Advertising and Females


The APA (American Psychological Association) has long been involved in issues related to the impact of media content on children.  In 1994, APA adopted a policy resolution on violence in mass media, which updated and expanded an earlier resolution on televised violence. In 2004, the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children produced a report examining broad issues related to advertising to children.That report provided recommendations to restrict advertising that is primarily directed at young children and to include developmentally appropriate disclaimers in advertising.  In 2005 the APA was charged with a broader study specifically identifying the impact that advertising has on girls.  The summary that follows outlines the APA’s findings.


1) Advertisements encourage females to be submissive and dress provocatively:

            Advertisements have encouraged women to be submissive and dress provocatively for decades and decades. The reason for this is because these types of commercials not only catch the eye of the opposite sex (or same sex) but while doing so has a negative effect on women as well. These type of commercials lead to little girls, teenagers, and women in general to feel bad about what they look like themselves and have a negative self image. It’s sad to see the submissiveness and encouragement to dress provocatively especially at song a young age. “Toy manufacturers produce dolls wearing black leather miniskirts, feather boas, and thigh-high boots and market them to 8-12 year old girls. Clothing stores sell thong sized for 7-10 year old girls, some printed with slogans such as “eye candy” or “wink wink”(1) (Cook and Kaiser, 2004; Levy,2005a; & Meskin, 2004; as cited in, Haynes, 2005). If it starts at such a young age, one can only imagine just how outrageous the commercials get as the age increases.

2) Advertisements can create anxiety for both men and women by actively portraying men as hyper-masculine and females as ultra thin:
            Studies show women and men feel that they have extra anxiety to fit the role of the ultra thin, perfect woman and the hyper-masculine “buff-man (Rouner, 2003). Most advertisements in the media today portray the male and female to look this way which again leads to a heightened sense of anxiety and a negative self image. If these are the type of people that others are attracted to, then the anxiety of trying to be like every one else and achieve that perfect body can really rip someone apart. 


3) Can lead to individuals engaging in anorexia, bulimia and over-exertion at the gym in order to attain the “perfectly-sculpted” body:
            Sadly, research has shown that one of the main wishes for adolescent children is to be thinner and “fit”(2). According to Tkarrde (2003), “Both men and women today are facing a “quandary” regarding masculine and feminine identities” This issue has placed unnecessary demands on men and women to focus on their appearances. This issue relies on the increasing objectification of the male and female body along with its messages and portrayal of “ideal” body physiques. “Increasingly, depictions of the male and female bodies in cartoons, action figures, Barbie dolls, and the general media, have all come to propagate and glorify images that emphasize physical appearance as a central criterion for accessing masculine and feminine worth” (Tkarrde, 2003). Long term affects have been discovered of people who have fallen victims to faulty unrealistic images in the media and have suffered from issues such as: depression, self-imposed isolation, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and alienation, eating disorders, and drug use (Tkarrde, 2003).  Furthermore, according to the National Eating Disorders Association(3) (NEDA), “Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year” (p. 1). In essence, NEDA (2005) reveals that “four out of ten Americans either suffered or have known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder” (NEDA, 2005). Objectification of men and women both has greatly affected both sexes in the strive for women to appear sexy, attractive, and thin, while males are striving for wealth, power, strength, and “perfectly-sculpted physiques”. 

4) Females are often portrayed as passive in ads, placing them in roles subordinate to males:           

            After researching several advertisements it is safe to argue that women are often and most of the time portrayed passive in ads with men placing them in more subordinate roles. For instance, referring to a Dolce and Gabbana advertisement I analyzed, it pictures a woman dressed in a corset along with 4 males dressed in business attire. The woman is shown helpless yet seductively lying on the ground at the men’s feet; while the men are all standing around looking down upon her. This advertisement alone is a prime example of how women are displayed as passive objects secondary to men. Furthermore, referring to the Dolce and Gabbana advertisement, the woman was displayed lying on the floor as a “powerless” individual with men standing above her. The message behind this advertisement as well as many other advertisements is to express men as powerful beings and women as submissive. Moreover, women are commonly seen in advertisements as vulnerable objects. Hawkins (2004) stated, “Often women are just placed next to objects as inert decoration…for a woman in advertising, inertness often just means passivity, and inactivity…” (Hawkins, 2004). In essence, women are often shown posing as if they lack sense of action and purpose. Overall, women are often seen as completely passive or overly sexual in advertisements while men are seen as the dominant figure.

 Ads suggest that males hold the dominant role in relationships and that men shouldn’t have to ask to engage in sexual activity:           

            Advertisements commonly objectify women’s bodies by portraying them in submissive poses wearing little to no clothing and some ads even turn women’s bodies into actual objects. These ads work to dehumanize women and treat them more like objects rather than a vital part of society. Barbara L.Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts explain an interesting theory of objectification “Sexual objectification occurs whenever a women’s body, body parts, or sexual functions are separated out from her person, reduced to the status of mere instruments”. These ads are creating a negative sense of self for women and this in turn helps to create how women think they should be treated and viewed by others.  When you mix these objectifying ads with advertisements that encourage men to be dominant and never take “no” for an answer we get more problems than just low self-esteem for women. (Kilbourne, 1999) When you portray a person as a thing it dehumanizes them and can lead to violence against that person turned thing because a thing is much easier to justify abusing than a person. Male’s size portrayal compared to women’s in advertisements is a reflection of societies views of male power and authority over women (Cortese, 2008). This constant representation can also impact the presence of violence against women within society (Kilbourne, 1999). Modern advertisements portrayals of masculinity normalize, legitimize and excuse male violence. This masculinity is shown in advertisements where men are exuding force and domination. These ads are showing members of society that women are being playful by showing resistment and that intimidation and violence are necessary when initiating intimate socialization and even sex. These objective and submissive portrayals of women become all too real when you examine America’s abuse statistics in regard to women victims. According to the U.S. Department of Justice(4) there is an average of 207,754 sexual assault victims over the age of 12 each year in American society. The majority of these victims are female and sadly many cases go unreported for various reasons. This means that the number of sexual assault victims could very likely by higher. Advertisements do not directly cause violence against women, but they affect the way women are seen which in turn creates attitudes about women that legitimize and excuse such violence as well as cause dehumanization. 
7) Femininity is negatively portrayed in ads and this may lead females to think they need to be sexy in order for people to listen to them:
           Advertisements regularly portray women as sex objects.  In fact, it is no longer unusual to see women’s body parts exclusively, without a face (Millard & Grant, 2006).  Similarly, there has been an increase in women being portrayed in sexualized and purely decorative roles (Lindner, 2004).  Partial and full nudity have become ordinary in magazine photographs, and accordingly, women’s bodies are four times more likely to be exposed in advertisements than men’s bodies are (Millard & Grant, 2006).


8) Ads tend to restrain both females and males to stereotypical gender roles: 
           According to Kang (1997) and Lindner (2004), the most common types of ads women are featured in include cleaning products, household appliances, drugs, and clothing.  Many articles also frame health as women’s work, reinforcing the traditional feminine stereotypical gender role of women as caretakers (Barnett, 2006).  Other stereotypical roles women are often portrayed in are beauty or sex roles, a mother, or a housekeeper (Kang, 1997).  Similarly, it is also quite rare for women to be seen in roles outside of the home (Lindner, 2004), let alone in any sort of occupational role (Grand & Millard, 2006).



10) Ads Depict females as inferior to males in cognitive ability: 
            Often in advertisements, men are shown holding higher status positions where they exhibit control over others (e.g., mainly women) (Linder, 2004). Additionally, There is a lack of women within these advertisements sends mixed messages to women who are seeing advertisements that suggest they should become independent from men (Grant & Millard, 2006). There is also a double standard society has placed upon females because generally, society looks down upon women choosing a career over being a stay-at-home mother. However, the ads that they see within these magazines suggest that they should strive for independence, and should hold a career and a life for themselves (Johnson & Swanson, 2003). Moreover, advertisements portray women in stereotypical ways, including that women should not make important decisions (because they cannot attain a higher/abstract level of thinking (Kang, 1997). Furthermore, Being female is associated with having less authority and less status within society (Hochschild, 1983).



*(1) American Psychological Association (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on 

            the Sexualization of Girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological 
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            1-12.Body Image and Advertising (2000). Issue Briefs. Studio City, California.: 
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Cortese, A.J. (2008). Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising. 
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Grant, P. R., & Millard, J. E. (2006). The Stereotypes of Black and White Women in
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Hawkins, Sam. (2004). Objectification in Advertising. Retrieved from,

Haynes, M. (2005). Bawdy T-shirts set off “girlcott“ by teens. The Pittsburgh Post-
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Hoschild, R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling.
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Johnston, D. D., & Swanson, D. H. (2003). Undermining Mothers: A Content Analysis
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Kang, M.-E. (1997). The Portrayal of Women’s Images in Magazine Advertisements:
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Kilbourne, J. (1999) Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the
addictive power of advertising. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Lindner, K. (2004). Images of Women in General Interest and Fashion Magazine
Advertisements from 1955 to 2002. Sex Roles , 409-421

*(3) National Eating Disorder Association (2005) Know dieting: Risks and reasons to 
            stop. Retrieved from: 

Rouner, D., Slater, M. D., & Domenech-Rodríguez, M. (2003). Adolescent evaluation
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Teen Magazine. (2009). Under misrepresented: Media’s portrayal of women. 
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*(2) Tkarrde. 2003. Body Building. “Whose Body is This?” Society’s Ideal Male 
            Body. Retrieved from:

*(4) U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 2006-2010