Death to women in advertising – An ads essay

I) Prologue

Gender in advertisements has always been an important issue, especially the women’s images in beauty products and fashion campaigns. How women are seen through this particular branch of advertising has long been a matter of argument. The violence and the abuse of the image of women using in fashion advertising go back a long time in history. There have been many studies and researches looking into this matter in various perspectives. In this small piece of writings, the author only wishes to take a closer look into some examples taken from a project, Stop Female Death In Advertising, created by Lisa Hageby.

II) Stop Female Death In Advertising

1) The Project

Stop Female Death In Advertising was first established by  Hageby as her degree piece at Beckmans College of Design in Visual Communication, in which the author called for submission of the photos featuring the motif and concept of “dead” women in advertisements, mostly in fashion and beauty photo-shoots promoting for some projects, using the images of its celebrities and movies stars. Once log on to the website, you will be impressed by hundreds of photos running non-stop. In these advertisements, the women are modeled in a way that similars to a dead body or a corpse. Pale skin, naked or wearing a piece of expensive outfits (which belong to the brand they are advertising for),  the women models are usually lying down in bed, or on the floor, on the stairs, on the ground or even floating under water. Hollow looks in their eyes or eyes closed, the models’s positions and expression are clearly implying that whether they are completely overpowered or no long alive, after suffering violence and pain. Some ads even show the “abusive men” in the pictures. The author explained that when she was setting up the project and calling for people to submit the photos on the website, she was surprised by the number of ads actually using this concept. She was also “unprepared for the fact that so many of the images I found would be so extreme.”

Front page of the official website  Stop Female Death In Advertising

Front page of the official website Stop Female Death In Advertising

2) The Advertisements

Three of the most noticeable among those advertisements are some photos featuring three familiar faces. They are of three Hollywood’s movie stars: teenage actress Chloe Grace-Moretz (Kick-Ass), Noomi Rapace (Prometheus), and  Rooney Mara (The girl with the dragon tattoo). Let’s take a look into how they are portrayed in these advertisements.

The first common of the three ads is that the ambience of them: they are all under water or on the surface of the water. The color green surrounding the models give us the impression that this is a pond or a beautiful lake. But this is not the only thing they have in common.

Chloe Grace-Moretz in the advertising

Chloe Grace-Moretz in the advertising

Chloe’s picture is a portrait, featuring only the teenage star’s face, greatly emphasizing her facial expression. By the flow of her hair and the dust around her, along with the color green of the surrounding, we can easily guess she was under water. The girl was wearing heavy makeup, extremely white face and rose-red lips. Her eyes were shut, her eyebrows knitting a little and her red lips biting a little, as if she was in pain, as if she was suffering. With the expression like such, she is a completely passive subject, being under-control or having to obey to some power, which she doesn’t want to but is unable to fight back.

Same motif goes to Noomi Rapace’s beauty shooting. Her hair was letting go free, floating in every way possible in the water. Wearing heavy makeup, she also put on some kind of expensive piece of dress. Her eyes were open, but they were not looking at the audience, but looking soullessly down below. Her face was shoot at 2 different angles, but neither were straight: one was three-quartered and one was at the side. Her expression was not changed between the two photos. Along with the hollow looking in her eyes and her mouth open naturally, two pictures putting together bring up the feeling that she could not move around easily or could not move at all, while the camera can move easily around her. The conclusion is jumped to easily, she might be no longer alive.

The two pictures of Noomi Rapace on The Newyork Times Magazine

The two pictures of Noomi Rapace on The Newyork Times Magazine

The advertisement featuring Rooney Mara was a bit different. It was not a portrait. It shows her whole beautiful figure. Not suffering under water, she seemed to be lying down peacefully on the bank of the lake, with many plants and flowers surrounding her. She was also wearing a luxurious, feminine long dress, her hair tightened up and her skin glowing under the light similar to moonlight. Her looks was rather lively, though she still didn’t look straight to the audience, but the photo was rather a poetic one, with maybe only one downfall: she was still passive, being lied down on her back in such position.

Rooney Mara on the bank of the lake

Rooney Mara on the bank of the lake

Why these three advertisements are being examined, you asked? Because these three women have one thing in common. They have all survived in the harsh conditions of Hollywood’s market, and have all played some of the strongest, most ass-kicking characters in the movie history.  Still, their images are portrayed in such way. Passive, overpowered or even dead.

III) The analysis

Those who create the images have committed two crimes: portraying women in a wrong way and using, exploiting the stars’s images to gain more favor from the public.

They have portrayed women as victims of sexual violence and abuse in an erotic way, through such promoting that it is acceptable to be violent to women, or the women should accept being abused, because it could be so romantic and poetic. What is more, they are exploiting the images of the famous actresses to spread the influence even wider. You may think this is ridiculous, but in a broader perspective, the influence is much more damaging than we thought. There has been research suggesting that when women attain more influence and take a greater role in society, there is a corresponding reaction whereby pornography becomes more extreme, advertising uses more violent images and passive females, fashion tends to be more strongly feminine (like turning back to medieval times, when violence and abusive manner towards women were acceptable), and trends such as home-baking and elaborate household cooking are no coincidence. Within feminist research they are referred to as backlashes and are historically recurrent.

One important issue of this matter is the public ignorance. We tend to oversee such matter, either looking on with indifference, or noticing the wrong doings but overlook because it has existed for a long time and is difficult to change. But this action of us is wrong and the idea is untrue. The prejudices can be change, and as a future communicators, we must be the one who take on the responsibility to change it. It is important that as communicators we do not contribute to these backlashes, and that the public should react when confronted with such images in the media.

But then, we should not think of this matter in only one way. We can not be over-sensitive and get angry over every little signs of what may seem to be disrespect to women. Take the advertising of Rooney Mara for examples. One simple-minded or pure mind of a child will only see the poetry in the image. The pure beauty of the picture is undeniable. So what is the difference? Where is the limit that we can not cross?

Us, the women and the communicators, must always remember that there are always two sides of a thing, and the women are the same. For a woman is beautiful in both ways, strong and weak. For a woman would sometimes need a helping hand, or holding arms of a man, but never to depend solely on it and always can be stronger and more determined. To be strong, a woman must understand the weak side of her mind and feelings. Only by then, can she be really overcome the weaknesses. Recently, there has also been a ridiculous idea that the women need to be protected because they are the weaker sex. This is to never be true. The women should never consider themselves as the victims of the society in the first place; by thinking so, they have lost the battle right at the beginning.

In conclusion, it is best to say in Lisa Hageby words: “We are used to it, so much that we hardly react. That’s what I chose to highlight the most extreme form of passive portrayal, as well as presenting all of the images in one place. Only when we see them all together can we begin to see that it is a problem”. As a modern woman in a modern society, and as a future communicator, I believe it is time for us to take the matter into our own hand. It is time to take action.

Nguyễn Thùy Trang – PR32

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