The Objectification of Women in Advertising

How advertising often treats women as a commodity

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Since the introduction of advertising many centuries ago, women have been objectified, and in some instances, insulted or degraded. In 2010, a five-minute video featuring Jean Kilbourne went viral, racking up over 2 million views; it covered the extremely negative effects of advertising on women and girls.

Despite the efforts of many women (and men), it's apparent that we're still seeing the same patterns of objectification and the mindless use of semi-naked women in advertising campaigns.


In many respects, the problem has escalated. An image of a semi-naked woman in the seventies and eighties isn't even close to images of semi-naked women today. With the proliferation of Photoshop and the prevalence of retouching, women are not just flawless, they are portrayed as anatomically impossible. this is harmful on many levels, to women and girls, alike.

The "Ideal" Woman in Advertising

Advertising, marketing, and the fashion industry have created a new type of woman that does not exist in the real world. You know this "Barbie Doll" like very well, but let's look at some of her main features:

  • She has no wrinkles, blemishes, or scars and her skin is perfect.
  • She has impossibly long, smooth, and shapely legs.
  • Her waist so small it would make a Barbie doll jealous.
  • Her ample breasts and buttocks are gravity-defying miracles.
  • She has a head of silky, radiant hair that looks like CGI. 
  • Her eyes are dazzlingly bright.
  • Her teeth are beyond white, perfectly straight, and almost look unreal.

What men, and Women, are Taught to Desire

Men from an early age are told to desire this woman. This is the woman featured in ads for perfumes and lingerie. She is the centerfold in Playboy. She is the standard to set your life by.

Women, from the same early age, are told they must look like this woman. They should aim to have those long legs, that perfect skin, beautiful hair, and incredible body. 

Here's the problem; that woman does not exist, anywhere. She is the product of hours in the makeup chair and days of photo retouching. Her waist is not that skinny because no woman with a 23" waist wears a D-cup bra without the aid of implants. Every woman has imperfections in her skin because every woman is human. 

What Advertising is Really Selling

Advertising's main function is to create a need so that a company can provide a product or service to meet that need. For example, men drink certain brands of beer because they associate them with advertising's impossibly perfect (and highly sexy) women. "If I drink that beer, I'll get that woman." While women and girls, on the other hands, buy certain clothes, foods, and makeup products in a vain attempt to resemble them.

Can Anything Be Done?

Maybe. But it's a tough road.

Several brands, including Dove and Aerie, have tried to move away from typical images of perfection. They claim to be "Photoshop-free," and celebrate real, diverse women. Of course, they still use very attractive women in their campaigns, because many people are superficial to a degree.


If you work at an agency, try and steer the client away from typical, 'shopped' images of women. Champion the use of plus-size (or size 10) women in ads. 

Beer brands are, thankfully, moving away from semi-naked models as well. The craft beer movement is on the rise, and they don't need Playboy bunnies to help them sell inventory. Although, sadly, the majority of men will still be attracted to cliched sexy images.

What the Future Looks Like

There will always be the objectification of both women and men in advertising because everyone covets beautiful people. But, if you work at an ad firm, try and Remember why you got into advertising—likely it was for the creativity, not the sex.