“How Do I Look?” “Do You Think He Notices Me?” and other Worthless Questions

As our culture evolves, I find that one of the most important aspects of our evolution is technology. From the wheel to the internet, every invention has contributed to a change in the way we go about our lives. This is why I think the media plays a key role in the way we conduct ourselves.

My parents have always said that they didn’t have to experience the publicity that technology has brought to society to the same extremity that we do. It gets worse for every generation and the surplus of messages about how we should live our lives has grown to be outrageous. Everything is accessible to everyone at any time.

Our culture has become hyper-sexualized due to the evolution of the media. It’s so hard not to be exposed to the bounty of inappropriate messages that don’t get filtered. Any 8-year-old who can work a computer (which has become very common considering we are the ‘digital native’ generation) can access the world on one screen.

In a world where advertising firms use whatever images will get them noticed, it seems almost inevitable that when I walk down Houston Street in New York, there will be a huge poster for Calvin Klein Jeans on the corner. The ads usually consist of two half-naked people in some sex position. These billboards are ubiquitous and I have walked past one every day since I was 11 years old when I started coming to school on my own in the sixth grade.

Calvin Klein Ad For Jeans featuring Jamie Dornan and Eva Mendes
Photo Credit: Steven Klein

Images like the one to the left is what the average person sees walking down any street in New York City. This ad features both a topless woman and a topless man embracing each other, where the woman almost seems like she’s pinned down. She has an incoherent look on her face and he looks like he’s in the middle of a wet dream. He’s also on top of her with his arm kind of covering her perhaps showing how he is ‘protecting her.’

This ad sends so many paternalistic and sexist messages and it’s supposed to be just an ad for jeans!

Another outrageous part of the advertising industry is that companies selling products that have little to no sexual relevance, find ways to make their products very sexual.

For example, an ad for Zipp Ears headphones features a woman trying to get a man’s attention. The first thing I get from this ad is that I need to get a man’s attention by showcasing my body for him and that that is the only way I will get his attention. Secondly, it says that using my body as a tool is normal. It also teaches boys that if a girl wants his attention, she will do more than ask for it and all he needs to do is sit back and enjoy. It also uses her body as a tool for the headphones they are selling.

These sexual images are inescapable because they have become in-your-face. The preposterous thing about these images is that they have become so shameless. As mentioned above, Calvin Klein is notorious for putting out risqué ads to say the least.

Some may say, “Oh, it’s just a commercial,” but I’ve come to realize that it affects me deep down. These messages show little girls that pushing themselves on men is the way to get their respect and affection. It might cause me to constantly be looking for attention without any consideration for the fact that I could get the right guy’s attention by just being myself. It he really likes me, he’ll notice me for what’s inside and not for what the media says he should notice.

But these messages have become ingrained in our minds that we don’t even notice it. Every time I see that billboard it chips a little bit more off of my dignity. I never see a headline in women’s magazines on ‘how to get smarter’ or ‘how to succeed in the business world.’Instead magazines like Seventeen, Marie Claire, Vogue, Elle and others feature headlines about hair, beauty, makeup, and advice on how to get a man or lose weight or enhance my appearance.

Sometimes this actually makes me feel like there is no point in trying to be taken seriously in a world that revolves around aesthetics. No matter how much I may accomplish in my lifetime, I will never be thought of seriously. It will always come down to the way I look or how I dress.

Even the most accomplished women like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and even Sarah Palin are reduced to their looks because of how attractive or unattractive they may be as well as for the confidence they exude. If you’re not the sexy, ditzy girl that the media portrays, than you are the bitchy, masculine woman who won’t shut up (as both Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem and even Sarah Palin have all been deemed).

January 2010 Issue of Seventeen Magazine Featuring Lauren Conrad

In the documentary, Miss Representation, powerful women in the media talk about the ways in which women have become more and more objectified. Even women we admire such as Michelle Obama has been criticized for wearing strapless dresses or gymnastics Olympian, Gabby Douglas has been ridiculed because her hair apparently wasn’t “done.”

In addition, the news has become very provocative, showcasing female newscasters who show cleavage and a lot of leg in a newsroom meant for reporting serious events. Newscasters such as Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow speak about the way people criticize their looks for being too “femme” in Couric’s case and too “butch” in Maddow case.

This is why I find Ms. Magazine revolutionary. Here is a magazine that features women for their intelligence and accomplishments and not for looks. It’s the only magazine that I know of that focuses on people because of who they are and what their lives stand for instead of what they look like.

The 2012 spring/summer issue of Ms.Magazine features an inspirational article titled “King Peggy.” She is the king, not the queen, of Ghana who inherited the throne from her uncle and used her opportunity to change her community.

When she first started she said, “They wanted me to be just a figurehead.” In fact, those in power beneath her started embezzling money. After she put them in jail, people started to respect her, because she had shown that she was capable of change and she was there to help the community.

Ms. Magazine Spring/Summer 2012 Issue

Ms. Magazine focuses on women with stories to tell instead of what their beauty secrets are, or how they lost 10 pounds in only 1 week. I want a role model in my media; someone who I can aspire to be.

If there were more magazines like Ms. Magazine or if more girls knew more about what mainstream ads mean, we wouldn’t be as naïve and think that we have to do what the media tells us. Then maybe I’d feel as though I could become more than something to look at; that my voice would be heard and that I could be taken seriously.

14 thoughts on ““How Do I Look?” “Do You Think He Notices Me?” and other Worthless Questions

  1. This post is incredibly relatable, and I feel it will be for all females. The effect that the Calvin Klein billboard had on you was something that needed to be shared. It’s as if advertising agencies don’t realise that their “target audience” aren’t the only ones who see it. Surely someone would have raised the concern that thousands of people of all ages, particularly youth and young children would be the ones subjected to viewing that raunchy billboard every day, seriously damaging their views of women and men, let alone themselves.

    “Every time I see that billboard it chips a little bit more off of my dignity.”

    The sexualisation of something so simple like headphones?! That truly amazed me. I’d never seen that commercial before, and I’m glad I haven’t. I wouldn’t have even known they were advertising headphones had it not been for the very end. It looks like it’s advertising for a porn site, or a “workout sex buddy” (which I don’t even think is a thing, but it probably is).

    It was very informative the way you related the portrayal of women in power in magazines like Cosmo and Seventeen, to that of Ms. Magazine. It’s as if women are expected not to pay attention to what it important. All we care about is what they look like, who they’re dating, and what they’re wearing – and that truly disgusts me. Particularly when it concerns women of immense success who have overcome many sexist challenges to get where they are – it’s as if they can’t ever win. When is enough, enough? How successful and powerful do you have to become as a woman, until you no longer face the sexist remarks that we are subjected to everyday?

    Your blog was very well done, informative and relatable. I enjoyed reading this as I could feel your annoyance to media, and the impact it has had on your life.

    Let’s hope Ms. Magazine will keep receiving the success it has, if not more as we move into the future.

    Well done!

  2. I completely agree with your assessment that ads such as the sexualized Calvin Klein Jeans ads are ubiquitous. Although they have become a big part of everyday live, and have become normalized as a result, once you really start to notice the advertisements you encounter every day, it’s clear that ones like this ARE ubiquitous.

    I like your interpretation of the Calvin Klein ad, especially when you talk about how “his arm [is] kind of covering her perhaps showing how he is ‘protecting her.’” When looking at this image, I see exactly what you’re saying, but I also get the vibe that he is not protecting her, but holding her down, and possibly even attacking her.

    I loved your analysis of the Zipp Ears ad where you talked about how it sends messages that say “I need to get a man’s attention by showcasing my body” and that “using my body as a tool is normal.” Your analysis of the different ways that women are portrayed in the media are spot on and shrewd! Awesome post!

  3. I particularly enjoyed this post. The title itself interested me to an extent! I love how you analyzed every part of the first photo, referencing body language, facial expressions, and general appearance.
    The part when you wrote “But these messages have become ingrained in our minds that we don’t even notice it. Every time I see that billboard it chips a little bit more off of my dignity. I never see a headline in women’s magazines on ‘how to get smarter’ or ‘how to succeed in the business world,’” spoke to me the most.

    I am an avid magazine reader, and I’ve always noticed that mens’ magazines like GQ and Esquire never have any articles or headings that read “How to Make Yourself Look Better” or “How to Make Her Notice You,” while they happen to be on the cover of every “Seventeen”” and “Glamour” magazine on store shelves.
    I agree with your point that situations like these may have girls wonder if they can be taken seriously. With Magazines like Ms., girls can find role models and increase their confidence. Through Ms., they can find women who inspire them to be taken seriously in the real world.

  4. I really agree with your analysis of the jean ad. If a billboard thats only real purpose is to sell jeans, why do they always sexualize women? To me, a lot of these types of ads seem like they’re trying to sell the woman rather than the product. Everyone always says “sex sells”. I’m curious if people are actually more likely to buy these jeans because of these types of advertisements.

  5. Great post, and very well argued. I’d like to read a similar one about advertising to male audiences–there’s a treasure trove to write about there (from the ludicrous Axe Body Spray commercials to confusing clothing ads in men’s magazines, to beer and alcohol commercials that almost exclusively are geared towards men, as though women don’t drink alcohol).

    Phoebethomases, I really like your question about whether people actually BUY what’s advertised. With jeans, people are going to buy what FITS THEM. Calvin Klein can strip down and suggestively pose as many models as he likes, but his jeans are always a good 10 inches too long for me! (Note to Calvin: most women are NOT six feet tall.)

  6. Your analysis of the Michelle Obama and Gabby Douglas was similar to the analysis Phoebe gave. As a society we care too much about what these successful females look like than their accomplishments. What does it mean when your judged more on your look than what you’ve actually done? That means all you have to do is fit the description and then you will be able to coast through life and everything will be presented to you. The fact that the easiest perceived way to attract a man’s attention is by showcasing your body, really show how priorities are mixed up.

  7. I want a role model I can admire too! Great blog! I can’t believe the world we live in sometimes. If our role models are supposed to be the women on the cover of magazines, well then were screwed. Luckily enough there is Ms. Magazine and women like Gloria Steinem, it is these things that give me hope for a better world.

    When you said, “these messages have become ingrained in our minds. We don’t even notice it. Every time I see that billboard it chips a little bit more off of my dignity.” I was like girl, you got it! We women are a group of people. If we’re represented by half-naked women in compromising positions than god help us we’re screwed. It is time for strong, independent, intelligent, brave women to be on the covers of magazines. We are the future and the people who control whether or not this world will change into something we can be proud of.

    Bravo!

  8. this is an remarkable examination of the sexualization of women in advertisement. you wrote “If he really likes me, he’ll notice me for what’s inside and not for what the media says he should notice.” it has come to my attention throughout my adolescence that in the view of far too many young men, the actually character of a girl matters close to nothing compared to her physicality speaking parallel to the quote above.

  9. Awesome post with a lot of great evidence and examples to back everything up. It is unbelievable that whenever there is a woman in some sort of power position, that they will somehow be discussed about their physical appearance. Society seems to have to ends of what a women is. If she is really “attractive”, then she is probably a bimbo. If she is really smart, she can’t be hot. Physical appearance so more of a topic about woman that it is for men, and it really puts women in an unfair place in society.

  10. Thank you for all of the wonderful critical comments everyone has left so far. I always wonder if those reading my posts can relate to what I’m saying and I think it’s crucial that it is relatable and that we have the power to take something that should be private, that has been made public in the media and mutilated and then bring these issues back into the personal sphere, though on a generally relatable level. Because something as huge as this billboard impacts thousands of lives on a daily basis and most people aren’t even aware of the message being planted (or at this point fertilized). I think that Phoebe poses an excellent question that I hadn’t even considered. I’ve seen tons of Calvin Klein Jeans ads, but have I ever bought a pair? I have not. And when I see the ad (and this has always been true, even before taking this class) it has never actually made me want to buy the jeans, in fact it actually makes me not want to buy them. Because if a product is worth it, why can’t we live in a world where promoting the truth and purpose of a product is the primary intention of an advertisement? These institutionalized images of beauty make me think about my choices. What products I buy, why I buy them or don’t buy them and why some products make me feel better or worse about myself. Because isn’t that also what advertising does? It makes you feel like you’re missing something that you need. And that product is what you need and what you are now going to want after seeing the ad.

  11. This statement: “my parents have always said that they didn’t have to experience the publicity that technology has brought to society to the same extremity that we do. It gets worse for every generation and the surplus of messages about how we should live our lives has grown to be outrageous. Everything is accessible to everyone at any time” is very well said. I feel like it explains why exactly the messages media sends have become stronger and more influential in our society. It’s because almost everyone, everywhere, at pretty much any time of the day, these messages can be accessed along with visuals, audio, and interaction. It’s crazy to think that this might be the main reason that the binary norms have actually become even more uniform and divided. It makes me think if, as a country, the only way we could really reform our society is by placing limits on all the media platforms. Thank you for your wonderful input, I enjoyed your post quite a lot. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  12. What a great blog post you wrote! Today’s world is surrounded by advertisements that do show example of hyper-sexualization. I like when you write “Any 8-year-old who can work a computer (which has become very common considering we are the ‘digital native’ generation) can access the world on one screen.” They are vulnerable to these images and it sinks into their thinking. It’s not only the cyber-world that this is happening, it even happens in the street. In places such as Times Square, Herald Square, or on the corner of Houston Street, large billboard promote products by using bodies of people. As more people see this kind of advertising on in their world, the more people will feel unsure about their bodies. What upsets me is how the web and most magazine criticize great female role models, such as Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, for how they look or what they wear. I agree with your last paragraph. If more people were to read more media such as Ms. Magazine, then it would have a great impact on the confidence of people. Media should contain more role models in advertisements, not actual models.

  13. I really like that you brought up the fact that the media’s influence on children has been at its strongest because of technology and because we are the “digital native generation.” I have never actually thought about that because ads have been around for a long time but now that ads are being presented on the internet and our lives are much more revolved around technology we are receiving even more negative messages. I feel you, I cannot walk down any street without being bombarded with an ad for some pants or a car that uses women to attract my attention. I cannot deny that it works in catching my attention and I have never been ashamed of it because I thought it was normal. Although now I am realizing that it was not the right thing to do and that that needs to change. We need more female role models like Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton.

  14. Awesome post! Just like Josey, I want a role model too! I want someone I can look up to, no matter what, someone who I feel has always done what is right, or at least acknowledged it when they’ve done something wrong! I have always felt that in the media there is such an emphasis on the way that women look, even female politicians or CEOs, that I was never able to look up to a woman in the media, because I knew very little about her personality, besides the category she had been put in by the media (i.e. Femme, Butch, Ditz, Bitch, etc.) “If you’re not the sexy, ditzy girl that the media portrays, than you are the bitchy, masculine woman who won’t shut up (as both Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem and even Sarah Palin have all been deemed).” I remember people always commenting on Sarah Palin, calling her a M.I.L.F. and saying how she was “too attractive” to be a politician. It was a different kind of sexism, a different way of putting her down. It was necessary to put her into a category, and since she was considered “attractive”, unlike Hillary, she instead became a sex object. It was like that article that I think was mentioned in Miss Representation, about Hilary and Sarah, called “The Bitch and the Ditz”. It is ridiculous how women must always be put into categories based on the way they look, something never done with powerful men.

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