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From me to you, highlighting challenges faced by girls

Dear Daughters, If Sex Sells Why Don’t We See Scantily Clad Men in Advertisements?

Dear Daughters,

Below is a video of the talk Dr. Caroline Heldman gave at TEDxYouth@SanDiego on “The Sexy Lie”. She points out that 96% of sexually objectified images are of women. She defines sexual objectification as the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure. She describes our society as one so inundated with sexually objectified images that most people cannot even identify an image that is sexually objectifying. So she came up with this test. While viewing an image as yourself these seven questions. If the answer to just one of them is yes, then you are looking at a sexually objectified image.

1. Does the image show only part(s) of a sexualized person’s body? In other words, does part of the person stand in for the whole person?

2. Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object?

3. Does the image show a sexualized person as interchangeable?

4. Does the image affirm the idea of violating the bodily integrity of a sexualized person that can’t consent?

5. Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of that person? The example Dr. Heldman used here is a closeup of a young woman’s face. The young woman is pictured naked from the top of the chest up and she is laying on her back with a seductive look on her face. The words on the ad are, “You know you’re not her first but do you really care”? This is an advertisement for pre-owned vehicles.

6. Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity (something that can be bought and sold)?

7. Does the image treat a sexualized person’s body as a canvas?

As her talk continues, she challenge the statement that “sex sells”. She argues that most women are heterosexual and women are sexual beings and if it was sex we are selling then we would be seeing half naked men everywhere in advertising. The reason that doesn’t happen she argues is because something far bigger is being sold here. What is being sold to the men is the idea that they are sexual subjects. The objectified advertising tells them that they are in the driver’s seat. She argues that it makes men feel powerful to see pictures of objectified women everywhere. She says that women are being sold the idea that this is the way we get our value and that this is the way to become the ideal sex object. So it is not sex that is selling, it is the idea of subjectivity and objectivity that are being sold. Did you ever notice that we see men’s magazines with scantily clad women and we see women’s magazines with scantily clad women? If it was sex they were selling wouldn’t there be scantily clad men in the women’s magazines?

Dr. Heldman describes that girls and women who are raised in a society where they are objectified begin to self-objectify, which results in many devastating effects such as depression, low GPAs, low-self-esteem, eating disorders and sexual dysfunction to name a few. Would you believe that this self-objectification affects our ability to get along with other women? It creates female competition in which girls compete with other girls for male attention, “as if it is the Holy Grail of our existence”. She points out that we end up competing with other women for our own self-esteem.

Dr. Heldman says the solution to fixing the objectifying society that we live in is relatively simple and everyone can play a part.

Girls can:

  • stop consuming damaging material
  • stop competing with other women/girls
  • stop seeking attention for your body

Boys can:

  • be a supportive ally
  • stop evaluating girls/women based on appearance
  • speak out against objectification

We all have the power to stop the sexual objectification of girls/women. All we have to do is stop accepting it as part of the world we live in. Dr. Heldman finishes her talk by asking, “What better world will you build?”


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