Killing Us Softly 4 Transcript

Jean Kilbourne
Killing Us Softly 4
Thank you so much, Sandy. And thank you, Sut. And thanks to all of you for being
here. It’s really just wonderful that you came and that you’re willing to put up with
all these restrictions. As Sut said, this is a film. I am going to do a presentation and
that you are a captive audience. It will be over - you will be out of here by 6:30 don’t
let him frighten you – it’s not going to go on longer than that. But if you are in the
Witness Protection Program, it’s probably not a good idea for you to be here, just so
you know about that.
And a film is slightly different than a lecture. I’m going to do my best to do this in
one take, but I might stop at some point and have to retake something (I hope not).
And I might linger on one ad, whereas in the film there’ll be many examples. And in
a couple of instances, I’m going to mention a TV commercial, but I won’t actually be
showing it.
So those are some of the ways it’ll be a little bit different. There will be time at the
end, there’s going to be a brief Q & A at the end, but if you feel later on that you’d like
to get some further information, I do have a website, and there’s an extensive
resource list on this website with all kinds of organizations and places to get further
information. So I urge you to visit the website if you’d like to do that.
I started collecting ads in the late 1960s. Many aspects of my life led to this: my
involvement with the Women’s Movement – which was just taking off then – my
interests in media, some experiences I had as a model. I didn’t intend to create a
career, let alone launch a field of study, but that is what happened. I was just paying
attention to ads. Ads like these:
- “Feminine odor is everyone’s problem”
- “It’s difficult to say what first attracted me to her, but I do remember her
- “Made for a woman’s extra feelings,” which presumably are located in her
- “It sure is a load off Roy since I lost 59 pounds”
- Or this version: “I’d probably never be married now if I hadn’t lost 49
pounds,” which one woman said to me was the best advertisement for fat
she’d ever seen.
- “If your hair isn’t beautiful, the rest hardly matters”
- “Why aren’t your feet as sexy as the rest of you?”
- These are all real ads. “Honey, your anti-perspirant spray just doesn’t do
- “Your guy: another reason for Midol”
- “My boyfriend said he loved me for my mind. I was never so insulted in
my life”
“She’s built like all our products: heavy where she has to take the strain.”
This was an ad for construction material.
And “Keep her where she belongs.”
So these are just some of the ads that I noticed and saw out there, so I cut them out
and put them on my refrigerator and eventually I had a kind of collage of ads, and I
started to see a pattern. A kind of statement about what it meant to be a woman in
the culture. And eventually I bought a camera and a copy stand and I started to
make slides of these ads and give a presentation about it.
In 1979, I made my first film, Killing Us Softly, advertising this image of women. In
1987 I remade it as Still Killing Us Softly, and then again in 2000 as Killing Us Softly 3.
Now how many of you have seen Killing Us Softly 3? Just so I know. Okay I should
also let you know that this is – there’s going to be a lot thai is going to be very
familiar to you, but what we’re trying to do is to add newer images to some of the
things because what’s most amazing to me is how much it stayed the same; how
much of what I said way back in 1979 still applies. It’s much less radical and
shocking now than it was then, but it’s still true. Sometimes people say to me:
‘You’ve been talking about this for 40 years. Have things gotten any better?’ And
actually I have to say, really they’ve gotten worse. So much for my career! But of
course there have been some positive changes, but many things have stayed the
same of gotten worse.
The biggest change is that I’m no longer alone. That there are now countless books
and organizations, websites, films, other people who are working on these issues.
Also when I started, ads were mostly in magazines, television commercials,
billboards. Now of course there has been an explosion of advertising. Ads are
everywhere – the Internet, Facebook, videogames, in our schools, our public spaces,
on airplanes, snowboards
[shows slides]
Now, I focus on advertising because I’ve always considered it to be a very powerful
educational force. It’s an over $250 billion a year industry, just in the United States.
The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every single day, and will spend
2 years of his or her life watching television commercials – just the commercials.
The ads as you know are everywhere. Also, just about every aspect of popular
culture is about marketing. Most people don’t know that the primary purpose of the
mass media is to sell audiences to advertisers. Everything else is secondary. WE are
the product. To illustrate this, I’m going to show you a couple of ads now from
advertising age, the major publication of the advertising industry. And what these
ads will show you is how the advertisers advertise to each other, and to corporate
executives. We’re not meant to see these ads; this is what goes on behind the
“Hey Coke, want 17.5 million very interested women to think diet?”
What’s happening here? Here the Ladies Home Journal is advertising itself directly
to the executives of Coca-Cola as a terrific place to put their Diet Coke ads, and what
they’re promising them is a magazine that will make women obsessed about their
weight. A magazine that will make women think diet. Now this ad comes as a real
surprise to most people because most of us have never been educated about
advertising, so we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. How could we? And
we don’t know the central fact about advertising and the media, which is that we are
the product. What’s being sold here isn’t Diet Coke, or even really the Ladies Home
Journal. What’s being sold are the readers of the Ladies Home Journal made to feel
anxious about their weight, and then sold to the diet industry.
The primary purpose of magazines, newspapers, television programs, websites,
everything is to capture an audience to be sold to advertisers. [shows slide] This
says “Capture your audience,” and here the eyeballs are in a net being delivered to
the advertisers.
Advertisers sometimes refer to television programs as “renting our eyeballs”
because the purpose of the program, the magazine, the website, is to round up a
target audience, sort of like fly paper as they say in this ad, to lure us in so we will be
the captive audience for the ads.
Here, Seventeen magazine says to advertisers, “She’s the one you want, she’s the one
we’ve got. Seventeen: it’s more than a magazine. It’s her life.” So this is what goes
on behind the scenes. There’s more advertising than ever before. *takes water*
Advertising is more sophisticated and more influential than ever before. But still,
just about everyone feels personally exempt from the influence of advertising. So
wherever I go, what I hear more than anything else is “Oh, I don’t pay attention to
ads. I just tune them out. They have no effect on me.” Now I hear this most often
from people wearing Budweiser caps, but that’s another story.
Advertisers want us to believe that we’re not influenced, because that makes it all
the easier for them to manipulate us. Our guard is down, they can get beneath the
radar. Another reason we believe we’re not influenced is that advertising’s
influence is quick, it’s cumulative, and for the most part, it’s subconscious. As the
editor in chief of advertising age – again the major publication of the advertising
industry once said – “Only 8% of an ad’s message is received by the conscious mind.
The rest is worked and reworked deep within the recesses of the brain.”
So it’s not just that we see these images once, or twice, or even a hundred times.
They stay with us and we process them mostly subconsciously. They create an
environment – an environment that we all swim in, as fish swim in water. And, as
Marshall McCluen famously said, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we
know it wasn’t a fish.” It’s very difficult to be conscious of one’s own environment,
so one of my goals with my work is to make this environment visible. To make us
conscious of these images. The particular ads that I use won’t be familiar with
everyone of course, and ads become outdated almost instantly. But the images, the
themes will be familiar to all of you. You’ll easily be able to find your own examples.
People often say to me after they see the films that they never look at ads again in
the same way, and I hope that will be true for you.
The ads may be trivial, but their influence isn’t. Just as it’s difficult to be healthy in a
toxic physical environment, if we’re breathing poisoned air for example, or drinking
polluted water. So it’s difficult to be healthy in what I call a “toxic cultural
environment” – an environment that surrounds us with unhealthy images and
constantly sacrifices our health and our sense of well-being for the sake of profit.
Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of
love and sexuality, of success, and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great
extent they tell us who we are, and who we should be.
But what does advertising tell us about women? It tells us as it always has that
what’s most important is how we look. So the first thing the advertisers do is
surround us with the image of ideal female beauty. We all learn how important it is
for a woman to be beautiful. Women learn from a very early age that we must spend
enormous amounts of time, energy, and above all money striving to achieve this
look and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable because
the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness. She never has any lines or wrinkles. She
certainly has no scars or blemishes. Indeed, she has no pores. And the most
important aspect of this flawlessness is that it cannot be achieved: no one looks like
this, including her. And this is the truth no one looks like this. The supermodel
Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” She doesn’t. she
couldn’t. Because this is a look that’s been created through years of airbrushing and
cosmetics, but these days it’s done through the magic of computer retouching.
Now computers have been used to alter images for quite some time. Way back in
1989, Oprah Winfrey’s head was put on Anne Margaret’s body for a TV Guide cover.
Neither women gave permission, by the way. And in 1990, this was the ad for the
hit film Pretty Women, and you may think this is Julia Roberts – well it’s her head but
it’s not her body. Her body wasn’t good enough, perhaps not thin enough to be in
this ad, so they simply used another woman’s body. A body double, as they did in
the film. Whenever she was undressed or partially dressed, that wasn’t Julia
Roberts – it was somebody else.
And this happens all the time. So we might be looking at a TV commercial and think
we’re seeing one woman, but we’re really seeing 4: one woman’s face, another
woman’s hair, another woman’s hands, another woman’s legs. Four or five women
put together to look like one perfect woman. No wonder it’s so depressing.
These days, Photoshopping is infinitely more sophisticated. Body doubles aren’t
necessary because the body itself can be altered. Even in the loveliest celebrities are
transformed by computer. Kiera Knightly is given a bigger bust. Jessica Alba is
made smaller. Kelly Clarkson – well this is interesting: it says “slim down your way”
but she in fact slimmed down the Photoshopped way. And note that the copy also
says, “total body confidence.” It’s kind of sad.
Men are Photoshopped, too, but they’re usually made bigger. Andy Rodderick
laughed when he saw the bulked-up arms on this cover photo, and suggested they
should be returned to the man they belonged to. In fact, however, they are his arms,
just enhanced by computer. There are countless examples. Cameron Diaz, Nicolette
Sheriden, Penelope Cruz. You almost never see a photograph of a woman
considered beautiful that hasn’t been Photoshopped.
A recent video on featured interviews with some people that do the
Photoshopping and who agree it can create a problem. The Dove commercial called
“Evolution” dramatically illustrates that the image is constructed…it is not real. So
the image isn’t real; it’s artificial, it’s constructed. But real women and girls measure
ourselves against this image every single day. It’s an impossible ideal for just about
everyone, but it’s absolutely impossible for women who aren’t white.
Women of color are generally considered beautiful only if they approximate the
white ideal. If they are light skinned, have straight hair, Caucasian features – even
Beyonce had her skin lightened for this [shows ad]. But how often do we see an
image like this: [shows ad]. Black women are often featured in jungle settings
wearing leopard skins as if they were exotic animals.
An even bigger problem, however, for people of color in advertising is invisibility.
Not that we see a lot of negative images, but that we see no images at all. What
George Gerbner, a renound media researcher called “symbolic annihilation.” This
means that one sees no reflection. That there’s really no reflection at all. I have
some ads in my collection – quite a few, actually these days – featuring blacks,
Hispanics, some Asians, but none or almost none featuring Native Hawaiians, other
Pacific Islanders, Native Alaskans or American Indians.
Other groups also suffer from symbolic annihilation. The disabled, lesbians and gay
men, the elderly, the poor. So when people say that advertising just reflects the
society, it’s a very distorted reflection that leaves out huge groups of people.
Now the research is clear that this ideal image of beauty effects women’s self
esteem. How could it not? And it also influences how men feel about the very real
women they are with. When men are shown photographs of supermodels in
studies, they then judge real women much more harshly. We all grow up in a
culture in which women’s bodies are constantly turned into “things” and “objects.”
[shows ad]. Here she’s become the bottle of Michelob. And this is everywhere, in all
kinds of advertising: pornography, music videos, billboards, websites, everywhere
you look, women’s bodies turn into “things” – into objects.
Now of course this effects female self esteem. It also does something even more
insidious: it creates a climate in which there is widespread and increasing violence
against women. I’m not at all saying that an ad like this directly causes violence –
it’s not that simple. But turning a human being into a thing is almost always the
first step toward justifying violence against that person. It’s very difficult…I think it
might be impossible…to be violent to someone we consider an equal human being,
but it’s very easy to abuse a thing. We see this with racism, we see it with
homophobia, we see it with terrorism. It’s always the same process. The person is
dehumanized and violence then becomes inevitable. And that step it already and
constantly taken with women. So the violence, the abuse, is partly the chilling but
logical result of this kind of objectification.
Now women are objectified in many ways: a Heineken commercial turns a women
into a keg of beer. A frat boy’s dream! In this ad, she becomes a part of a videogame.
Women’s bodies are dismembered in ads; hacked apart. Just one part of the body is
focused upon, which of course is the most dehumanizing thing you could do to
someone. These legs apparently belong to Victoria Beckham. And the
dismemberment is for all kinds of products. Here for credit cards. Everywhere we
look, women’s bodies turn into things and often just parts of things. Reebok has an
entire campaign based on this kind of dismemberment. Now often a whole man is
shown in an ad with just a part of a woman’s body. Never her face, just a part of her
body, but I’ve actually never seen this the other way around.
Most often when the body is dismembered, the focus is on breasts, since we are a
culture obsessed with breasts, and breasts are used to sell absolutely everything.
[shows ad] “The most dependable fishing line in the world.” Fishing lines, cameras,
women are constantly told we must change our lives by increasing our breast size,
and the stakes are high: “Does your husband wish you had larger breasts?” And if he
does, the implication of this ad is very clear: you better change your body. As
opposed to changing your husband. This is an old ad, of course, but the message
hasn’t changed very much.
30 years ago or so, we were told to use creams and breast developers that were of
course completely worthless in ads like this: “I really wanted a fuller bust line for
summer.” One wonders what she’s supposed to do in the fall. And then we were
told to change our underwear – to wear uplifting bras such as Wonderbra and
others in ads like this: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you don’t, create it.” So we were
encouraged to create the illusion of having larger breasts.
Now imagine if men were supposed to play this game: “Wonder jock! The strap for
the bulge you’ve always wanted!” It becomes obviously absurd. Nowadays, we’re
supposed to have surgery. “Meet the artist that create the designer faces” and one
thing that’s increased dramatically in recent years has been the amount of cosmetic
surgery. 91% of cosmetic procedures are performed on women. Men I guess are
less likely to want a designer face. There’s even a hit TV show about cosmetic
surgery – Nip/Tuck. Breast implants, of course, are extremely popular and they’ve
been increasing dramatically. The number of cosmetic surgical procedures
performed on people 18 or younger more than tripled in the past decade. Breast
augmentation increased nearly six-fold. I’ve heard of places in the country where
parents give their high school daughters breast implants for high school graduation
Now most women who have breast implants lose sensation in their breasts, so their
breasts become an object of someone else’s pleasure, rather than pleasurable in
themselves. The woman quite literally moves from being a subject to being an
object. But women learn very early on that our breasts are never going to be okay.
This ad ran in lots of women and teen magazines quite some time ago, but its
message is sadly current. This is the whole ad, and I’ll read you the whole copy:
“Your breasts may be too big, too saggy, too pert, too flat, too full, too far
apart, too close together, too A-cup, too lopsided, too jiggly, too pale, too padded, too
pointy, too pendulous, or just two mosquito bites. But with Depth Styling Products
at least you can have your hair the way you want it!”
It ran in Teen Magazine, so 12-year-old girls were getting this message. And of
course, according to this ad, there is no way to have acceptable breasts. And girls
are getting the message these days so young that they need to be impossibly
beautiful, hot, sexy, extremely thin, and they also get the message that they’re going
to fail. That there’s no way they are going to achieve it.
So the research is clear that the self esteem of girls in America plummets when they
reach adolescence. Girls tends to feel find about themselves when they’re 8,9, 10
years old, but they hit adolescence and they hit a wall, and certainly part of this wall
is this terrible emphasis on physical perfection.
Men’s bodies are rarely dismembered in ads. More than they used to be, but still it
tends to come as a shock. This ad ran quite some time ago in Vanity Fair and many
other other magazines – all of these images are from the national mainstream media
– and this ad, which ran maybe 15 years ago was the first time that an image like
this ran in a mainstream publication. Prior to this ad, images like this ran only in
gay men’s publications, but Calvin Klein brought this into the mainstream. But at
the time when this ad ran, it was so shocking that the ad itself got national media
coverage. It’s a good thing it got some coverage, I suppose.
Reporters called me up from all the country and said, “Look! They’re doing the same
thing to men they’ve always done to women.”
Well, not quite. They’d be doing the same thing to men they’ve always done to
women if there were copy with this ad that went like this:
You’re penis might be too small, too droopy, too limp, too lop-sided, too
narrow, too fat, too pale, too pointy, too blunt, or just two inches. But at least
you can have a great pair of jeans.
It would never happen and nor should it and believe me, this is not the kind of
equality I’m fighting for. I don’t want them to do this to men anymore than to
women, but I think we can learn something from these two ads – one of which did
happen and one of which never would. And what they show us, very vividly, is that
men and women inhabit very different worlds.
Men basically don’t live in a world in which their bodies are routinely scrutinized,
criticized and judged whereas women and girls do. This doesn’t mean that there
aren’t stereotypes that harm men, there are plenty of stereotypes that harm men.
But they tend to be less personal, less related to the body. Men, in general, don’t
experience the emphasis on appearance that women can never escape.
And as men grow older, what really matters is the size of their bank accounts.
“Need we say more?”
And we all recognize this as the sort of cultural cliché, but one that is quite true. We
all know that when men are very young it matters how they look but as men grow
older in America, that doesn’t matter at all. Then what matters is how much money
they make.
We all know that when men are very young, it matters how they look, but as men
grow older in America, that doesn’t matter. Then what matters is how much money
they make.
And relationships between men and women are often portrayed as financial
transactions, as in this ad.
And this, of course, is insulting to everybody – men, women – and it also doesn’t
make for very good relationships.
Now, for women. For men, it doesn’t matter so much again, as they get older. We
know that rich, unattractive old men can have lots of beautiful young women but for
women, the emphasis never changes. As women grow older no matter what else we
do, we’re judged first and foremost by our looks, our clothes, our bodies, and that
never changes.
So, girls learn early on that they’re going to be judged first and foremost by how
they look. This ad from a teen magazine said, “He said the first thing he noticed was
your great personality, he lied.”
So girls get the message, it’s never going to be their great personalities, it’s going to
be how they look in jeans.
“Raising your hand is only one way to get attention in a 300 seat lecture hall.”
Basically, we’re told that women are acceptable only if we’re young, thin, white, or at
least light-skinned, perfectly groomed and polished, plucked and shaved, and any
deviation from this ideal is met with a lot of contempt and hostility.
Women who are considered ugly are ridiculed in advertising campaigns such as this
one for a premium light beer, “Beer Goggles #2.”
And the point of this ad is that the beer is only 2.9% so there’s less danger that the
man will hook up with an ugly woman. A Bacardi campaign suggests that women
should get an ugly girlfriend so they’ll look better by comparison. And Bud Light
plays on this theme in a commercial:
So these ads are meant to be funny but the message to girls and women is clear – if
you’re not conventionally beautiful, you’re an object of ridicule and contempt. Your
worth depends on how you look. You’re going to be, “Graded on a curve.”
This contempt for women who do not measure up is waiting for all of us, of course
eventually, as we age. So no wonder there’s such terror of showing any signs of
aging. And there’s a real double standard of aging. Men can be attractive in a
variety of ways, such as the handsome young man, the rugged man, the mature,
distinguished older man. For women there’s only one way to be considered
beautiful and that is to stay looking very young.
We’re surrounded by images of celebrities looking impossibly young for their age,
thanks to the wonders of surgery or photoshop. Of course, you can be a cougar if
you look like Courtney Cox or Demi Moore.
Countless ads offer women ways to stay looking young – most of them using
extremely young models. When an older model is used, she’s transformed by
photoshop, as Twiggy was recently. Twiggy, the famous fashion model from the 60s,
who really launched the whole thinness ideal, is in these ads for Olay anti-aging
products with the slogan, “Love the skin you’re in.” But this is what really what
Twiggy really looks like today. She looks fine but we’ve been conditioned to read
older women’s faces as exhausted, unattractive whereas we don’t do this with men’s
But clearly this is a very different image. But it creates this illusion that somehow a
woman of 60 can look like this if she just uses the right products.
And this fear of aging starts so early:
“Who knew that by the age of 15 your skin had already retired.”
How sad that it’s all downhill after 15.
This attitude towards aging causes enormous stress for women, of course. And
when a culture devalues its older members it loses out on a wealth of wisdom and
These days the greatest contempt is for women who are considered in the least bit
overweight. And pop culture delights in ridiculing and mocking celebrities who’ve
gained weight. The basic message to girls is the one in this ad, at the top it says, “the
more you subtract, the more you add.” What a powerful message. Now this is a
fashion ad, they’re talking about simplicity in fashion but she’s also incredibly thin
and look at her boy language, she looks as if she’s trying to disappear. And I think
this is the message that girls get when they reach adolescence – that they should
On the deepest level, the obsession with thinness is about cutting girls down to size.
Now what could say this more vividly than this relatively new size in women’s
clothing, size 0 and size 00. Imagine a man going into a clothing store and asking for
anything in a size zero, but our girls are taught to aspire to become nothing.
So no wonder we have an epidemic of eating disorders. And where could this come
from, this crazy obsession of obsessive thinness for women except at least in part
from the media images that surround us and that tell us in order to be acceptable we
have to be painfully, unnaturally thin.
Yesterday’s sex symbols by today’s standards would be considered fat. This, of
course, is Marylyn Monroe – look at her, she’s got a tummy, she’s got hips. Compare
her with today’s celebrities and sex symbols, such as the ones on this cover of
People magazine.
Now each one of these women – Nicole Ritchie, Kate Bosworth, Keira Knightley, is
dangerously thin, possibly ill. And People seems to be saying that, but I think what
they’re really doing, by putting them on the cover, is glamorizing it further, making
it more likely that women and girls will starve themselves in an attempt to achieve
an impossible ideal.
I’ve been talking about this for a very long time and I keep thinking the models can’t
get any thinner, but they do. They get thinner and thinner. This is Anna Karelina
Reston, who died a year ago of anorexia weighing 88 lbs. And at the time she was
still modeling.
So the models literally cannot get any thinner. So photoshop is brought to the
rescue. Recently there was a lot of publicity about the fact that this ad was
photoshopped so that the model’s head is actually bigger than her pelvis. It is an
absolute anatomical impossibility but brought to you courtesy of Ralph Lauren and
Even some of the editors of fashion magazines have become concerned recently.
Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, recently accused some of the
world’s leading designers of pushing ever thinner models into the fashion
magazines despite rising concerns about eating disorders. What she said is that the
designers send clothing that’s so small, size double zero (00), that most models –
even thin models – cannot fit into these clothes and so they have to use
extraordinarily thin models and in fact, she said, Vogue sometimes has to retouch
photos sometimes to make the models look larger than they actually are.
Recently there was a huge response to this tiny photo in an issue of Glamour
Magazine – this tiny photo of a woman who has a little bit of a belly. And the editor
of Glamour said that she was flooded with emails from women filled with joy at
seeing a woman like this in a fashion magazine. Because basically the body type, the
only one, that we see as acceptable or desirable is one that fewer than 5% of
American women have.
This is genetic; you can’t diet yourself into this body type, at least not for long, any
more than you can make yourself taller. The models are very tall, they’re genetically
thin, they pretty much have ‘V’ shaped bodies, broad shoulders, narrow hips, long
legs and usually small breasts. When the models have large breasts, almost always
they’ve had implants because this is a body type that doesn’t usually come with
large breasts.
There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a body type, but it excludes about 95% of all
women. Most women are more pear-shaped, heavier through the hips and thighs
but we literally never see that body-type as acceptable or desirable in advertising or
anywhere in the popular culture.
Some ads today seem to encourage unhealthy attitudes, even eating disorders.
“Exercise was her appetizer, fast food her main course.” And compulsive exercising
is often a sign of an eating disorder. And certainly exercising in order to eat junk
food is a sign of trouble.
“Beauty knows no pain.” This ad actually suggests that if you’re in pain because of
squeezing yourself into tight clothes, the solution is to take a drug. And celebrities
often makes things worse. Lady Gaga said recently, “It’s all about starvation. Pop
Stars don’t eat.” Now this was Lady Gaga, she was probably being ironic but Kate
Moss recently created quite a controversy when she said, “nothing tastes as good as
skinny feels.”
There are exceptions, however. Kate Winslet has been outspoken about her refusal
to allow Hollywood to dictate her weight. When British GQ magazine published this
photograph, which was digitally enhanced to make her look dramatically thinner,
she issued a statement that the alterations were made without her consent. She
said, “I don’t look like that and, more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that. I
can tell you they’ve reduced the size of my legs by about a third.” Bless her heart.
In recent years, eating has become a moral issue for women. Women have been
made to feel ashamed of eating, ashamed of having an appetite for food. And
language that used to describe sexual activity now describes eating. “Respect
yourself in the morning.” This is a kind of amazing ad, really. If you look at this
woman she’s unbelievably thin, you can see her ribs – I want to beg her to eat those
croissants, she needs them. But the ad is clearly saying that if she does, she’s going
to hate herself in the morning.
It used to be that respecting yourself in the morning had to do with sexual activity,
not with what you had to eat the day before but that’s all turned around. So if a
woman comes back from a weekend these days and says she was bad we assume
that she broke her diet, not that she did unusual sexually. The ménage-a-trois we’re
made to feel ashamed of was with Ben & Jerry.
Now, the more guilty women are made to feel about eating, the more erotic the ads
for food become. We’re made to feel disconnected from our bodies and then
advertisers offer us food as a way to connect, as a way to have a kind of relationship.
“Smooth, rich, and good for you, if it were a man you’d marry him.” Especially a
romantic relationship. “Your lips look so lonely. May I keep them company?” And
the copy says, “the most seductive cookie ever.” What is going on here? This is a
“Watch TV with your arm around the one you love.” It’s not your partner, it’s your
bag of cheez-its.
“This is so beefy your husband might get jealous.” And if your husband gets jealous
of the pasta I think you have bigger problems than this.
“But after all no man will make you this happy.”
Sometimes food is sold quite deliberately as a substitute for sex.
“You don’t unwrap it, you undress it.” Again, a candy bar. You could have a ménagea-trois with a cookie, I suppose.
“How bad do you want it?”
And, “If you were anymore satisfied you’d blush.”
Pretty amazing, but I have hundreds of ads like this.
So, the magazines, tv shows everywhere we see lots and lots of ads like this. Rich
food, diet products, diet articles, etc. Thin models and no surprise… woah.
So the magazines, TV shows, everywhere we look there are all these diet articles,
diet ads, sexy ads for food and of course, thin models and ads for diet products.
Here is a fashion layout, but if you look in the far right corner there’s a box of
Dexatrim diet pills. I can assure you that Dexatrim paid for this even though, really,
it isn’t an ad.
These products, these diet products are often dangerous, in fact they can kill you.
And at best, they do not work. 95% of dieters not only regain whatever weight they
lose within 5 years, they go on to gain more. Dieting is always a bad idea.
No I’m well aware of the fact that obesity is a huge problem in our culture. A third of
Americans are obese, two thirds are overweight. The rates for kids are
skyrocketing. But the solution isn’t to make our girls hate themselves and starve
Obesity is a very complicated problem. There’s a huge genetic factor and there are
many other factors as well – racism, poverty, the amount of time we spend in front
of television sets, all of that. But the solution to obesity and to the obsession with
thinness are related in that, they involve our need to transform our attitudes as a
culture about food and about the way we eat. And among other things this means
taking on a multi-billion dollar junk food industry that gets us used to huge portions,
huge amounts of salt, and sugar, and grease. And the junk drink, of course, does the
And if we learn to eat healthy, natural, preferably local food with pleasure, with joy
because eating should be one of life’s joyful experiences. And if we learn to exercise
with pleasure, to use our bodies in a way that makes us happy, our bodies would
eventually get to be the shape, the size, the weight that they are genetically meant to
be. And the trick then would be to live with them and to love them.
But that’s very difficult to do in a culture that teaches all of us, women especially, but
men increasingly, to hate our bodies.
Now there’s been a myth for a long time that women of color are not affected by
these images and don’t suffer from eating disorders. Although it’s true that there’s
more size acceptance among people of color, the gap is shrinking. Other cultures do
not encourage thinness as extremely as white culture but increasing numbers of
women of color are developing eating disorders, including obesity.
Increasing numbers of boys and men are also suffering from eating disorders.
Estimates suggest that at least 10% and maybe as many as 20% of people with
eating disorders, are male.
We occasionally see very thin men in ads these days, almost always in upscale
fashion and men’s magazines. And these ads seem to be targeting gay men.
Although more boys and young men are suffering from body image problems than
in the past, boys and men as a group, don’t experience the kinds of societal pressure
to focus on their appearance, count calories, and watch their weight the ways that
girls and women do.
So I think the response of most men to an ad like this isn’t going to be to jump on a
scale and have a salad for lunch.
Most male models in mainstream publications and most male celebrities are still
presented as rugged. And I think this rugged image is more of a problem for most
men than the extremely skinny models that you occasionally see. It no doubt
contributes to steroid abuse and other problems – body dismorphia disorder – for
boys and young men.
So, eating disorders used to be considered problems that only affected young
women, white, middle class and upper class women but these days we know that
they affect women and some men of all races, all ethnic groups, all classes. They are
also rapidly becoming an international problem, so we see this kind of thing
happening now all around the world.
As the media and advertising become global, the American image of ideal beauty is
everywhere, transforming cultural differences. So the modeling commercials and in
ads throughout the world, is young, thin, white, and usually blond and blue eyed no
matter what colors and shapes are the people looking on.
Anne Becker’s famous study found a sharp rise in eating disorders among young
women in Fiji soon after the introduction of television to the culture. Our popular
culture seems to have the ability to make women anywhere and everywhere feel
absolutely terrible about themselves.
But there’s far more going on than just an obsession with thinness. Cutting girls
down to size also means silencing them. And girls are often pictured in ads,
particularly in teen magazines, with their hands over their mouths or their mouths
covered in one way or another or with copy like this, “score high on nonverbal
Girls also learn that they can’t trust each other, that they must give up their
friendships with each other.
“This dress will make your friends insanely jealous. Which you have to admit is
pretty much the goal.”
“What the bitch who’s about to steal your man wears.”
The body language of girls is usually passive, vulnerable, and very different from the
body language of boys and men. Women are often shown in very silly poses,
whereas men are generally afforded dignity and strength, even as children.
Women are told that it’s sexy to be like a little girl. And grown women are
infantilized in many ways throughout advertising, fashion and the popular culture in
general. So we often get grown women posed like this:
Dressed like children or acting like children in one way or another. We also often
see models who’s heads seem a little bigger than their bodies in a very childlike way,
their eyes are very big so they have very childlike features although they might be
on an adult woman’s body.
In a recent fashion spread, Taylor Swift was posed and presented as a vulnerable
little girl.
In this ad, for Lee Jeans, I’m sure this model is over 18, but she’s certainly meant to
look as if she’s younger and this is certainly meant to evoke child pornography with
the man with the camera in the background, the popsicle, the whole thing.
There’s a problem of course with this infantilization of grown women so that
women get the message that we shouldn’t grow up, we shouldn’t become mature,
sexual beings.
And the flip side is the increasing sexualization of little girls. And I started talking
about this way back in 1979 in the first version of Killing Us Softly and this was one
example that I used then: “Love’s baby soft because innocence is sexier than you
But these images have become much more extreme and much more commonplace
since. So we have many, many ads featuring very young girls presented in very
provocative, sexy ways. And this is happening in a culture in which at least one in
four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused during their childhood.
Now this is a problem of staggering proportion we’re just beginning to realize the
full extent. And images like this don’t cause this problem but I think they do
contribute to it. They contribute to it by creating a climate in which it becomes
increasingly acceptable to look upon children in this way, to see little children as
seductive and of course often, to blame the victim.
Halloween costumes have become more and more extreme too, of course. This is
Miley Cyrus’ sister, Noah, who is 9 years old and this is not a Halloween outfit, she
was at a benefit, an AIDS benefit.
So things have changed so dramatically. The sexy woman of the 1950s, as
exemplified by Brigitte Bardot, in “When God Created Woman,” has today become a
woman presenting herself as a sexy little girl.
Padded bras and thong panties for 7 year olds are now sold in major department
stores and the latest product is high heels for babies! Before they can even walk.
Now not to leave boys out there are t-shirts for toddlers that say things like “pimp
squad.” So boys are sexualized too although in a very different way from girls. Boy
are basically encouraged to look upon girls as sex objects and also children are put
into romantic situations these days much, much earlier than ever before.
At the same time that we allow our children to be sexualized, we refuse to educate
them about sex. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that
doesn’t teach sex education in the schools. And our children pay a very high price –
we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and the highest rates of sexually
transmitted illnesses by far, in the developed world.
You often hear people say, “well we don’t want our kids to get sex education,” but
what they don’t realize is that our kids are getting sex education, they’re getting
massive doses of sex education but they’re getting it from the mass media and from
the popular culture.
Children and teens are awash in sexual images and messages in films, TV programs,
music, music videos, video games, the internet and of course, advertising.
“You can learn more about anatomy after school.” And actually that’s quite true.
They grow up surrounded by graphic sexual messages, images that used to belong
to the world of pornography are now commonplace in our magazines, our TV
commercials, websites, everywhere.
This is an ad for jeans, although something seems to be missing.
So very, very graphic sexual messages running in places where very young people
are the target. Abercrombie has these huge posters, of course, featuring a
threesome, and they send catalogs into homes aimed at very young teenagers. …
Featuring a threesome.
Sex is also often presented as a dirty joke in advertising and throughout the popular
culture. It’s a very juvenile approach to sex that we often see, through language like
this or this, “Don’t feel bad our servers won’t go down on you either.”
Or an international clothing chain that calls itself “FCUK,” something you’d think
would be done in 4th grade. And here they have a little shopping bag for FCUK Kids.
And at the same time that we have these blatant sexual messages throughout the
media, there’s no emphasis on relationships or on intimacy and we have to fight to
get accurate sex education into our schools.
The problem isn’t sex, it’s the culture’s pornographic attitude towards sex. It’s the
trivialization of sex and nowhere is sex more trivialized than in advertising where,
by definition, it is used to sell everything.
Rice: “Whatever you’re giving him tonight, he’ll enjoy it more with rice.”
I don’t think I’m particularly naïve, but I haven’t figured out yet what the hell you do
with rice. Maybe it’s wild rice. Someone shouted out the other day she just hopes it
wasn’t minute rice.
Now this is an old ad, of course and one could argue, “oh, sex has always been sold to
sell everything.” And to a great extent that’s true. But it’s far more extreme and far
more graphic and pornographic today than ever before.
Compare this ad for rice with a current ad, also linking food and sex. This new
Burger King ad for the “Super Seven Incher.” Now, to me, her face looks like one of
those inflatable dolls. You know people often say to me, “you know you’re reading
too much into these ads,” I don’t think I’m reading too much into this.
Or this either, for that matter.
And I think the ultimate impact of all these images is actually profoundly anti-erotic.
The truth is that sex is both more important and less important than our culture
makes it out to be. It’s more important in that at its best, it has meaning, and
mystery and emotional power. And it’s less important in that it’s by no means the
most important aspect of life or of love.
But a visitor from another planet who just looked at our popular culture, would
have to come to two conclusions. The first is really that sex is the only thing that
matters. It’s the most important aspect of life. And the second is that sex and
sexuality belong only to the young and beautiful. If you’re not young and perfect
looking, you have no sexuality.
So the very definition of sexy in the popular culture excludes almost everyone—the
imperfect, the disabled, the middle-aged and older, especially true for women.
Again, if you’re not young and perfect looking, you have no sexuality. And I think the
ultimate impact of that is anti-erotic. Because it makes people feel less desirable. It
certainly makes women feel less desirable. How sexy can you be if you hate your
body? And I don’t think it does wonders for men, either.
Sex in advertising is also relentlessly heterosexist. Gay men barely exist outside of
publications targeting them and the portrayal of lesbians comes straight from the
world of porn. Two beautiful women, titillating each other, putting on a show, while
waiting for a man to arrive so the main event can begin. And we see this in ad after
The internet has given everyone easy access to pornography. Pornography these
days is not just accessible, it’s really inescapable. You don’t have to go to an adult
bookstore in a seedy part of town, or get a plastic-wrapped magazine from behind a
counter anymore. In fact 12% of all websites are pornography sites. And 25% of all
search engine requests are for pornography.
So this has meant that, again, that porn has become inescapable and therefore more
acceptable. And the language and the images of porn have become mainstream, porn
has become cool, edgy. Lauren Phoenix, star of scores of porn films, sells tube socks
to teens in American Apparel ads and porn queen, Jenna Jamison, has launched her
own fashion line. Young celebrities emulate the porn stars.
Here we have Miley Cyrus doing a pole dance at a music awards ceremony. And
then their fans in turn emulate them. Miley’s 17, but her fan base is much younger,
as is the fan base of many other singers and celebrities. They are adored by many
little girls and very young teens who want to be like them. So girls are encouraged to
present themselves as strippers and porn stars, to wear thongs, which basically are
g-strings, to remove their pubic hair, to send nude photographs of themselves to
their boyfriends via their cell phones, to sexually available while expecting little or
nothing in return.
As girls learn from a very early age that their sexualized behavior and appearance
are often rewarded by society, they learn to sexualize themselves, to see themselves
as objects. And lots of ads these days show women looking into mirrors seemingly in
love with their own image.
Perhaps the saddest thing, is how many girls and young women have been
convinced that dressing and acting like porn stars, and servicing boys and men
without any expectation of mutuality, is liberating. They’re encouraged to see this as
their own choice, as a declaration of empowerment. To reframe presenting oneself
in the most clichéd and stereotypical way possible as a kind of liberation.
“You have the right to remain sexy.” But what this really is saying is the right to be
an object, to be passive, to have your sexuality defined in a rigid, shallow, limiting,
and clichéd way. When the culture offers girls and women only one way to be sexy,
it can hardly be considered an authentic choice to choose it.
Now I want to be very clear that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be
attractive and sexy. Just about everybody wants this. What’s wrong is that this is
emphasized for girls and woman at incredibly young ages to the exclusion of other
important qualities and aspects.
Being hot becomes the most important measure of success. And also the definition
of attractiveness and sexiness, especially for women is so narrow and stereotypical
that everyone eventually is a loser. And this extremely superficial and limited
definition of sexiness makes most women feel insecure and vulnerable, and much
less sexy.
Real sexiness has to do with passion and with vitality and what is most unique about
each one of us, our confidence in what we have to offer the world. It’s not about
what we buy. But sex in advertising, of course, is always about selling stuff. So these
images cause real harm to girls and women.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association released a report concluding that
girls exposed to sexualized images from a young age are more prone to three of the
most common mental health problems for girls and women—depression, eating
disorders and low self-esteem.
57: 50
In spite of all the graphic sexual messages in the media that urge girls and young
women to be hot and sexy, there’s still a powerful double standard with very
different rules and consequences for females and males. Girls are constantly told by
the popular culture that they should be sexy, but innocent, experienced, but virginal.
As many of us know, this is tricky.
This ad kind of exemplifies that. It’s an ad for BMW. There’s this very young girl,
really. And the copy says, “You know you’re not the first.” Females have long been
categorized as either virgins or whores of course. What’s new is that girls are
supposed to embody both within themselves. And that even very little girls are
encouraged to look sexy long before they have any real understanding of what that
really means.
This creates an impossible double bind. In the same way that the girdles and the
corsets of the past have been replaced by an internalized standard even more
suffocating, so the sexual repression of the past has been replaced by something in
some ways even more demanding and constricting.
The need to look sexually available without being labeled a slut, the need to run a
business meeting while wearing uncomfortable underwear and shoes that will
eventually cripple us. Women in business and politics have to walk a very fine line. If
they’re considered too sexy or attractive, they’re not taken seriously, but if they’re
considered unattractive, they’re mocked and ridiculed.
This cooptation of liberation seeing in this case conforming to a certain very narrow
definition of sexiness as liberation is a cooptation of what real liberation
means. And it’s been going on for a long time. Advertisers always find ways to turn
any movement for radical change into just another way to push a product. S
ome of the ads in my collection from years ago co-opted and trivialize the women’s
movement. “Relax and enjoy the revolution.” This is an ad for flavored douches! “So
you’re out to change the world. We can do it together.” And this is an ad for shoe
polish. Most notorious of all was the Virginia Slims campaign with the slogan,
“You’ve come a long way, baby.” And what we learned is that women who smoke
like men, die like men.
Feminism is individual self-expression is more likely to sell baubles and botox, then
it is to do what we set out to do so many years ago, which is to change the world.
But all of these sexual images aren’t intended to sell us on sex, they’re intended to
sell us on shopping. They’re designed to promote consumerism, not just in
childhood, but throughout our lives.
Whatever is eroticized in childhood, tends to stay with us, so when children are
encouraged to link shopping with sex. And to think of sexuality as something that
can be bought, the right underwear, the right cologne, they’ll be hanging out at malls
for the rest of their lives.
And they’ll also be likely to objectify themselves and each other. One of the major
ways that advertisers accomplishes this is by linking sex and products, of course,
but by sexualizing products. Not only are people objectified in ads, but products are
sexualized. We’re encouraged to feel passion for our products rather than our
partners. And people and products become really interchangeable in the ads.
This is an amazing ad that ran not long ago in some the upscale women’s
magazines—Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar. This young man is kneeling in front of this
extremely thin young woman—again we don’t see her face that’s irrelevant. Her
pubic hair has been shaved into the Gucci logo. He is worshipping Gucci, she has
morphed into Gucci. So this is a prime example of the way products are sexualized,
people and products become the same. As is this.
Now another thing that has changed dramatically in recent years has been the
increase in ads that objectify men. So we certainly do see many more ads, not nearly
to the extent that we do with women, but we see many, more ads than we did before
of men as sex objects.
And sometimes this is misinterpreted as a kind of perverse equality, as if somehow
this makes it ok. Whereas, of course, the truth is that objectification is bad for all of
us, men and for women. There’s a world of difference when men are objectified and
when women are objectified. When men are objectified, they generally are bigger,
stronger, more powerful.
When women are objectified, we’re more fragile, more vulnerable, less powerful.
But more important there really aren’t consequences for men as a result of this
objectification. Because men don’t live in a world in which they’re likely to be raped,
harassed or beaten, or at least straight white men don’t live in such a world.
Whereas women and girls do.
So for women, whenever there is objectification, there is always danger, there is
always the threat of sexual violence and intimidation. And women live in a world
defined by this threat, whereas men do not. A much more serious problem for men
is that masculinity is so often linked with violence.
So we have an ad like this featuring a gang rape to sell jeans and the woman is the
victim, but the men are perpetrators. And boys grow up in a world where men are
constantly shown as perpetrators of violence, as brutal, and women, of course, the
victims. They grow up in a world in which they’re encouraged to be tough and
“You talkin’ to me?” Well this is joke of course, but this is also a baby and certainly
boys still get the message early on that it’s not safe to be vulnerable, not safe to have
feelings, that they need to develop at a very young age a tough guise, a tough veneer.
And this is particularly true for young black men.
In general talking, communicating is seen as a weakness in men often. “Do you want
to be the one she tells her deep dark secret to, or do you want to be her deep dark
secret?” Well the ad is of course saying to the man you want to be her deep dark
secret, but the truth is if you’re a man who wants an intimate relationship with a
woman, and most men do, you better be the one she tells her deep dark secrets to.
Because it’s impossible to have an intimate relationship, a successful one, without
being vulnerable, without communicating. So this ad is actually a kind of blueprint
for a disastrous relationship. The men who are considered sexiest in the popular
culture are usually the ones who are the most disappointing and sometimes the
most dangerous to women.
64: 35
So the image of men is certainly distorted too, but in a very different way from
the image of women, but negative and distorted image of women deeply affects not
how men feel about women, but how men feel about everything that gets labeled
feminine in themselves.
And this to me is a very important point. “You’re looking at my feminine side.” And
he’s of course referring to the girlie tattoo on his bicep. But what the ad is saying to
young men. This is a cigarette ad. It’s aimed at teenagers and young men. It’s saying
to them, you better not have a feminine side, there better not be anything about you
that could be in the least bit considered feminine.
So what it’s expressing is not only contempt for women, but contempt for all things
considered feminine. And human qualities, qualities that we all share, that we all
need, that we all have the potential to develop get divided up and polarized and
labeled masculine and feminine. And then the feminine is consistently devalued,
which cause women to devalue ourselves and each other. And it cause men to
devalue not only women, but all those qualities that get labeled feminine by the
65: 45
And by that I mean qualities like compassion, cooperation, empathy, intuition,
sensitivity. We may give lip service to these qualities, but they have very low
priority in our society. And men are still very rigidly socialized to repress these very
human qualities in themselves at enormous cost to all of us. And I feel that this
contempt for the feminine affects every aspect of our lives from our sexual behavior
to our nation’s political priorities to our contempt for groups that are considered
powerless—children, the elderly, the poor, the damaged.
We desperately need human beings who share the whole range of human qualities.
Men and women who can be within each of us both strong and gentle, logical and
intuitive, powerful and nurturent, and we all lose and we lose very badly when
we’re told one sex can have only set of human qualities and one sex only the other.
We obviously end up being only half or less of what we otherwise might be. And
certainly this dehumanizes all of us, men as well as women.
Advertising is one powerful force that keeps us trapped in very rigid roles and very
crippling definitions of femininity and masculinity. Now it’s one of many and I’m
certainly not saying that advertising is solely to blame for this. We get these
messages from everywhere, from birth. But there’s no aspect of our society that’s
more pervasive or more persuasive than advertising.
Now when you have this kind of definition of femininity – the passive submissive
definition – and this kind of brutal image of masculinity, inevitably of course this
leads to violence. It leads to violence in real life and it leads to violence. It leads to
violence in real life and we certainly see a great deal of violent images throughout
the popular culture.
There’s been a trend in recent years that I call the romantic stranger. In these ads
the woman is outdoors, alone, there’s a shadowy figure in the background and
always the idea is that a romance is about to take place.
This one says, “Let the adventure begin.”
Now, I think I speak for most women here today when I say that when I’m outdoors
alone and there’s a shadowy figure lurking in the background, romance is the last
thing on my mind.
So what this does and what ads like this do, is they eroticize violence. The research
is absolutely clear that violent images affect us, there is no doubt about that. These
violent images make some people more aggressive, they desensitize just about
everybody, they make most people more likely to blame the victim. And the most
dangerous thing to do is to eroticize violence, when you link sex violence, that’s the
most dangerous. And that, of course, happens over and over again.
Often it’s hard to tell – is this an embrace? Or an attack? And, of course, is it
coincidental that the man is black?
There’s more of this than ever before as there are more ads that imply that women
want to be forced to have sex. This ad ran in a teen magazine, it’s for a perfume
called Fetish and the copy says, “Apply generously to your neck so he can smell the
scent as you shake your head ‘no’.”
So the ad is clearly saying that girls don’t mean it when they say no and also that
boys are animals, that they can’t control themselves once they smell the scent.
Perhaps most dangerous are the alcohol ads that objectify women and that link
alcohol with sex and violence because alcohol is so often linked with sexual violence.
It’s not the cause, but it’s often a contributing factor. It’s not the cause, sexism is the
cause, but it’s often a contributing factor.
Many ads these days feature women in bondage, symbolic or otherwise. Some ads
normalize and trivialize battering. And battering is the single greatest cause of
injury to women in America. More women are injured every year by being beaten
by the men they live with than by all rapes, car crashes, muggings combined. Now
this is a terrible fact for all of us but until we face it we’re not going to be able to do
anything about it. The truth is most men are not violent. Overwhelmingly most men
are not violent but many men are afraid to speak out against it, are afraid to support
women, are afraid to challenge other men.
Some ads even seem to depict murder and one third of all the women who are
murdered in our country are killed by their male partners, their husbands. We also
get a lot of violence in music videos and films including the slasher films and of
course, in the video games.
Grand Theft Auto, one of the most popular video games of all time, in this the gamer
can steal a car, have sex with a prostitute in the back seat of the car, drag her out of
the car and kill her in a variety of ways.
This is an incredibly popular video game. This is not on the fringe. Grand Theft
Auto 4 sold six million copies in its first week for a total haul of $500 million, ahead
of all but 16 titles in the history of film.
So, what can we do about all of this?
Well the first step is to become aware, to pay attention and to recognize that this
affects all of us. These are public health problems that I’m talking about. The
obsession with thinness is a public health problem. The tyranny of the ideal image
of beauty, violence against women, these are all public health problems that affect
us all. And public health problems can only be solved by changing the environment.
We need a lot of citizen activism, education, discussion, media literacy, we need to
work together to change the norms and change the attitudes.
People often ask me what gives me hope given how long I’ve been doing this and
how little has changed. As I said before I feel hopeful because I’m no longer alone.
I’m also hopeful because scientific research has confirmed what I felt in my heart so
may years ago. I just knew that these images were harmful, that they affected selfesteem, and I believed that objectification contributed to violence but there was no
research then, no evidence but now there is plenty of it. And you’ll find some of the
this research on my website and in the study guide for this film.
And I’m hopeful because there’ve been some signs of progress around the world.
Some things have happened that I wouldn’t have believed possible 30 or 40 years
ago when I was first talking about this and trying to get people to talk about this and
trying to get people to take it seriously.
In Madrid in 2006 the fashion industry said they would stop using models below a
certain body mass index. And more recently Spain announced its updating and
standardizing women’s sizes and taking other measure to help women be more selfaccepting.
Brigitta, Germany’s most popular women’s magazine, announced that it is banning
professional models from its pages and will only use real women from here on, real
life women from here on. And very recently, politicians from the European
Union have proposed a serious of measures, including labeling digitially altered
models, encouraging diverse and healthy body sizes in all models, and teaching
media literacy in schools. And it’s important to encourage and support such steps.
Of course we need to teach media literacy in our schools but we also need to find
other ways to disrupt the stories that advertisers tell us about ourselves and our
relationships. Advertisers will never voluntarily change because it is profitable for
them when we feel terrible about ourselves. This is not censorship this is more free
One woman has created a very imaginative project called “Beautiful Just The Way
You Are.”
Of course we need to teach media literacy in our schools but we also need to find
other ways to disrupt the stories that advertisers tell us about ourselves and our
relationships. Advertisers will never voluntarily change because it is profitable for
them when we feel terrible about ourselves. So we must speak out, protest, speak
up, this is not censorship this is more free speech.
One woman created a very imaginative project called “Beautiful Just The Way You
Are.” If you go to this website you can order for free lots and lots of these lovely
fliers, they’re one page, and then you can take them to newsstands and put them
into magazines, or put them behind the magazines or newspapers or when you’re
sitting in a doctor’s office, slide it into a magazine so someone is going to come
across it while looking at the magazine. It’s a wonderful way to make people take
notice of something that is generally kind of invisible.
Some groups have defaced ads in order to shock people into awareness. This was a
billboard that said “Expect Everything.” And it was changed to read, “Expect
Misogyny.” Of course, I would never advocate such a thing, you understand.
Counter advertising is one way to fight back, it’s been extremely powerful in taking
on the tobacco industry and in making huge changes in the way that we think about
tobacco using ads like this:
So counter advertising can be very, very helpful. It’s trickier with issue, but it’s not
impossible. I know the Dove campaign is controversial, primarily because Dove is
owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe, and Axe is known, of course, for its
outrageously sexist and stupid commercials.
Ads like this:
This ad suggests that Axe can cure your hangover after binge drinking and scrub
away the skank you slept with accidently. So that’s Axe. And it is owned by
Unilever, which owns Dove.
But the people at Dove have no say about what goes on over at Axe. And some of the
Dove commercials are actually quite good. This one features a series of little girls,
here it says: “Thinks she’s fat.” And the copy says, “So may little girls want to change
everything about themselves, all we want to change is their minds. We can help
every little girl see how beautiful she really is. “
So it’s very helpful to have counter advertising, helpful to have more positive images
in advertising, such as a little girl who’s been active and powerful. And it’s
important to applaud the positive images and to protest the damaging ones.
But most important is to get involved in whatever way moves us to change not just
these ads but these attitudes that run so deep in our culture and that affect each one
of us so deeply whether we’re conscious of it or not.
The changes have to be profound and global and be able to depend upon an aware,
active and educated public – a public that thinks of itself primarily as citizens rather
than primarily as consumers.
It can be frightening to speak out, to stand up in this way but as more and more do
this – men and women –
It can be frightening to speak out, to stand up in this way but as more and more do
this – men and women – find the courage to do this, the environment will change.
And whats’ at stake for all of us – women and men – is our ability to have authentic
and freely chosen lives.
Thank you very much.
Jean Kilbourne Q&A Session:
Q: I was hoping you could explain this a little further, because I was caught thinking
about it during the lecture. You said that often body parts of women are depicted
solely without a face. So when the face is then shown, there’s a consumer model on
the beach making a similar face-A: The model can still be an object, and often is, even if the face is shown. I’m not
saying that if the face is shown that she’s not necessarily - she can still be a sex
object, she can still be objectified. But it’s even more dehumanizing to show just one
part of a body part rather than to show the whole person.
Q: The world’s so cluttered with so many of these messages. What would your
advice – aside from awareness – be to parents and to those who have younger boys
and girls that are having to deal with these issues such as peer pressure and the
other issues of society coming down on them to be as skinny as a board, to look or
act a certain way?
A: My little commercial here – you can buy my books: So Sexy So Soon. But that’s
just one idea. I think that it’s extraordinarily important for parents to start talking
with their children really early on. Advertisers and researchers have found that
babies at the age of 6 months can recognize corporate logos, and that’s the age of
which they’re now starting to target children. At the age of 6 months, and they’re
using all kinds of sophisticated techniques. It’s important to start talking to children
about all these issues and about ads and everything else with your children starting
early on. And to create a kind of climate in which your child knows that he or she
can ask about anything and you will do your best to give a response. But it’s really –
one of the reasons I say this is a public health issue is it’s way beyond the ability of
parents to be able to deal with this you know, individually. We can’t save our
children child by child house by house. It’s really extraordinarily important that we
work to create a safer environment – a healthier environment – for all children.
Now some countries in the European Union, for example, totally ban all advertising
aimed at children, and that would be something I could get behind, because the
research has found that children cannot process this stuff. They are
developmentally incapable of really processing and understanding this. It’s difficult
enough for adults – children cannot – so it seems incredibly unfair to allow them to
be targeted in this way. So that would be one thing that would help parents in their
job. And another would be to teach media literacy, and accurate, honest, ageappropriate sex education in our schools.
There is a resource list on my website as I mentioned, and there’s a whole section
for parents.
Jean Kilbourne Second Takes
I started collecting ads in the late 1960s. Many aspects of my life led to this interest:
my involvement with the Women’s Movement, which was just taking off at that
time; my interest in the media; some experiences I had as a model. I didn’t intend to
create a career, let alone launch a field of study, but that is what happened.
[messed up versions in between]
I started collecting ads in the late 1960s. Many aspects of my life led to this interest:
my involvement with the Women’s Movement, which was just taking off at that
time; my interest in the media; some experiences I had as a model. I didn’t intend to
create a career, let alone launch a field of study, but that is what happened.
3:46 [probably the best of the three]
I started collecting ads in the late 1960s. Many aspects of my life led to this interest:
my involvement with the Women’s Movement, which was just taking off at that
time; my interest in the media; some experiences I had as a model. I didn’t intend to
create a career, let alone launch a field of study, but that is what happened.
The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on people younger than 18
more than tripled in the past decade. Breast augmentation increased by six fold.
The more guilty women are made to feel about eating, the more erotic the food ads
How bad do you want it?
Although more boys and young men are experiencing body image problems now
than in the past, boys and men as a group don’t suffer from the same societal
expectations about appearance that girls and women do.
Although more boys and young men are suffering body image problems now than in
the past, boys and men as a group don’t suffer from the same societal expectations
about appearance – the need to count calories to watch their weight – the way that
women and girls do.
We see this kind of thing happening all over the world.
Women are told that it’s sexy to be like a little girl, and grown women are constantly
infantilized in advertising through fashion, body language….
This is happening in a culture in which at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are
sexually abused during their childhood. This is a problem of staggering proportion.
We’re just beginning to realize the full extent. Images like this don’t cause this
problem, but they do contribute to it. They create a climate in which it becomes
increasingly acceptable to look upon children in this way.
This is happening in a culture in which at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are
sexually abused during their childhood. This is a problem of staggering proportion.
We’re just beginning to realize the full extent. Images like this don’t cause this
problem, but they do contribute to it.
A visitor from another planet – just looking at our popular culture - would have to
arrive at two conclusions: the first is that sex is by far the most important aspect of
life…is all that really matters. And the second is that sex and sexuality belong only
to the young and beautiful. If you’re not young and perfect looking, you have no
13:49 [comparing “is” versus “are”]
This is happening in a culture in which at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually
abused during their childhood. This is a problem of staggering proportion. We’re
just beginning to realize the full extent. Images like this don’t cause this problem,
but they do contribute to it.
In this ad for BMW, we have a very young girl, and the copy says, “You know you’re
not the first.”
This ad for BMW features a girl who certainly looks very young, and the copy says,
“You know you’re not the first.”
More important, there really aren’t consequences for men as a result of
objectification in the ways that there are for women. Men don’t live in a world in
which they’re likely to be raped, harassed, or beaten – or at least straight white men
don’t live in such a world, whereas women and girls do.
Do you want to be the one she tells her deep, dark secrets to, or do you want to be
her deep dark secret? And this ad is clearly saying to young men that you should be
her deep dark secret. But the truth is if you’re a man who wants an intimate
relationship with a woman – and most men do – you better be the one she tells her
deep dark secrets to. You really can’t have a successful intimate relationship if you
can’t communicate. If you can’t be vulnerable. If you can’t tell each other your
And this contempt for the feminine affects every aspect of our lives: from our sexual
behavior, to our nation’s political priorities. To our contempt and disregard for
those considered powerless: the poor, children, the elderly, the damaged.
We need men and women who can be within each of us both strong and gentle.
Logical and intuitive. Powerful and nurturing.
People often ask me what give me hope, given how long I’ve been doing this and
how little has changed. As I said before, I feel hopeful because I’m no longer alone,
and I’m hopeful because scientific research has confirmed what I felt in my heart so
many years ago.
And I’m hopeful because scientific research has confirmed what I felt in my heart so
many years ago. I just knew, then, that these images caused harm. That they led to
low self-esteem. That objectification led to violence. But there was no research – no
evidence. Now there is. There’s a lot of it.
This ad suggests that acts can ‘cure your hangover,’ after a night of binge drinking,
and ‘scrub away the skank you slept with accidentally.’
It’s important to applaud the positive images, and to protest the damaging ones. But
most important is to get involved in whatever way moves us, to change not just
these ads, but these attitudes that run so deep in our culture, and that effect each
one of us so deeply – whether we’re conscious of it or not.
And it is important to have positive images in advertising – they can be very helpful.
This cooptation of liberation has been going on for a long time. Advertisers always
find ways to turn any movement for radical change into just another way to sell a
There’s a world of difference between the objectification of men and the
objectification of women. For one thing, when men are objectified, they’re almost
always bigger, stronger, more powerful; whereas when women are objectified, we
tend to be weaker, more fragile, more vulnerable, smaller.
Whereas when women are objectified, women tend to be smaller, fragile,
vulnerable, less powerful.
26:55 [transitions]
For example, this ad...
Here’s another example…
When I started, ads were mostly in magazines, newspapers, on television, billboards.
But of course in recent years there has been an explosion of advertising. These days,
ads are everywhere. The internet, Facebook, videogames, in our schools and public
spaces, on airplanes, on snowboards.
Recently, Brigitte – Germany’s most popular women’s magazine – announced that it
was going to stop using professional models entirely in its pages and will only use
real life women instead.
Lauren Phoenix - star of scores of porn films - sells tube socks to teens in American
Apparel ads, and porn queen Jenna Jameson has launched her own line of clothing.
I started collecting ads in the late 1960s. Many aspects of my life led to this interest:
my involvement in the Women’s Movement, which was just taking off at that time;
my interest in the media; some experiences I had as a model. I didn’t intend to
create a career, or to launch a field of study, but that is what happened.
Study collections