The day after first reading Ashley Judd’s editorial about the media hysteria over her allegedly puffy face, I was sitting in my doctor’s office, waiting for a checkup, and thumbing through the February, 2012 issue of Vogue magazine.
As I flipped through the pages of Vogue, I came across this ad for CoverGirl makeup.
On it, actress Sofia Vergara is striking a stereotypically sultry Hollywood pose, resplendent in an elegant, off-the-shoulder white evening gown. And yet, emblazoned across the ad are these words:
“Go out without my CoverGirl on? Are you crazy?“
Had I not just read Ashley Judd’s article the day before, I don’t think I actually would have noticed the ad, other than perhaps internally “tsk-tsking” at how silly it is. I mean, really; in the grand scheme of things, how critical is it whether I choose to draw on better eyebrows?
This time, however, this CoverGirl makeup ad made me stop and think a little deeper about not just what it was saying, but also what it was selling. That is when #TheConversation became very real for me.
What is that ad telling us?
Obviously they’re trying to sell makeup; that’s the whole point. The ad subtly proclaims, “Wear this makeup, and you can look like Sofia Vergara! In fact, wear this makeup, and you can be just like Sofia Vergara! If she likes our stuff, then you should, too!”
But there’s more to it than that. So let’s ask that question a slightly different way.
What is that ad really telling us?
CoverGirl, or at least their ad agency, wants us to think that if a glamorous, beautiful, famous actress like Ms. Vergara, of TV’s Modern Family, wouldn’t dare go outside without her makeup on, then neither should the rest of us. They want us to use CoverGirl, because their makeup is soooo good, it makes even Sofia Vergara feel inadequate without it.
When viewed more critically, the ad might just as well be saying, “Look at this! Sofia Vergara is not confident enough to be seen without makeup on. She’s gorgeous, famous, and is paid to look that way, yet even she can’t make it in the real world without supplementation of some kind. Let’s get real: if even Sofia Vergara isn’t self-confident and assured enough to go without makeup, well then who are you to think that you look fine?”
It’s a destructive, demoralizing message, and one which our daughters and sons are ill-equipped to deal with. Frankly, neither are most of the rest of us.
It tells us we aren’t good enough. It says we need to be more–better, prettier, thinner, sexier. We need to look like Sofia Vergara or we may as well pack it in and hide in a cave somewhere. We need to buy these products because only then will we hope to have any chance of being accepted.
Notice that? It means that, to be accepted, none of us are allowed to be who we really are.
God forbid we should go out without our makeup on.
As we flip through these glossy magazines and look at the various ads, we have to ask ourselves as women:
- What is it that advertisers are really selling us?
- What are we women telling each other about ourselves, and our gender, when we accept these labels as normal?
- What are we telling men about us as women when we accept these labels as normal?
- What are we teaching our daughters and sons about us?
- What are our daughters and sons learning about themselves by following our example?
- What are men, and children, internalizing about our beliefs and expectations, and about how we wish to be treated as women?
An undergraduate study on the objectification of women in advertisements, done by Kacy D. Greening of Capital University, finds the following:
Undoubtedly, the sexualized portrayal of women in the media has significantly negative outcomes. These negative outcomes are not only affecting adult women but also young girls. Females are buying cosmetics and beauty products at increasingly younger ages. Recently, researchers have begun exploring self-surveillance, body shame, and disordered eating tendencies in preadolescent females and found that girls as young as seven are showing signs of disordered eating and self-surveillance (Good, Mills, Murnen, & Smolak, 2003).
From The Objectification and Dismemberment of Women in the Media by Kacey D. Greening
These ads are everywhere, from TV to magazines to the internet. And even though we remember the 1950s as a very sexist time in advertising, thing really haven’t gotten any better.
Of course it doesn’t only happen in product advertisements. Even the magazine articles themselves are sometimes photographed in such a way that they are obviously appealing directly to men–even though the article may be about strong, talented, capable women. Check out this Vanity Fair article about women in television:
The article in Vanity Fair is about how television is “enrich[ing] the iconography and collective lore of pop culture.” The photo, featuring stars of seven current popular TV shows, envisions them in a “Girls’ Night In, post-Emmy picnic, sleepover jam session”.
I couldn’t help but gape at the Vanity Fair picture above. I wondered who they were appealing to in creating this image of a Girls’ Night In/Sleepover. Are they catering to women? Or men? And what are they trying to sell with this image, anyway?
The Vanity Fair picture is gorgeous, I’ll grant you that. However, it looks more like a lingerie ad in a men’s magazine, or something you might see in a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Certainly the Vanity Fair picture doesn’t even remotely resemble any sleepover or girls’ night in that I’ve ever experienced.
Who are the Vanity Fair women dressed up for, anyway?
I know, I get it–it’s a photo for a glossy women’s magazine, and they aren’t going to show the stars in their flannel jammies eating ice cream–even if that might be more realistic. However, the photo creates an expectation, or at least a fantasy, of what life should be like. Yet I wouldn’t want my daughters to look at that picture and think that this is what women do when they hang out together.
Okay, women–when’s the last time you had a girls’ night in with your best chums? Did it look more like the Vanity Fair photo, or did it look more like one of these other pictures?
What was on your must-have list of accessories that night: a bustier, stilettos, garters and thigh-high hose? Or did your list include a pair of comfy pajamas, your favorite romantic comedy DVDs, some popcorn, and a margarita?
I can’t think of a single woman I know who would choose the Vanity Fair option. Who wants to lounge around at home with her best buds in revealing lingerie, occasionally tottering around on sky-high heels while grabbing another bowl of popcorn?
All any of us can think of when wearing high heels is how wonderful it feels to take the damn things off!
These are just two examples of what a REAL Girls’ Night In might look like. I can say with certainty I’ve never seen one look like the spread in Vanity Fair, nor do I want to. A great movie, a best friend or two or three, a pitcher of margaritas, and great conversation sounds a lot more fun to me.
Which image do you think is more realistic? Why can’t magazines showcase more everyday, normal images instead? Who says bustiers and stilettos trump fuzzy slippers and chocolate?
Finally, why does everything have to be so hypersexualized?
Below is a video you should take a look at. It helps explain why these advertisements have it all wrong, and why what they’re teaching our kids is so troublesome.
What do you think? Are the ways women are portrayed in magazines reasonable or realistic? Are we doing harm to women, men, and kids when we fail to see the blatant objectification of women in media and advertisements?
Oh, and I have one more question:
What do you think would happen if women everywhere suddenly decided to go out in public, without their makeup on?