My husband showed me an ad similar to this one in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and asked me if, as a woman viewing it, it bothered me to see a scantily clad woman in a sexually provocative pose in an advertisement that doesn’t do a good job communicating what they are selling:
“Are they selling shoes, a blouse, underwear, hair products? I can’t tell,” he said to me. Well, I had no idea. I’m into fitness, not fashion. I had to look it up. (They sell shoes, by the way.)
But the point of his question wasn’t really about what I thought of an ad that makes it unclear what they were selling, but what I thought about an ad that so clearly wants you to take notice by sexually objectifying a woman’s body. My response was a bit of a shoulder shrug while I pointed out to him that sex sells and has been that way for as long as advertising has been a business. It certainly wasn’t new when Marilyn Monroe was used to sell products and that was over a half-century ago.
What’s different now and what bothers me so much more is the fantasy of the perfect female human body passed off as, not only real, but a goal to be attained by every woman. When Marilyn was used in ads, at the same time, other models and entertainers with all different body types and sizes were used in other ads. There were curvy women, thin women, tall women, short women, long legs, long torsos – a variety that represented the true variety of the female form.
Feminists used to bemoan the popularity of the Barbie doll when I was a child. I didn’t understand it. I loved playing with Barbie. Even as a child, I understood she was a doll. No real woman I knew or saw on TV or in magazines looked as flawless as Barbie. I didn’t think, nor wish, I would grow up to look like Barbie. Nobody grew up to look like Barbie – she wasn’t real, after all.
Today, thanks to advancements in plastic surgery techniques and, even more obvious, technological advancements in professional photo-shopping, every single model looks exactly the same. They may have different hair, eye and skin color, but they all have the same long, thin limbs; the same perky, full breasts; the same full butt; the same cheekbones and full lips; and the same never-occurs-in-nature thigh gap. At the same time, all these models are devoid of cellulite or disproportionately-shaped anything. (See photo and video proof of it here.) Whether they’ve had surgery to make them that way or the photos have been doctored to make their bodies appear that way after the fact, this is the body that is being passed off as perfect and real. It is a lie. But no matter, right?
Wrong. When a girl, teen and, yes, grown woman sees that ad, nine times out of 10, she studies the woman’s body and compares her own to it. She makes note of every aspect in which her own body falls short of the “perfect” body in the image before her. And she is doomed to fail at achieving it. Because these bodies are as fake and unachievable as Barbie’s.
So, yes, that ad bothered me. But not for the same reasons it bothered my husband. It was a good reminder to me because I find myself falling into the body image trap just like everyone else does. Yes, I like the way my body looks when I am living my fittest life. But it shouldn’t be my goal. Being fit is about health, well-being and a fulfilling quality of life. That’s the prize and that is real.
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