Sexual Objectification

When you look at yourself in the mirror every morning, think about who you’re looking at. You’re looking at you, a person with unique talents, thoughts, feelings, ideas, and so on. The issue with modern advertising is that sexually charged ads often take the “people” aspect out of the people they use to advertise their products. Actors and models are stripped of their personhood and are simply jpegs or mp4s, meant to catalyze the thoughts of viewers and tempt them to buy things they may or may not actually need.

One of the largest equality arguments of our generation takes a serious swing at the sexual objectification that’s in so many ads, all the way from products like website constructors (GoDaddy ads are incredibly sexual in the United States, but not in Canada), to beer, to chocolate (neither of which are very conducive to a sexually attractive body), and other completely random products.

GoDaddy. Advertisement. CBS. 03 Feb. 2013. Television.

GoDaddy. Advertisement. CBS. 03 Feb. 2013. Television.

Yes, that’s a commercial for a web construction group. Yes, they make out. Yes, I almost vomited. This is the year they started pulling back on the sexual reigns of their advertisements, because the wives in the U.S. that only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials flipped completely out when their husbands were looking at these ads.

Snickers: You're Not You When You're Hungry, Sex. Mars Inc. Web. 25 Feb 2016. (Photo created May 2012).

Snickers: You’re Not You When You’re Hungry, Sex. Mars, Inc. Web. 25 Feb 2016.

Apparently, snickers makes it easier to unhook a bra. Who knew?

While we usually think of only women as the subjects of sexual ads, men have slipped into this business without causing all of the sexualization hullabaloo that we get when women are objectified. Consider, for instance, Justin Bieber’s incredibly popular photo campaign, advertising for Calvin Klein’s underwear division:

Calvin Klein Underwear: Justin Bieber, Musician, #MyCalvins. Web. 25 Feb 2016.

Calvin Klein Underwear: Justin Bieber, Musician, #MyCalvins. Web. 25 Feb 2016.

Justin Bieber, admittedly, has a build that many men envy. Of course, having enough money to hire a personal trainer and other such things probably makes a difference. His body and his name, however, are what’s selling the expensive piece of fabric that’s occupying his middle section. Here, Calvin Klein is not doing things like promoting the quality of their product to upsell. No, no. That’d be too basic. They’re using the sexual appeal of a celebrity’s body to reign in customers, as if to say that if I could just wear (or afford) their underwear, I can instantly have that air of sexual alpha that he seems to portray in this photograph. Berger mentions this in his section on ads in Ways of Seeing, saying that these suggest “that if he buys what [the ad] is offering, his life will become better. It offers him an improved alternative to what he is” (Berger 142).

Or, in our case, an augmentation of muscle to what us guys’ve already got.

The existence of incredibly athletic figures in advertisements has plagued women for years. This has led companies like Dove (Unilever, cosmetics division) to hold camps for girls grade school through high school to help shun the unrealistic, photoshopped expectations of the modern female body. I stumbled upon this video this morning, which is another very straightforward rejection of female objectification in women:

Men, however, have not had quite the same support, even though we’ve taken a similar hit. Because of various sociological forces, men (myself, inclusive) often feel pressured to have this amount of muscle mass, this height, this car, etc. If we don’t have all that (and a bag of low-carb chips), then we’re silently shamed. But heaven forbid we should talk about it, because that would imply vulnerability, which is also entirely unacceptable if you aspire to gain any sort of respect.

This is where the fun stuff comes along. This is the advertisement that Axe put out, which was a major win for social equality in terms of backlash against male sexualization in advertisement. Take a gander.

Isn’t that just a breath of fresh air?

All this to say that I have to disagree with Berger. I honestly think he’s a tad bit sexist, but I’ve not spoken to him, so I can’t confirm. In his chapter on nudes, however, he does make this claim: “One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. … The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed is female. She thus turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Berger 47). I find this very unbalanced. Women have often been accused of being less sexual than men (i.e. they don’t seek it or want it with the same fervor that men have), and it seems that Berger might agree with this. I simply cannot. I think women have just as much drive in terms of sex, and that sexual ads might appeal to them just as much as men. I also think that if that can be equally viewed, so can be the acceptability of natural insecurity, for both women and men.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin, 1972.

1 Thought.

  1. This is an excellent post–thanks, Brandon. It’s very important that we talk about the ways in which both men and women can be objectified, and the effects that can have on self-esteem for both. It is interesting that objectification and sexualization of women has had so much focus and criticism, and there has been less so for that of men. I think partly it’s due to the feminist movement that has been going on for so many years, and the issue of men’s objectification has only relatively recently been a focus (okay, well, in the last few decades, actually…I remember reading about this in the 80s, but for some reason it just hasn’t been as big in the public domain of discussion).

    Thanks for posting the Axe ad too, which is indeed a breath of fresh air. It’s interesting to me, though, that there’s still the muscular six-pack guy at the very end, using Axe deoderant. I guess that’s his “thing”?

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