As stated in Killing Us Softly by Jean Kilbourne, only 8% of a commercial is processed consciously, meaning most everything is subconscious and plants roots deep in our mind without our knowing, until everything is just second nature to us. Media has always been, and is still, largely run by men, which is where the problem begins. From the time marketing began, men, specifically white, have been in control of the imaging our society sees everyday, and are still in charge of a majority of all media today. This marketing and imagery is what we see as norms in society and have no reason to question it because its constant and consistent from the time we start viewing commercials at a very young age. Having only one group in society form those base thoughts and views for us, creates a much larger problem for society because it is solely their viewpoint. As a woman, the message is clear from day one: I must be thin, have perfect hair, have perfect make-up, have perfect skin, be young forever, date a white, wealthy man and be obedient to him and his higher status in life. As soon as this is implanted in our minds, the sales take care of themselves. You feel the need to spend as much money as you can until you are the image they are showing, the problem being, that image does not exist; The models are photoshopped, the messaging is absurd and the thing you are chasing isnt real. This extends to anyone in society. Rarely are ethnicities other than white shown in advertising; rarely are women over the age of 40 displayed in advertising, unless showing a product that will change their appearance to look younger; rarely are members of the LGBTQ+ community shown in any real life manner; rarely are disabilities displayed for anything other than comedy sake. And yet all of these groups make up our society and are what the real America looks like. Those running the media are clearly not interested in showing diversity or the real make up of our society, in fear that we will all feel inclusion and possibly some power.
Recently when an advertisement, or award or story features someone in these marginalized communities, people show support and make a big deal about it, but this should not be the case. It shouldnt be abnormal to see yourself represented in media, advertising, film or tv. Due to the rarity of this, it is also unclear if they are attempting to promote awareness for these communities or if they are using them for the attention. That being said, they wouldnt have anything to sell if they showed unique people being happy as they are. How would they make money if we all chose to ignore the deep seeded marketing in our brains and stop dieting, stop dying our hair, stop attempting to be the norm that a small part of our population has pushed on us and stop buying into the idea that we are not enough without these products. The key to any marketing is to show how life isnt as good without this one thing, how that one object will make you happy, but no one thing is going to change your life and until we stop buying in to this idea, this marketing will never change.
I am a big fan of the Killing Us Softly series and lectures, which spends a lot of time discussing the objectification of women in media. I feel like I would be remiss to not touch on this. The blatant use of the womens body in media and advertising has a direct correlation with how our society treat women and their bodies. By displaying women (which are almost always white, thin and tall) as objects instead of humans, we are telling people to not respect the entire sex as human beings. It is very important to look at this marketing and see through these tactics so to not be seduced by the idea that women are here to be used and not seen. This has brainwashed our society into believing the women are lesser than and to abuse them is not only ok, but actually normal. We cannot allow this to go on, as advertising is more places than ever with social media. When children see a beer commercial for example, and a sexy women is serving a guy, the boy will see that women are there to be attractive and serve him and the girl will see an unrealistic standard to live up to, appearance wise, and seek for a males attention and approval. These are not things we immediately think about when viewing a commercial, but thats why the subconscious has shaped our capitalistic society into a place in which we are all constantly trying to buy change and happiness instead of being content just as we are.
It’s interesting this discussion has opened today, the day that South African activist Zonzibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe 2019. She had repeatedly stated her views regarding gender roles and social norms of female beauty. In “Killing Us Softly”, Jean Kilbourne talks about how mass media, and advertising, propogates ideas and norms which insidiously affect viewers and hence shape their views of both the world and themselves. I have seen this first hand – in Bangladesh, where I grew up, it is not uncommon to see adverts for “Fair and Lovely” and “Fair and Handsome” facial creams, which supposedly make the consumers of such creams more beautiful by changing their skin tone. As for the wider world, as shocking as it may sound, there are still some examples of objectification, stereotyping and nuanced sexism/racism in mass media today. One of the more high profile cases in recent times, has to do with Audi, the German car manufacturer, who aired an ad in China in which a groom’s mother “inspects” the bride-to-be, before a red Audi shows up with the caption “An important decision must be made carefully.” The advert attempts to draw a connection between buying a car and marrying a woman, the objectification could not be clearer.
However, there have been heartening developments in terms of advertising and mass media. We have seen a proliferation of TV shows and movies based on breaking norms regarding gender roles as of late, The Marvelous Ms. Maisel and Fleabag come to mind. We have also seen more advertisements that have openly campaigned against the gender norms of old, and have seen more and more female ambassadors of brands, particularly sports brands.
Yet, the question we must keep in mind is this: Are these mass media moguls trying to break old gender norms in order to correct their misdeeds, or have they simply realised that marketing towards a broader audience will get them higher profits? If so, do their intentions, altruistic or otherwise, matter when they are tools of positive social change? And finally, who defines “positive” social change?
Miss Universe 2019 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/12/09/786312377/miss-universe-2019-is-young-gifted-and-an-outspoken-believer-in-black-girl-magic
Jean Kilbourne’s TED talk https://youtu.be/Uy8yLaoWybk
Fair and Lovely India ad https://youtu.be/ex0iJHLqxt0
Audi China ad https://amp-usatoday-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/491191001?amp_js_v=a2&_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQCKAE%3D#aoh=15759502704210&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&_tf=From%20%251%24s&share=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fstory%2Fmoney%2Fcars%2F2017%2F07%2F19%2Faudi-sexist-ad-china%2F491191001%2F
“Killing us Softly” really opened my eyes to the raw truth about how certain advertising is negatively affecting all of us. In car ads and beer commercials, there are beautiful women who are exploited as sex symbols. I recently just saw a food commercial that was sexualizing women. The message is that it’s “okay” to comment on women’s bodies as if they are the possession of someone else’s. But, it’s really not okay.
These unrealistic expectations are not only ridiculous but detrimental. Those fast food commercials of models scarfing down cheeseburgers shown in the movie have created this fantasy that 1000 calories pair well with a bikini and hot body. These absurd commercials and countless others create unrealistic ideas in men of what women should look like. Since the media so easily enhances a women’s body and face, it leads to distorted and unhealthy ideas in men. I’ve heard guys say, “She needs to lose some weight first.” I’ve also heard guys complain when a girl orders a salad.
In the movie, Jean Kilbourne stated, “Men don’t live in a world where their bodies are routinely scrutinized, criticized, and judged whereas women and girls do.” No wonder body image issues and depression is so prevalent. Just a simple trip to the grocery store is another example of the judgmental and unhealthy emphasis that our society places on our bodies. The magazine aisles are filled with thin women promoting how to lose weight or what to do to get the perfect (insert body part here). We are told to conform to impossible beauty standards and picked apart by the media. The mass media’s use of such images sends an implicit message to both women and men that to be considered good looking they must partake in unhealthy diets, extreme exercises, and body modification enhancers. Such standards of beauty are basically unattainable. They should focus more on promoting health on the inside.
This type of marketing affects men too. Society portrays good looking men to have six pack abs and broad shoulders. Body image is evident in the gym as men are frequently looking in the mirror to check out their muscles. Ads depict men as masculine and strong. They are told to not show weakness and bury their emotions which is very unhealthy.
It is unfortunate that our culture sends these messages about what is attractive and what is not. Sadly, as long as people are quiet this problem will only get worse. However, I am glad more people are speaking up about it such as Jean Kilbourne and people of influence like Kate Winslet who boldly shared about how the media altered her body on a magazine cover. We need more people who are willing to stand up and challenge the media and marketing companies.