The Gendered and Sexualised Role of Advertising


Arshia Taqi is a third year law student at Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai and is also a trained yoga teacher.

The Gendered and Sexualised Role of Advertising

Advertisement, the basis of mass media, the tool that has the power to sell any idea, the basis on which every industry continues to survive and thrive has successfully managed to mould our mindset to believe that perfection is achievable. Yes, we women can achieve perfection, consequently, be desired by men and be looked upon by the society. Step 1- do not be happy with the way you are, you are either too dark or too fair, obese or akin to a skeleton, your hair, your skin, your nails, dressing sense, the way you carry yourself is not in conformity with the norms of the society. But hey! There exist products and advisors for all your imperfections which you never knew existed till they made you think about it.

Isn’t this what advertising does?   

A lot of us say that we don’t really get influenced by advertisements and buy products because we need them. But in reality it is advertisements that influence the products and brands we buy. They are put forth in a manner that touch upon our insecurities and create a market for the products they want to sell. Throughout history, the media has used stereotypes to convey a false perception to society of a certain group. By displaying such negative and confining images in advertisements, advertisements are limiting the self-concept of young impressionable adults. By growing up around such images, the young adults are taught that the ideas presented are the “set” way of life, and are swayed to believe that these false perceptions are reality.

Women, especially, are made to feel inadequate and imperfect; they give us standards for social status, sex appeal, trends and physical perfection. While trying to appeal to the society’s idea of perfection we tend to lose our self-esteem and consider ourselves inferior since we find it difficult to achieve the benchmark that has been set. We become very sensitive to any remark that hints at our flaws due to which we may avoid social gatherings, become conscious of our food habits and develop eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia by going on crash diets and intensive work-outs. There are extreme cases where girls have gone to the extent of spending thousands and thousands of dollars on plastic surgery to look like Barbie dolls, even a couple of ribs were removed to attain this unrealistic physique.

Sexual and gendered advertising appears to be a norm in society because it can be manipulated for basically any situation. Sexualized images such as women in lingerie stimulate the brain and influence us towards purchasing the product. Only a part of a woman’s body is often shown in ads, with the rest being viewed as “useless content”.  The powerful tool of subliminal messaging is used to twist our perception of an ad and leave the message conveying a warped meaning. This trick can be concealed in anything that is image-based, such as candy, liquor, fragrance, cosmetics and fashion goods. Deceit is crucial in advertising and such devices distort the depiction of beauty for profit. Sex appeal in media revolves around very specific gender rules, and we are taught that it is crucial to follow them to prevent ourselves from being ridiculed. The media takes those features, exaggerate them, and then link it directly to a product. “Advertising doesn’t always mirror how people are acting, but how they are dreaming… In a sense what they are doing is wrapping up your emotions and selling them back to you”   (Jhally, 1989).

Social trends greatly affect the teenagers and their self-concepts. Knowing what is “in”, is the best way to make them “fit-in”. People get a personal satisfaction when it comes to buying certain items. The youth feel this satisfaction because these things are “trendy’ and “cool”. This is what companies aim at. There is a way for companies to scout out early information on what trends are begging to bud in order for them to gain money. “Cool Hunters” are types of people who try to find out what is cool before it becomes a big fad.

Advertisements are creating a limited self-concept for teens, by enforcing the idea that they must fulfill an unrealistic perception of young adults. It is important as young consumers to be aware of the influence that the media subconsciously has on us, in order to remain intelligent and informed. We must focus on our qualities that are not related to appearance, pick friends who are not overly concerned about weight or appearance, exercise for fitness and health and not for weight control, if you can’t get over your bad body-image consider seeking professional help and learn to accept how you look and build on the physical, intellectual and social skills and abilities that you have.

Opinions are of the writer.



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