Advertising promotes more than mere products in our popular culture. Because images used in advertising are often idealized, they eventually set the standard which we, in turn, feel we must live up to. Advertisements serve to show us what the ideal image is, and further tell us how to obtain it. Advertisers essentially have the power to promote positive images or negative images. Unfortunately, most of the roles portrayed by women tend to fit the latter description. The irony lies therein since it is these negative images which have been most successful in selling products.
It is easy to understand the appeal which these ads hold for men, as they place women in an inferior role; one characterized by helplessness, fragility, and vulnerability. Certainly one can not deny that visual images serve to create the ideal female beauty within the material realm of consumer culture. The problem is that if one strays from this ideal, there’s the risk of not being accepted by men. Advertisers, by setting ideas, not only sell their products but in fact reaffirm traditional gender roles in mainstream America.
Women portrayed in sexual ads are depicted as objects and commodities, to be consumed by men for visual pleasure and by women for self-definition. Any depiction of a woman in scant clothing ultimately makes her look vulnerable and powerless, especially when placed next to a physically stronger man. Studies show that advertisements will concentrate primarily on a woman’s body parts rather than her facial expressions. Also, it was proven that over 50% of commercials portraying women contained at least one camera shot focusing on her chest. Men enjoy these images, and sadly, women tend to try to embody them, regardless of the extent to which they degrade themselves.
Perhaps one of the most recent, successful, and controversial ad campaigns of the nineties is that of Calvin Klein. Ironically, in contrast to the normal, objectifying advertisements that deface women altogether, Klein focuses on his model’s expressions. However, these expressions are similar to those of a scared child. The naked female model, in turn, looks even more vulnerable than when she was faceless. Here, in this ad, Kate Moss is depicted as an innocent scared child. Her fingers touch her lips as if she is not permitted to speak, while her eyes look as if they are bruised. Moss’ breast is exposed in this image, but instead of appearing voluptuous, Moss appears to be almost prepubescent. She stares vacantly and helplessly into the camera.
Again, women see these images as attractive to men and subsequently feel the need to embody them. Unfortunately, the body of Kate Moss is an unrealistic and unattainable ideal for most women. This distorted “ideal body image” is one of the leading causes of the recent rise of anorexia in young girls. The “waif” woman image is causing extreme low self-esteem for women in the nineties. The advertisement proves effective because normal women can never, and will never look like Kate Moss. All the hollow attempts will only bring more attention to these marketing strategies, and ultimately more business for Calvin Klein.
It is difficult to pinpoint the cause for Klein’s overwhelming success despite the nature of his advertisements. Before Calvin Klein’s waif image developed, it was thought that concentration on a woman’s voluptuous physical features was what intrigued men. But this idea of Moss as a helpless child, with no real feminine curves at all, reiterates the argument that the male attraction to certain ads lies in the sexual power it gives them. Women please men in their nudity, their purity, and their body size. Women can never be happy with themselves until their representation in advertising become more reflective of reality. But if the ads become more realistic, then the advertisements aren’t able to sell their self-help images. Essentially the world of morals and advertising, if the two can logically coexist, form a constant vicious cycle.