A study conducted in 1995 found that 70% of women felt depressed after looking at fashion magazines for three minutes. Around half the female population at one time or another attempt weight loss, leading to greater smoking and eating disorder among women (Women and Body Image, 2009). These images, of course, influence men as well, as, finding the idealized images of women more appealing and sexy, men expect their girlfriends and female partners look similar. Expecting something unattainable obviously leads to cracks in their relationships. The images also influence women and men's formation of their gender identities.
While there are many factors that influence advertising of women's bodies today, Jean Kilbourne argues that modern technology also plays an important role in it. The way software programs such as Adobe Photoshop allows advertisers of women's images to change their appearances is a perfect example. But the technology influences the relationship between images and culture in many other ways. For example, as Kilbourne (2010) points out, "the Internet has made pornography not only accessible, but really inescapable; so that what used to be part of a kind of adult world . . . is now everywhere" (Have We Come a Long Way? 2010). As a result, fashion magazines and other commercial ads featuring women increasingly toe to pornographic expectations. Women in commercial ads and fashion magazines are not only ideal and flawlessly beautiful, but are also highly sexualized, showing off their breasts, buttocks, and posing in such a way that they are ready to be conquered.
Looking at some examples may help us better understand this phenomenon. The image #2 is an advertisement for men's underwear. But the ad does not feature a man; it features a woman in a highly sexualized position. The suggestion is that with this underwear, men are going to easily subdue and conquer women who would be willing to satisfy men's sexual needs. These images are graphically designed for "masculine' sphere, re-enforcing notions of a subordinate 'feminine' area of interest (Breward, 1998, pp. 302-303). There is a similar feature in image #3, which advertises men's suits. "A custom-tailored suit is a natural aphrodisiac," says the caption. or, see the image #4, which advertises men's perfume. It shows a bottle of perfume placed between breasts of a naked woman whose mouth is wide open. While images #5 and #6 are other typical examples of sexualized ads -- advertising lady's bag and a toilet paper, respectively -- image #7 is particularly interesting. It is an ad by Red Cross, which for the purpose of raising money for water projects in Africa, hired two fashion models -- a man and a woman -- who posed almost naked for the ad. In other words, even international humanitarian organizations today are exploiting sexualized images of women and men to promote their projects.
While the purpose of these ads is selling material products such as underwear, suits, perfume, bags, toilet paper, or raising money for humanitarian goals, these ads also sell nonmaterial products, particular kind of images that shape society's understandings of culture, human relationships, and social identities. Fashion and body images are commercialized and sexualized more than ever. And their influence on society and how we form our social identities likewise are more powerful today than ever before. In other words, our values and identities are now being shaped by images which are not real but constructed designed to promote commercial products.
Breward, C., 1998. Cultures, Identities, Histories: Fashioning a Cultural Approach to Dress. Fashion Theory, 2(4), pp. 301-313.
Boden, S., 2006. Dedicated Followers of Fashion? The Influence of Popular Culture on Children's Social Identities. Media, Culture & Society, 28(2), pp. 289-298.
Have We Come a Long Way? Interview with Jean Kilbourne, 2010. Bitch Magazine. Retrieved on 22 February 2011, from http://www.insidebeauty.org/admin/cutenews/data/upimages/cosmocover.jpg
Women and Body Image: Ten Disturbing Facts, 2009. Retrieved on 22 February 2011, from http://momgrind.com/2009/01/28/women-body-image/