there was a company called Warner’s that created the concentrate girdle and the Little Fibber bra to create a seamless canvass for women underneath their clothing.

Image  At the top of the ad, there’s a pear and on top of it there’s a message that reads the following: “This is no shape for a girl.” Underneath that picture, however, is a photo of a skinny woman dressed in the concentrated girdle and the Little Fibber bra. The two images look as if they have no correlation between them, but they do. The advertisement is implying that women should be skinny, preferably with out any curves –just like the woman lying down in the bottom of that ad.

At the time in which this advertisement was published, not only were women “voting, sexually liberated, and intellectually relevant –but the ‘60s marked the beginning of an intense period of diet oriented advertising targeting women,” according to the Business Insider. Although that advertisement came out in the 1960’s the same ads are being produced today, but more provocatively. For instance, Diesel published an ad with what seems to be a young girl objectifying herself by showing her breasts on camera.

Image The ad says: “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls.” Diesel is trying to solidify the fact that women should downgrade their worth in the pursuit of being courageous in society; which is obviously not true. But of course little girls and surprisingly older women may look at that image and feel encouraged to jump outside of their comfort zone to fulfill what they believe women should behave like.

But advertisers don’t care about the negative messages that they may illustrate in their work. “In Cutting Girls Down to Size,” which was written by Jean Kilbourne, she said that “advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of solutions,” (Kilbourne, 129).

Hopefully they don’t act like the lady in the Mr. Leggs advertisement.

ImageMr. Leggs advert is trying to sell slacks for men, but the woman in the photo seems to attract the most attention. Her body is shaped as a rug and the man, whose cut off from the waist up (probably to showcase the slacks) has his foot on top of the woman’s head. Not only is that ad sexist, but it also an example of power hierarchy amongst men. For instance, the man putting his feet on top of that woman’s head signifies that he is “the man” of the house. It also shows that he is powerful and more important than any other gender and/or species. The woman whose body is made into a rug signifies her lower rank in the totem pole of society. It shows that the man can say or do whatever he wants to her and that she has no say or has the right to question him.

However, this is partly due to the patriarchal culture that we all live in. In the book, “Feminist Manhood,” Bell Hook stated that “patriarchal culture continues to control the hearts of men precisely because it socialized males to believe that without their role as patriarchs they will have no reason for being. Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others,” (Hooks, 115).

If that doesn’t blow your mind like this Burger Kings advertisementImage , then this racist ad will. ImageIn the ad there are six track runners who look as if they are in the position to run a race, but the odd thing about that ad is that they aren’t in a track field. Instead they are in cubicles and there’s a white man who is standing in between them with his arms crossed and smiling. If that doesn’t sound discriminatory already, the ad reads the following: “Bow down.” That advertisement is racist because it signifies the dichotomization between black and white people in society. The reason why is because the ad gives off the impression that black people are below whites and that they have to be acquiescent and oppressed while working for their “masters.”

Perhaps all of this could change if advertisers become more socially conscious of what they publish. For example, there is a Girls Scout advertisement that has a black girl whose standing behind a sign that says, “I am your future president.”Image Then in read the ad also says, “defy self-doubt,” which encourages women to be strong and confident about achieving any career goals that they may have. It also promotes women to step out of what society thinks women should do, such as clean, take care of their children, and cook.

By publishing positive advertisements people will change their ontological selves by adjusting the way they think about society; particularly when it pertains to the roles women and men have. It may also help debunk racist and sexist stereotypes that are prevalent nowadays and by doing that, more people will learn to love themselves and think of positive ways towards advancing their lives and ultimately the communities that they live in. Or perhaps this problem will change if men and women change gender roles like what this ad proposes. Image Maybe advertisers will gain a greater appreciation for humanity, then.


Feminist Manhood, Bell Hooks, p. 115

Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising, Anthony J. Cortese p. 54

The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size, Jean Kilbourne p. 129.


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