Objectification of women in Popular Culture

When I started thinking about all of the things that I identify with one stuck out in particular: being a woman. Women can have many identities based on what they believe they are or by what defines them, but at the core of all of those identities, they are faced with the larger challenge of being a women. Historically, women have always been looked at as the second sex. They have never had the same opportunities or rights as men and have been constantly objectified by the media and advertising. Popular culture, media, and advertisements have a very large impact on how we see and feel about things in our life. We are surrounded by advertisements in every aspect of our lives. We are exposed to the objectification of women on the tv, internet, apps, magazines, and news. This exposure helps to define and affects the way in which society, including women, view and treat women and themselves.
In the past, advertising has portrayed women as sex symbols, and housewives, who are dependent on men, unintelligent, and unable to make their own decisions. Although there has been some shifts, to help empower women in the media, this trend still happens today. Women are now being objectified more than ever in advertising. Not only are being used as sexual objects, to grab the attention of men, to help sell a product, but the, big busted, thin, young, blonde is the ideal for all females out there. Advertisements are trying to sell this ideal women as a product that any average women can transform into.
An example of this type of advertising is Yoplait Light commercial. The commercial starts out with a women standing in front of an open fridge looking at a plate of strawberry cheesecake. The women is having an argument in her head that goes something like, “what if I just have one little piece, I’ve been good today, I deserve it. No, what if I have one piece while jogging in place.” This goes on for a minute until a younger, thinner, women comes up and says, “Hmm, strawberry cheesecake, i’ve been thinking about you all day”, and then she grabs a strawberry cheesecake Yoplait Light from the fridge. The first women comments on how she’s lost weight, the second women thanks her and walks away. The first women then grabs the yogurt and shuts the fridge in a hurry. This advertisement is basically saying that women have no control over food, and they are using the thin women as an object to show you what kind of will power you could have and how you could look if you buy that yogurt (Yoplait). Although on the outside this commercial might look like an empowering ad to show women that can have control over their food, it’s really just enforcing the stereotype that women are unable to do things by themselves and that they are only objects.
The media often defines women as dependent on men and unable to do certain things on their own. A perfect example that I found of this is a commercial from the company called True Car. Men and women have always been known to get swindled by car salesmen. Think of the term “greasy/dirty salesman”, it’s a negative term which is often associated with distrust and getting used. True Car is a company that lets you compare the best prices online for a car and lets you print out a barcode for the deal to scan so they know the exact price you want and are willing to pay for. In the commercial only women are acting in it and they are saying lines like “I don’t need to bring a dude” (True Car). That line is pretty insane. It’s a sad realization that even though I look at myself as a strong and independent women, capable of doing things on her own, most women STILL feel that they need this tool in order to be capable of buying a car. It’s saying if you don’t have a man or don’t use their site, you are incapable of getting a good deal on a car. That women wouldn’t be able to get a good deal by themselves or that they are able to do their own research or stand up for themselves. The women go on to say how great and confident it makes them feel, trying to send the message the yes, we women are able to do things alone and handle ourselves. Although I believe the company meant the commercial to be helpful and empowering to women, it did the complete opposite and reinforced the stereotype the men are incapable of doing things or are dependent on men.
As mentioned earlier, women are often looked at as sexual objects in advertisements. Advertisements use female objectification to not only capture the attention of viewers but also portrays the visual power that men still have over women (Lukas, n. d.).


The above advertisement is an example of this power, “The varied dimensions of posture, position of bodies, location of body parts, height and depth of figures, all suggest that women are inferior, and men are superior.” (Lukas, n. d.). Women are often portrayed in a negative and submissive sexual way that can lead men thinking that they are superior to women. Not only that, but it’s shows women that they need to be submissive in order to feel wanted, beautiful, and important. By objectifying women in the media it affects how women see themselves as well as desensitizes men and allows them to separate themselves from women and look at them as objects and not human beings.
It’s obvious that sex sells, for both men and women. Men see women as a sexual object and women feel the need to be that sexual object in order to get the attention they want from men. It makes women feel that her only value is her appearance and sexuality. We can’t open our eyes without seeing an ad that objectifies women or makes women seem like the second class and dependent on men. As a women I am faced with this constant pressure to look or be a certain way and constant obstacles that I’m faced with in my every day life. Even if we don’t mean to compare ourselves to these unreal ads, they are surrounding us, they basically become our false sense of reality. These advertisements set a standard for women that are almost impossible to meet. Yet, so many women are trying to meet them every single day, even though those women are the actual reality. That is why this is my main identity because it doesn’t matter how I see myself if the world see’s me differently. I can only do so much with my life, I need the corporation and assistance of others in order to be the person I want to be.
Not only can I not live up to my full potential if the world around me is telling me I’m supposed to be a certain way, but it also affects society much deeper than that. Research has been shown that these sexist and objectifying ads can have tremendous affects on the youth and women in this society. “Exposure to sexually objectifying media has been related to greater importance of beauty and appearance in defining an individual’s own self-worth as well as in defining the value of females in general” and “to self-objectification, body shame, appearance anxiety, internalization of cultural standards of beauty, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating symptoms among predominately White women” (Szymanski). Women to varying degrees internalize this outside view of them and in turns started viewing themselves as objects (Szymanski). This then stops the growth of women and continues them in a downward spiral, allowing themselves to be objectified and even being apart of it.
This internalization doesn’t just happen with sex appeal, it also happens with the other stereotypes of being dependent, unintelligent, and unable as well. When women see themselves in advertisements they begin to believe that the ads are actually reality and start making their choices and actions based on how these other women are acting. It brings up the issues of the women who are actually acting in these “empowering” commercials or posing in the ads. They might just be doing it because they are a starving actor, or wish to get known, or maybe they really believe in the product, which is the worst of all. Whatever their reasoning for being apart of these commercials it is just again showing the world that it is ok because women are only objects or they are unintelligent and don’t know any better.
I don’t think that all of these advertising agencies or companies who put out the “empowering” commercials fully realize the affect that they are having on society. Or maybe they do, and that makes them even more evil. But more and more companies are beginning to see that affect and trying to make a difference and change in the way that women see themselves and the way that society treats them. Dove is leading the way in this change with their “Real Beauty” campaign. They have released many videos and commercials that help show the tools and tricks used to make these average women look like the ideal women in ads and advertising and to help women realize their actual, real beauty.. Their “Evolution” video has over 17 million views on youtube. It show’s a very average looking women getting transformed with make up, hair styling, and photoshop tools to become this “ideal women” for a make up billboard (Dove Evolution). It shows people that these things can complete change the way a women looks and what we see in ads isn’t real. The ad ends with a line that says, “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted” (Dove Evolution). They are absolutely right.
Dove also has a video called “Real Beauty Sketches” that is only 11 months old and has over 62 million views on youtube (Real Beauty). This ad starts by showing women of different ages and races describing how they look to a professional sketch artist. They skip around to show a stranger, that had just met this person moments before in a waiting room, also describing this other person to the sketch artist. At the end the women are shown the picture that they described and the picture that the stranger described and with each women, the strangers description was more accurate and much more beautiful than the women who described themselves (Real Beauty). Although there is some controversy with both of these videos because the women shown are still considered above average looking, thin, and mostly young. The message that they are trying to spread is one that needs to be heard. Every women needs that stranger describing the picture of her, showing her that she is more beautiful than she actually thinks, because of the awful self images that the media has created.
The media has played a huge part in how society see’s women, and although women have come so far, they still have a long ways to go. In a perfect world women would step above these stereotypes and actually become empowered and subjects, rather than objects, but that’s a hard thing to do. This world isn’t perfect and we are social creatures that need the approval of others. I think that this is the time for change for women in the media, but it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of realization, and a lot dedication from every women out there. Because in the end, the women are also falling into this trap of self objectification and self doubt, and they are the only ones who can lift themselves out.
Work cited

“Dove Real Beauty Sketches.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Mar. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk&gt;.

Lukas, S. A. (n. d.). The gender ads projects: Men in control. Retrieved March 9, 2013 from, http://www.ltcconline.net/lukas/gender/pages/menincontrol.htm

Pipper, Tim. “Dove Evolution.” YouTube. YouTube, 06 Oct. 2006. Web. 09 Mar. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U&gt;.

Szymanski, D. M., L. B. Moffitt, and E. R. Carr. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research 1 7.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 6-38. Print.

“TRUECar.com | A Better Way.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTcOrqYTM4Y&gt;.

Yoplait Commercial. Yoplait Commercial. Youtube, 3 July 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wzkKs0TOTs&gt;.


2 thoughts on “Objectification of women in Popular Culture

  1. Great essay Laura!
    I see the media objectifying women everyday, in TV commercials, Magazines, and even in some movies! It’s really disappointing to see a potentially strong female character dwindle away because she fend for herself, and needs a man to rescue her.
    A example of a strong female character that I’ve seen is Michonne in the walking dead… Although in the beginning she carries herself in a almost animalistic manner, thankfully in the show now they have begun to flesh her out and give her a story, allow her to show her emotions while still being able to protect her self and survive on her own. In movies and TV show women who are strong are often portrayed as bitches on a power trip. There’s this negative image associated with strong women. While in magazines/advertisements women are objects of sex…
    This needs to change, more women need to hold power. And I feel that sometimes the US is afraid of powerful women (look at other countries with women at the helm).

  2. Wow, Michonne is a great example. I think that you’re right that the show is starting to show her emotions, but she is still looked at as an extremely strong women. But, I think at first, the show makes her seem like kind of a bitch. I really like in the new season when they do a flash back to her life before the zombies, and she was all dressed up and really feminine, although it only showed her for a few seconds, you could tell she seemed weak. But who is turned into is the perfect example of what I am talking about.
    But thank you for your feedback, I’m glad you agree that things in the media need to change for women.

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