Ads objectify, damage perceptions of women

By Katherine Pullen

As you flip through a magazine, watch television, scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or drive down the interstate, you are bombarded by hundreds of images of women. The media have long been criticized for disseminating unrealistic and idealized images of the female body, but the effects of such images are far deeper and more diabolical than we even realize.

Advertising is typically the worst offender when it comes to false portrayals of women. Women in fashion magazine ads, television commercials, Internet advertisements and on bulletin boards are heavily made-up, touched-up and otherwise altered to make them appear flawless.

Advertisers are notorious for digitally altering women to make them look slimmer, bustier and aesthetically perfect. These women seemingly do not have pimples, wrinkles or under-eye shadows; in some cases, they do not even have pores. Look up the “Dove Evolution” video on YouTube to see a brief illustration of how images of women are altered to perfect every blemish and flaw.

Not only are women idealized in advertising, they are also dismembered and turned into objects. Women’s bodies are cut apart for advertisements where only their legs, chest or backside are shown. This dismemberment dehumanizes its victims.

Manipulated images of women do damage to all members of society, both women and men. Numerous studies have shown how exposure to idealized and unattainable images of female beauty can lead to negative body image, low self-esteem, rampant dieting and eating disorders for women. Other research, such as Jean Kilbourne’s study put forth in her short documentary “Killing Us Softly 4,” available in the Emma Waters Summar Library, suggests objectified images can cause men to have demeaning views of women and perpetrate violence against them.

Advertising does much more than sell products. Advertising sells ideas about love, sex, happiness, gender roles and cultural values. If we take advertising at surface value, we allow the culture of the media to control us. We need to look a little deeper to deconstruct the underlying messages of the media. Critical examination leads to understanding and puts us in a position to be culture makers and changers instead of merely onlookers.

“As long as you are unable to decode the significance of ordinary things, and as long as you take the signs of your culture at face value, you will continue to be mastered by them,” Jack Solomon said in his 1988 book, “The Signs of Our Time.”

“But once you see behind the surface of a sign into its hidden cultural significance, you can free yourself from that sign and perhaps find a new way of looking at the world. You will control the signs of your culture rather than having them control you.”

As Christians, we must not allow ourselves to be controlled by our culture. We need to expose the lies advertising tells us about women and critically examine the other messages our culture is sending.

We cannot let our culture be the lens through which we see the world. We must seek to move beyond our culture and look at the world through God’s eyes. Our generation has the power to effect change not only in our time, but also for the future.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.