Indecent Beauty Standards

by food4life on September 27, 2015 - 11:52am

Indecent Beauty Standards


American Apparel's advertising campaign is known to be controversial, their models are often naked and their ads send out a sexist and sometimes racist message. In an ad for a vinyl mini skirt, they're model who seems underaged is topless, sucking her thumb while leaning on a bathroom vanity. The problem is that the ad is blatantly selling sex, it doesn’t leave much for us to imagine. We should be concerned about ads that sell sex because it contributes to self-objectification and promotes hypersexualisation.


By analyzing the ad, the model is portraying a provocateur look by being good looking, appearing young, using sexual seduction and seems perfect (Cortese 59). The provacateur look is deceptive because it misleads women into believing that this is beauty, Cortese elaborates,“the provocateur is not human; rather, she is a form or holow shell representing a female figure. Accepted attractiveness is her only attribute (...) Cultural ideaology tells women that they will not be desirable to, or loved by, men unless they are physically perfect” (59). Through advertising, the desire of embodying the provacateur look becomes strong amongst the female viewers which is unrealistic to achieve. The women become susceptible to purchasing the merchandise and vulnerable to self-objectification.

We are exposed to ads like this everyday where a woman’s body is sexually objectified. It degrades our bodies and affects our mental health, Cortese explains, “ being raised in a culture that objectifies the female body and sexualizes women leads them to internalize this objectification (...) such self-consciousness is characterized by habitual self-monitoring of one's physical appearance (...) related to increased risk of psychological problems, including eating disorders, bipolar depression, and sexual dysfunction” (61). As our culture continues to publish ads like these, women are becoming more self-conscious and anxious about their bodies which leads them to prioritize achieving the unrealistic beauty standard that is unattainable. They become shameful of their natural body and turn to the materialistic solutions.

We have identified the problems women face in advertisement and the consequences it leaves us with but we are still being exposed to it. Why is it legal that women can be portrayed as sexual objects in ads? According to a documentary published in 2011, Miss Representation, the law makers are out of the picture. The CEO positions in major TV broadcasting firms are dominated by white males who approves of objectifying a woman's body because it generates good revenue. The documentary explains that there is also a negative impact in young men. The exposure to the ads where women are objectified causes the young men to judge real women more harshly.

It's important to mention that women are not the only victims of sexual objectification in the media. There is also a male provocateur image, Cortese elaborates “media image of muscular and vascular yet thin men in advertising (...) resemble the mythical Adonis- handsome, chiseled, smooth, well groomed, healthy looking and a hairless body”(69). The pressure for men to achieve this body ideal exists and men are also susceptible to mental health issues but because the body image is healthy (muscular body) compared to women (waif look), the health concerns are different. Men turn to body-building to achieve the provocateur male look and can develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder called muscle dysmorphia, Cortese shares, “These men are obsessed with achieving an unrealistic cultural standard of muscularity as masculinity”(72). It's clear that both men and women are victims but the severity and health concerns are more alarming for women.

Overall, the consequences, self-objectification and hypersexualisation, women have to deal with from advertisement is of great concern in our culture. There are many possible changes that can be made in an ad to reduce the sex selling factor. In the American Apparel ad, the changes that can contribute to a decent ad would be; have the model wear a shirt & strike a pose that doesn’t involve thumb sucking. Surely selling a mini-skirt already has 'sexy' stereotype and the vinyl material also has a 'kinky' stereotype around it therefore it's degrading to women the extent advertising companies go to objectify woman's body for more revenue.
















Works Cited

Cortese, Anthony J. Provocateur; Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. Maryland. 2008. Print.

Newsom, Jennifer Siebel, Miss Representation. 2011.Documentary




Thank you for your post. I feel that it is important to highlight this subject as much as possible as it seems to me that instead of getting better, this problem only seems to be getting worse. As you point out, American Apparel is known for their sexist advertising, but they are far from being the only ones, and instead of being the exception, they are the norm.

I agree with your statement that we should be concerned about this as it contributes to self-objectification and promotes hypersexualization. I would add to this that not only does it damage both men and women psychologically because of the feelings of unworthiness it may cause (and associated disorders), but I believe that it creates a more violent society where boys are constantly trying to emulate a macho ideal and where women are more at risk of being victims of domestic violence. Neither boys nor girls benefit in such a culture.

As the proud father of a 7 month old baby girl, I am very much concerned about the damage we are causing women, and especially young boys and girls. Because as much as these are ads targeted at adults, they are seen and exposed to teens and young children.

I believe that, as a society, we have a moral obligation, under the utilitarian concept of the summum bonum (greatest happiness to the greatest number), to limit the types of ads and messages corporations and the media can project on us. It is imperative to put these limits as the “benefits” to the economy do not outweigh the overall cost to society.

An Industry of Discrimination and Hyper sexualisation
After reading your publication about sexualised ads, I felt compelled to comment on it because I am a women that looks up to the fashion industry for guidance. However, I am more and more disappointed by the message they portray in their ads that have an important effect on future generations. Therefore, your article discusses two massive subjects that affect me a lot: the children and the image of women in the media, or more specifically the fashion industry.
In my view, I totally agree with your opinion: the issue of sexualisation in ads is becoming very problematic due to the message of how women should look like in our modern society. More importantly, how the fashion industry thinks he needs to send that message to sell their products. This is what brings me to the question you answered in your text: “Why is it legal that women can be portrayed as sexual objects in ads?” The answer you found was the very similar to the one given by many in the fashion industry, in the documentary “The Color of Beauty”, to justify the discrimination of black or any other minority models. Apparently, “they cannot sell the products” or even more illogic, “blacks do not by the products”. In fact, the black models, who make-up 6% of the fashion industry, do not have ‘black features’ rather they are “white models dip in chocolate”. According to your reference, “The CEO positions in major TV broadcasting firms are dominated by white males who approves of objectifying a woman's body because it generates good revenue”. This explains well that one of the main reason why there is still discrimination and sexualized image in the media is due to the ruling of white males. After knowing how the media CEO are lead, I understand more the discrimination and the non-representative image that the industry gives to young women. I truly believe that the fact that white males lead society’s media, it has a massive impact on the image and message lead by those media.
After making the link between racism in the fashion industry and the sexualized image in the media, it brings me to ask myself how hard it must be for black models to break through in the business when they face discrimination and are sexualized. Even more so, I wonder how teenagers of color can relate to such image portrayed by the media industry that prone perfection, whiteness and sexuality? To then wonder, how these standards are implemented in the black male models?

I chose to respond to this post because I, as well as many people I know, feel the direct effects of exactly what is being discussed in this summary. Ads such as the one being shown greatly affect how one views themselves, and definitely affects the way females and males view each other. It is very true that our society has practically unattainable expectations when it comes to physical appearance, and puts a great deal of importance on how one looks. People are judged based on their weight, their height, their overall features that make them “beautiful” or “attractive”, however these judgements are based on ads such as this one. The same can be said for other features such as skin color. More often than not, whiteness is encouraged and is predominant, which gives society the message that it is preferable, and that it is considered as true beauty. If the models are not white, then they have so called “white-features”, such as slender noses. All of these put together basically send out the message that woman must be white or white-looking, very slim, have big “assets”, and be promiscuous and “kinky” in their attitudes. Such unrealistic portrayals of what females should look like and what color their skin should be is becoming increasingly detrimental to young girls all over the world. You would hope that over time, issues such as this get better, but hypersexualization, unrealistic body images and whiteness are only worsening. I truly wonder what it will take for these so-called CEO in major TV broadcasting companies to understand that the problem they are causing is enormous. They are creating multiple generations of dissatisfied and problemed individuals, people who dislike their body’s, their skin color, and feel like they are objectified on these ads. Perhaps the day that their own sons and daughters develop serious health issues or big self-esteem problems is the day that they will stop advertising such degrading and white-promoting photos.

I chose to comment on this article because the title attracted my attention. I really do believe that the media always set up beauty standards about having "the perfect body", which leaves many young women feeling unconfident about themselves. I totally agree with you when you mention that a woman's body is sexually objectified in adds. I also like the fact that you skimmed through the topic of racism in your introduction. Most of the women in these adds today are "white women". In my race and racism class, we have talked about a topic called white privilege which is "a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others" (Kendall Clark, date unknown). Modeling agencies consider white skinned women have more of a "normal" and "perfect" features of coloured women. There is a video that I watched in class that talked about a black model trying to make it in the industry. Agents would not chose her because she did not have "white features" because she had big lips and a larger behind. For this reason, many black women think that they are not perfect because they do not have the same features as white women which are seen as having a more "sexual body". So do you think that a such thing as having the "perfect body" exist?