Sexualization Defined: Objectification

Sexually objectified advertisements often feature women's body parts rather than a whole person. They are not seen as a "person with capacity for independent action and decision making;" nope, they're just seen as another product to purchase, like Victoria Beckham's legs in this Marc Jacobs ad. There is also a strong suggestion of violence because of the disembodied legs.

Another common objectified body part is a woman's
mouth, as shown i
n this Burger King ad:

Sexual objectification also applies when a person is "made into a thing for others' sexual use."
Think of all the ads you've seen where women are portrayed in submissive, sexual poses.

So What's the Big Deal?
Girls learn to think of themselves in objectified terms. This self-objectification is a process whereby girls learn to think of and treat their bodies as objects of others' desires. They learn to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance.
Objectification also strongly affects males' perceptions of girls. When boys and men view girls and women as sexual objects, they become unable to relate to other aspects of their nature or characteristics. At the extreme end of things, it can lead to increased violence against women, including sexual abuse or assault.

Sexualization Defined

Media stereotypes and the negative impact of sexualization on girls

We're all aware of how women are often portrayed in the media. I know you've seen magazine ads, commercials, and internet advertisements that show women half-dressed and in seductive positions.
So what's the big deal?

Sexualization of women and girls has
become an increasing problem. The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was formed to examine and research the sexualization of girls through media and other cultural messages, focusing particularly on the prevalence of these messages and their impact on girls. In 2004, they produced a report that examined the issues related to sexualization in advertising, especially in regards to children. In my next few posts, I'll be presenting the findings of the report. A summary of the report can be found here.

First off, the report defines sexualization.
There are four components that constitute sexualization. The wording used is the exact wording used in the report.
  • A person's value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics.
  • A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy
  • A person is sexually objectified--that is, made into a thing for others' sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making
  • Sexuality is inappropriately imposed on a person
The first time I read these four components, they all sounded the same to me, and I'll admit that I didn't really understand exactly what they meant. To help you out, I've searched the internet for ads that fit each one of these components. Keep in mind that many ads feature more than one of them.
This post will focus on the first component: that a person's value comes only from their sexual appeal.

Sexual Appeal

Many ads portray women in a light that makes it seem like their value comes only from their sexual appeal or behavior, often to the exclusion of other characteristics.
The women in these ads might be intelligent, funny, compassionate, or even extremely accomplished tap dancers, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from the ad. The ad only focuses on their sexual appeal in order to sell a product.

Carl's Jr. commercials are notorious for doing this:

This phenomena also appears quite often in popular music. Think of all the songs that make it seem as though looks and sexiness are the only characteristics that are important in a female. Although it is more prevalent in genres like hip hop or rap, it unfortunately pervades many types of music. Consider the country song sung by Trace Adkins--"Honky Tonk Badonkadonk." The whole focus of the song is about a woman's butt. We don't know a single thing about this woman except that a)she has a big rear end and b) the men all like to stare at it ("We hate to see her go but love to watch her leave").

So what's the problem?
By portraying women as being little more than sexually appealing, the media makes it appear as though this is the only desirable quality in women. When girls see these ads, what do they start to believe about themselves? Do these commercials or songs encourage them to excel in school, stand up for themselves, or to polish their talents? No. They come away believing that sexiness is the most important characteristic a person can have.
I want you to also consider what these ads are telling boys about how girls should be. Do they encourage men to respect and love a woman for her personality? Or are they telling them that it is more important for a woman to be sexy?


A New Definition

If beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, then why has there become such a narrow idea of what the word "beautiful" means?
The name of my blog, re-defining beauty, is meant to emphasize that not only is there a need to redefine beauty, but there is also a need to define beauty for ourselves in the first place...hence the hyphenated name. I wanted it to not only say "redefining beauty" but "defining beauty" as well.
Obviously, it won't be easy to redefine beauty for ourselves or others, but I hope that this blog will help you realize just how important it can be.

TRY IT: Start thinking about how you define beauty in your own life. Start looking around you at people that you consider beautiful and notice what it is about them that stands out. Why do you consider them to be beautiful? Did you decide for yourself that they were "beautiful people" or did someone else decide it for you (and you just accepted it)?



What is beauty?

I am constantly bombarded with other people's answers to this question. Everywhere I look, it seems like someone else is telling me how I should dress, act, cut my hair, do my makeup...
In other words, I am frequently being told
what beauty is and what I need to do to fit the standard.
And I know I'm not the only one.

This happens to every one of us every single day. It seems like we can't escape it--whether we're turning on the TV, flipping through a magazine, logging onto Facebook, or even just walking down the street, we are assailed with images of what the world wants us to view as beautiful. In fact, we are subjected to over
3,000 advertisements a day, 90% of which are sexualized images portraying the bodies of women in some form. These ads endorse a narrow and unrealistic standard of physical beauty while conveying the message that a person's value comes only from his or her sexual appeal, even to the exclusion of other characteristics.
What does this mean to the nation's girls?
More and more girls, especially those ages 8-17, are developing low self-esteem. Seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, and many admit that it is hard to do well in school when they don't feel good about the way they look. Seventy-five percent of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in unhealthy activities such as disordered eating, cutting, smoking, or drinking.

It is disheartening to realize what many girls in this country are going through. That's why I intend to focus on educating girls and their families about the importance of cultivating self-esteem by helping them embrace their own beauty and adopt positive attitudes about their bodies.

My name is Kelli Dougal, and I am Miss Carbon County Utah 2010. Basically, I am a titleholder at the local level of the Miss America pageant. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Miss America Organization, each contestant has a platform that she focuses on during the year of her reign. My platform is entitled
Redefining Beauty, and it focuses on promoting self-esteem and self-acceptance.
This problem is huge, and it affects a lot more people than just the girls in Carbon County. So, I decided to make a blog in order to reach out to people everywhere dealing with these issues.

My blog is going to be divided up into three parts:
1) Media stereotypes and the negative impact of sexualization on girls
2) Helping girls build self-esteem and self-acceptance
3) Guides for parents to help their daughters

Well, that's the plan. This blog is going to be a work in progress and I plan on having regular updates. I hope you'll be able to realize why this issue is so important to me and that I can help you understand how it affects you in your own life. I also hope that something I say will strike a chord with you--if I can help even just one girl to see herself in a new light, then I consider that a success.