Katrin discovered a particularly ironic bit of photoshopping. The first picture is of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on a photo shoot, the second is her ad for the Victoria’s Secret “I Love My Body” ad campaign. Notice that the body she is supposedly loving has significantly less more cleavage than the body we see in the first photo. Apparently even models’ bodies are unlovable without re-touching (or surgery?).
It’s Love Your Body day! Below is a Hall of Fame and a Hall of Shame. The second set of posts reveal just what we’re up against, but the first set is a salve, a celebration of all of our beautifully diverse and interesting bodies. You choose what will amp you up today, but don’t miss this year’s SocImages Pick: Kara Kamos on the total irrelevance of beauty.
American companies that once looked to places like Mexico and China for cheap labor are bringing those jobs back to the U.S. Why? Because prison labor is much, much cheaper. Paid between 93¢ and $4.73 per day, and collecting no benefits, prisoners are a cheap labor source for about 100 companies (source).
What does this have to do with you?
If you have insurance, invest, use utilities, have a bank, drive a car, send a child to school, go to a dentist, call service centers, fly on planes, take prescription drugs, or use paper, you might be benefiting from prison labor.
If you’ve bought products by or from Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpiller, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, or Microsoft, you are part of this system.
For an extensive list of the companies contracting prison labor, click here. You might also find interesting the video clips, embedded in this news story, of promotional videos by prison corporations that attempt to sell the idea of prison labor to companies:
What is sexual objectification? If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object (a non-thinking thing that can be used however one likes), then sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.
How do we know sexual objectification when we see it? Building on the work of Nussbaum and Langton, I’ve devised the Sex Object Test (SOT) to measure the presence of sexual objectification in images. I proprose that sexual objectification is present if the answer to any of the following seven questions is “yes.”
1) Does the image show only part(s) of a sexualized person’s body?
Headless women, for example, make it easy to see her as only a body by erasing the individuality communicated through faces, eyes, and eye contact:
We get the same effect when we show women from behind, with an added layer of sexual violability. American Apparel seems to be a particular fan of this approach:
2) Does the image present a sexualized person as a stand-in for an object?
The breasts of the woman in this beer ad, for example, are conflated with the cans:
3) Does the image show a sexualized person as interchangeable? Interchangeability is a common advertising theme that reinforces the idea that women, like objects, are fungible. And like objects, “more is better,” a market sentiment that erases the worth of individual women. The image below advertising Mercedes-Benz presents just part of a woman’s body (breasts) as interchangeable and additive:
This image of a set of Victoria’s Secret models, borrowed from a previous SocImages post, has a similar effect. Their hair and skin color varies slightly, but they are also presented as all of a kind:
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 the person?
This ad, with the copy “now open,” sends the message that this woman is for sex. If she is open for business, then she presumably can be had by anyone.
6) Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity (something that can be bought and sold)?
By definition, objects can be bought and sold, but some images portray women as everyday commodities. Conflating women with food is a common sub-category. As an example, Meredith Bean, Ph.D., sent in this photo of a Massive Melons “energy” drink sold in New Zealand:
In the ad below for Red Tape shoes, women are literally for sale:
7) Does the image treat a sexualized person’s body as a canvas?
In the two images below, women’s bodies are presented as a particular type of object: a canvas that is marked up or drawn upon.
The damage caused by widespread female objectification in popular culture is not just theoretical. We now have over ten years of research showing that living in an objectifying society is highly toxic for girls and women, as is described in Part 2 of this series.
In a link sent in by Anjan G., Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima explains what she does in the months prior to walking the catwalk (source). Here’s a summary:
For months before the show, she works out every day with a personal trainer; for the three weeks before, she works out twice a day.
A nutritionist gives her protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to help her body cope with the work out schedule.
She drinks a gallon of water a day.
For the final nine days before the show, she consumes only protein shakes.
Two days before the show, she begins drinking water at a normal rate; for the final 12 hours, she drinks no water at all. She loses up to eight pounds during this time.
Lima’s training and nutrition regimen reveal that the look that is believed by some to be the epitome of feminine accomplishment — the look required to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel — is accompanied by significant physical strain. Lima looks as she is supposed to on the runway, but she is also dehydrated and hungry.
The story reminded me of this photograph, taken by Zed Nelson. It shows Ronnie Coleman, immediately after walking off the stage at the Mr. Olympia competition, breathing through an oxygen mask. He would take first place. Explaining the photograph, Nelson writes:
Oxygen administered to exhausted contestants during ﬁnal round of judging. The strain of intense dieting, dehydration and muscle-ﬂexing, places high levels of strain on the heart and lungs, rendering many contestants dizzy, light-headed and weak.
Bodybuilders often have extreme and rigid exercise and diet plans in the months preceding a contest. In those months, a male bodybuilder’s goal is to make himself appear as strong as possible. He must balance his body’s functional needs with his aesthetic goals, and sometimes the latter wins over the former.
Male bodybuilders and female models, then, represent aesthetic extremes of masculinity and femininity, but their bodies aren’t the natural extension of male and female physicalities. Instead, achieving the look require significant sacrifice of one’s body. In other words, they look fit and strong, but looks can be deceiving.
I seriously don’t want to make too big of a deal out of this. I really don’t. I highly doubt that one of these images was modeled after the other or that there was some deliberate attempt to link Victoria’s Secret with Disney or sexy models with little girls.
That said, the two images point to a common visual trope. In this trope, a group of sexy women get lined up (often touching each other). They look almost identical, with the exception of a tiny bit of variation in skin color and hair. And they’re costumed in such a way as to make them look both alike and different (e.g., all in underwear of different colors).
The effect is to erase their individuality, but multiply the impact of the image. We don’t see a five or six women, we see Woman with a capital “W” (or Fairies in the second case). It’s like seeing a buffet from afar, you see Food, but not necessarily macaroni and cheese, little tuna sandwich triangles, fried okra, and fruit salad.
Let’s call it the there’s-no-such-thing-as-too-much-conformity-to-the-male-gaze trope. Or, I-like-my-women-like-I-like-my-collectibles (lots of ‘em, all of a type, and on display). Or, women-come-in-a-rainbow-of-colors-just-kidding.
Do you have a better name for it?
UPDATE: Here’s another one, sent in by Ann T. (says Ann’s boyfriend, “I know it makes ME think of cancer”):
Caroline Heldman counts this as a form of sexual objectification. In these cases, women are shown as interchangeable, like objects. And, she writes, “like objects, ‘more is better,’ a market sentiment that erases the worth of individual women.”