Objectification of Women by the Mass Media
From the early nineteenth century, in television, films, printed and television commercials, and music videos, sexual objectification and exploitation of women became an increasingly growing trend. Along with objectification, different industries also started using a false and unreal image of women’s physical appearance, body image, and beauty. Today, hypersexualized and unrealistically perfect female forms are associated with products, services and programs across television and computer screens, billboards, glossy pages of magazines, video games and social media. Girls and women are dehumanized and portrayed as a commodity in these advertisements, music videos, and films – women’s bodies are used to sell everything from car tires to entertainment !!
Exploitation of girls and women by the Fashion Industry
Girls’ and Women’s fashion in the western world are hyper-sexualized by the fashion industries, where wearing tights, extremely short, or revealing dresses are characterized by bold and empowerment.
Over the last 25 years, there is an increasing trend of targeting young girls and pre-teen girls by big clothing and cosmetic brands. Young girls are shown wearing highly provocative dresses, make-up and often in age-inappropriate, hypersexualized postures and body languages. Trying to keep up with the trend and to fit in with the latest fashions, often kids and the parents fall prey to a never-ending cycle of sexual objectification.
Models, supermodels, beauty queens, even dolls reinforce the idea that girls and women must have unrealistic beauty and figures.
When Sexually Objectification is a Professional Requirement
There are many situations, environments, and professions such as certain forms of dancing, beauty pageants, modeling, and cheerleading, where the sexual objectification of women is encouraged and promoted.
In addition, many women work in environments whose main purpose is to offer explicit targets for men to objectify them and that reward them for treating themselves as sexual objects e.g., exotic dancing and cocktail waitressing.
The Harmful Effects on the Society
Self-objectification, Depression and Self-harm Among Young Girls and Women
Studies have shown the negative effects that this exploitation of women in the media has on the mental health of young women. Young women are especially susceptible to objectification, as they are often taught that one’s outward appearance is a measure of the amount of respect, love, and power they receive from people. Girls feel they should be valued primarily for their physical appearance, and that puts tremendous pressure on them to conform to conventional beauty standards.
According to psychologists, women internalize people’s objectification of their bodies, resulting in them constantly criticizing their own bodies. This process is called self-objectification where girls and women compulsively monitor their own body’s outward appearance and spend significant amounts of attention on how others may perceive their physical appearance.
Messages conveyed by mass media and social media put an unrealistic standard on women’s bodies, dehumanizing them to an object of visual pleasure, thinking that they should look and act like the women in the media are portrayed, initiating the cycle of self-objectification.
Researchers have found a positive correlation between the role of the media with the lack of body satisfaction, drive for thinness, eating disorders, mood disorders, and low self-esteem. There is a huge and increasing risk of depression, low self-esteem about their body image and eating disorders and self-harm among young girls and women who self objectify themselves.
According to Jess Wiener, the cultural expert for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, “Viewing unrealistic and unachievable beauty images creates an unattainable goal which leads to feelings of failure. This is especially true of young girls who have grown up in a world of filters and airbrushing.”
A False Sense of Perceived Empowerment and Self-Objectification
Women in many western cultures are encouraged to participate in their own objectification by marketers, filmmakers, pornographers, magazine publishers, and even some feminists. An increasing acceptance of and exposure to pornography, and the pornification of mainstream media in a culture that largely embraces both materialism and objectification. Many women actively consent to objectification and make overt attempts to gain male attention by purposefully and consciously advertising their own object status.
Regardless of how supposedly “happy” these women are to “freely” participate in the objectification of the female body for the purposes of “women empowerment”, if someone needs to expose or use their body to draw attention of the world or impose empowerment, it is counterproductive to the feminist movement and to the goal of gender equality.
In fact, girls/women who think they must wear revealing or extremely short dresses to look beautiful are equally helpless or victims of situations as the girls who are not allowed to uncover their faces. They both are victims of patriarchy, where other people directly or indirectly control their dress code, body image and sense of well being.
Normalizing Violence Against Women
According to UNICEF, “The objectification and sexualization of girls in the media is linked to violence against women and girls worldwide. “
When media normalize the act of dominance and aggression against women, as well as constantly showcasing them as objects of pleasure, and associated them with commodity, resulting in sexual and physical violence boys and men tend to internalize that message.
Sexualized images may legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, sexual harassment, and anti-women attitudes among men.
Andrea Dworkin, in her book Woman Hating, says the process of turning women into sex objects is the first step towards justifying violence against them. Dworkin explains that if women are viewed as a series of parts rather than a whole person, then inflicting violence upon them becomes easier to justify. Sandra Lee Bartky also describes sexual objectification as a form of dehumanization in her book Femininity and Domination. She explains that turning women into sex objects disciplines them into a state of submission, teaching them to monitor their appearance and behaviors in order to suit harmful cultural norms. Sexual objectification is thus a way of denigrating women as a class.
The attitude of Boys towards Girls and Relationship
Young boys, from a very early age, are exposed to women and girls images which are unrealistic, vulgar, hypersexualized and sexually objectified in movies, music videos, popular TV serials and shows, magazine covers, video games, advertisements, and practically all over the internet. The roles, responsibilities, and nature of women in films, music videos and commercials are too stereotypical and a far cry from reality or equality.
Not only women are portrayed as an object of visual and sexual pleasure; glorified male masculinity, male dominance, eve-teasing in music videos, video games, films, and social networking sites have a deep impact on shaping up a child’s mind.
If a child is exposed to certain experiences as a part of his/her normal developmental dynamics, they tend to normalize it and develop a lot of unconscious biases towards that experience. These children would definitely grow up to replicate those experiences in their lives as adults.
Boys usually grow up to learn to dehumanize women and to view them merely as bodies or body parts of pleasures. It causes mental health issues among boys, and their unrealistic expectation from women, women’s sexuality and body interfere with their ability to have a healthy and functional relationship as adults in a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms.
Resources for Media Literacy and Media Activisms
Killing us softly is a documentary first released in 1979 and since revised and updated four times, focuses on images of women in advertising, in particular on gender stereotypes, the effects of advertising on women’s self-image, and the objectification of women’s bodies
studies suggested “the need for media literacy and media activism to help change the current normative body discontent of women in the Western world.” We have seen a growing number of actresses, models, and feminists activists have started speaking against media and internet for objectifying women.
4 Every Girl campaign is calling on entertainment and media industry leaders to create an environment where young girls feel valued and are defined by health media images of themselves. Sign their petition to call on leaders in the entertainment and media industries to produce media images that respect, empower and promote the true value of every girl.
Preventing eating disorders: A handbook of interventions and special challenges is a published book of the comprehensive resource provides multiple prevention strategies, programs, and approaches for health and mental health workers, educators, researchers, students, and interested members of the community at large who work to prevent eating disorders and related problems.
“Go Girls” (adapted from Giving Our Girls Inspiration and Resources for Lasting Self-esteem) program is a program that brings junior and senior high school girls together to advocate responsible advertising and positive body images of youth by the media.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media works within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate and influence media producers to dramatically improve gender representation in films; to stop stereotyping girls and women; and to create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children ages 11 and under.
Related reading and links: