Not buying it

Among the great plays, polar bears and Clint Eastwood tear-jerkers, last night’s Super Bowl had another recurring theme. Nearly naked women. Now, obviously, this is a huge sporting event that attracts millions of viewers, a large percentage of which are men. And hello, this isn’t a new phenomenon. I’m not ignorant, nor a prude, but I do, like many women, buy cars, register domains and drink beer.¬†Apparently, not in large enough number to merit being the target audience for these advertisers.

Buying behavior aside, it can’t be disputed that women are portrayed in the media in a hypersexualized way. Young women and girls are subjected to an endless stream of messages that, by design or not, make them feel inadequate. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not sexy enough. Not enough.

Last night, the makers/supporters of the film Miss Representation were tweeting under the hashtag #NotBuyingIt to call out some of these advertisers and their tactics.

While some of the commentary drifted into man-hating territory, which can be just as counterproductive as the ads themselves, I start to worry when women perpetuate and advance these stereotypes by trading on their looks and manipulating with their sexuality. Bombarding us with images of hypersexualized women, after all, requires women that allowed themselves to be hypersexualized, right? Danica Patrick knew what Go Daddy expected of her when she signed that endorsement deal.

Having been in corporate America for a long (very long) time, I have seen both ends of that spectrum on numerous occasions.

“I know exactly what I’m wearing to the presentation with the CEO. My red dress will ensure he approves my proposal.”

Or alternately:

“I’m appalled that women would use their femininity as a weapon! I am smart enough that my work should speak for itself.”

The truth is that both are likely true. The problem really starts when young women and girls, under the constant pressure to be pretty, focus solely on their looks and how they are perceived by men. The problem continues when women become conditioned to get what they want by being flirtatious or sexual to get it.

Men are free to be nerdy, smart, quirky, powerful and funny. (Exhibit A: giant nerd on the Fiat commercial.) Women need to be skinny and pretty, with big boobs. (Again, the Fiat commercial, among many others.)

Just look at TV shows like King of Queens, According to Jim or Still Standing. They all feature married couples where the overweight, marginally successful, yet lovable men (Kevin James, James Belushi, and Mark Addy, respectively) are married to thin, attractive, and independent women (Leah Remini, Courtney Thorne-Smith and Jami Gertz, respectively.)

So, young men of the world, here is what you can expect: let yourself go physically, don’t bother working very hard and you will land a thin, beautiful woman who will be more than happy to rub your ever-expanding belly before she bounces her perky breasts over to the gym.

Oh, and while you’re at it, any woman other than your version of a “10″ is open to your ridicule, jokes and judgment.

You can easily see how women, young girls especially, feel tremendous pressure to look and dress a certain way. That pressure results in things like push-up bras for 10 year olds and breast augmentation as a high school graduation present.

Then one day, the girls on a steady diet of push-up bras and boob jobs grow up, and how do they value themselves? Say they go into business, as I did. What tools will they use to navigate the male-dominated political landscape?

For women, like me and many of my readers, who have struggled with obesity, where do we fit in? How do we begin to compete?

It’s a complicated, messy and super-charged topic, and I don’t think it can be solved by one film or blog post, but keeping the conversation active and cultivating positive and nurturing environments for the women and girls around us is a good first step.


Photo by schub / by NC SA 2.0 CC

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10 Comments to Not buying it
    • Robby
    • I think there’s a recurring theme, though — that these commercials are pandering to men, but out there there is always going to be some woman willing to participate in the ruse (for money, fame, etc.)

      We all complain about magazines and clothing makers in their portrayal of women, but out there ther is always some woman who buys into those ideals.

      In other words — women are always going to feel like there is a competition between the women that play the game and the women that don’t. Until women are united in a vision of how they want to be treated as a class, there will always be women who rally against it and women who participate in it.

      I’m not trying to make a judgement as to which is right — just pointed out the “united we conquer; divided we fall” aspect.

      • Mary
      • Totally agree, and exactly my point about the women willing to be hypersexualized (or wear the metaphorical “red dress”), supposedly for their own advantage. It sets such a bad precedent for women not willing to participate in the ruse, as you put it. I also agree that it pits women against each other. Not good either. Thanks for reading :)

    • Johnny Colbert
    • Alcohol, nudity and the “whatever feels good” culture we live in is teaching our children to legitimize any and all actions that feel good at the time (heck, just have to look at facebook or instagram to see it). We are becoming a sociopathic society where rules apply to everyone else but ourselves because we, as individuals, put our desires, no matter how base ahead of the morals society claims to hold as important. Just watch “ABC FAMILY” and see the pervasiveness of illicit affairs, drug and alcohol use and drunk driving being portrayed. Our children our sponges, they soak it all in and from every source possible. Yes, the “go daddy” commercial was pretty bad. The real challenge is thwarting all of the other influences that poorly represent what we want for our children…we can talk till we are blue in the face but our actions speak so much louder than words!

      • Mary
      • Not being a parent, I can only guess how hard it must be for parents to keep bad influences at bay. Things are destructive enough to adults, much less young girls and boys too! Keep fighting the good fight, and thanks for reading!

    • Heather Smith
    • I had actually typed up what felt like a dissertation on what it is like raising a son and daughter with the pressures we face these days, but deleted it because of it’s length. I will say with Jordan at 12 – we are already experiencing friends with eating disorders and friends who use their style of dress to define them – and let me say – it defines them in all the wrong ways. I can add that I feel blessed to have a good network of friends who share our struggles – it does take a village after all! :) So far, Jordan eats what she wants (healthy and non healthy) and isn’t embarrassed to have a boy see her eat and she works out – a good habit to start that I hope will be engrained for a lifetime. Same with my son – although he could stand to expand his range of foods. We do have to be careful on the ‘judging’ others part just because others make different decisions. This area is a little trickier. I hope you don’t mind but I shared this particular blog post and the responses have been overwhelming! It’s nice to know so many share your view – MY view – now if the media and those who profit from it could just SEE!

      • Mary
      • I love reading this! It’s an awesome network of parents like you that can make the difference. Eating disorders at age 12? That breaks my heart. It’s hard enough as an adult to battle food issues, but at least we have the experience and context to (hopefully) put it in its proper place. When you’re 12, I can see how it would be all consuming. Feel free to share the post, I’d love to think it can spur some good discussion. I’m humbled by the overwhelming response!

    • Heather Smith
    • Once again I felt a loud resounding AMEN come from within as I read your post Mary! Of course I can’t put to words/paper/blog my thoughts as well as you have written them!

      • Mary
      • Thank you, as always Heather, for your kind words and for reading! I wonder how moms like you deal with this kind of thing, both with your son and your daughter. It’s got to be hard to be a parent these days!

    • Elizabeth @ reads recipes runs
    • I seriously love this post! I don’t think I could have said it better myself. Sometimes as a professional, I am annoyed by the way women act in the workplace (calling people sweetheart, wearing too-tight clothing), because they are ruining what so many women have worked so hard to accomplish as professoinals. I try so hard to be viewed as an asset to the company where I work based on the skills I bring to the table and how I present myself.

      I believe that there is a way to find ballance between the “boardroom bimbo” and the “boardroom bitch” but it’s hard!

      • Mary
      • You are so right, it is hard! But we have to find keep working to find that balance. It’s too important for us and the women coming up after us. Keep fighting the good fight!