Graphic artist Eddi Aguirre takes off Barbie’s make-up:
Why did no one think to do this before!? I love how creative we humans can be!Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.
Larry Harnisch, of the Los Angeles Times blog The Daily Mirror, sent in this image, published in The Mirror in 1959, that illustrated how women’s bodies were judged in the Miss Universe contest:
ALL FIGURED OUT–This chart is used by judges as [a] guide in picking Miss Universe. First six show figure flaws, seventh is perfectly proportioned. (1) Shoulders too square. (2) Shoulders too sloping. (3) Hips too wide. (4) Shoulder bones too pronounced. (5) Shoulders and back hunched. (6) Legs irregular, with spaces at calves, knees, thighs. (7) The form divine, needs only a beautiful face.
(I had no idea that I have irregular legs until I saw figure 6. My self esteem is taking quite the hit. I can’t tell if there’s anything wrong with my shoulders, though–I’ll have to ask someone else for an opinion.)
First, some people like to suggest that men are programmed by evolution to find a particular body shape attractive. Clearly, if judging women’s bodies requires this much instruction, either (1) nature has left us incompetent or (2) cultural norms defining beauty overwhelm any biological predisposition to be attracted to specific body types.
Second, the chart reveals the level of scrutiny women faced in 1959 (and I’d argue it’s not so different today). It made me think of my years in 4-H. I was a farm kid and I showed steers for several years and also took part in livestock and meat judging competitions. I was good at it, just so you know. Anyway, what the beauty pageant image brought to mind was the handouts we’d look at to learn how to judge livestock. Here are some examples, from Kansas State University’s 4-H judging guide (pdf here):
This poor pig has a low-set tail–how dreadful:
It’s almost as if, like superior livestock, beautiful women are a desired cultural product in which we should all invest and be invested. You might compare these to some of the images in our post about sexualizing food that come from Carol Adams’s website.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Cross-posted at Hawkblocker.This Dove commercial for hair dye is just fascinating. It features a woman talking about what color means to her. She observes that color is sensual, drawing connections between certain colors and the feeling of a cool breeze, the sun on one’s skin, a taste on one’s tongue, and more. She says colors are moods: blonde is bubbly, red is passionate. The voice-over explains that dying her hair makes life “more vivid” and makes her want to laugh and dance. She does it to invoke these characteristics.
She then explains that she’s blind. The commercial uses her blindness to suggest that hair dye isn’t about color at all. It’s about the feeling having dyed hair gives you, even if you can’t see the color. ”I don’t need to see it,” she says, “I can feel it.”
By using a woman who is (supposedly) blind, the commercial for hair dye uses the element of surprise to detach the product from the promise. The sole purpose of hair dye is changing how something looks, but this ad claims that the change in appearance is entirely incidental. Instead, dying one’s hair is supposed to make all of life more vibrant, every moment incredibly special, every pleasure more intense, and fill you to the brim with happy emotions. It’s completely absurd. Fantastically absurd. Insult-our-intelligence absurd.
And yet, it’s also exactly what nearly every other commercial and print ad does. Most ads promise — in one way or another — that their product will make you happier, your life brighter, and your relationships more magical. The product is positioned as the means, but not an end. Most hair dye commercials, for example, promise that (1) if your hair is dyed to be more conventionally beautiful, (2) you will feel better/people will treat you better and, so, (3) your life will be improved. This ad just skips the middle step, suggesting that chemicals in hair dye do this directly.
So, I’m glad to come across this utterly absurd commercial. It’s a good reminder to be suspicious of this message in all advertising.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
SocImages contributor Caroline Heldman was on Katie Couric last week. Couric did the show without make-up and features Caroline discussing our bias in favor of conventionally attractive people and how we need to teach our daughters to navigate beauty culture.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Cross-posted at Jezebel.
I’d love to draw your attention to The Alpha Parent, a blogger who has collected a stunningly large number of toys for infants that socialize girls into preening.
Some of the toys are purses/handbags that include pretend lipsticks, compacts, and related-items. My Pretty Learning Purse includes a toy lipstick and a mirror; the Gund Sesame Street Abbey Purse Playset includes a compact and powder brush; the Lilliputiens Liz Handbag includes an eye shadow compact complete with three shades and an eye shadow applicator.
It also includes examples of toy make-up bags. Going beyond the inclusion of beauty items in infant toys, these make beauty the sole point of the play. Here are just two of the NINE pretend make-up bags she collected, the Oskar & Ellen Beauty Box and the Learn and Go Make-Up and Go:
Since we wouldn’t want a baby to miss the point, companies also produce and sell vanities for infants. The Alpha Parent’s post included FOUR; here’s two, the Perfectly Pink Tummy Time Vanity Mirror and the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Magical Musical Mirror:
The Alpha Parent goes on to cover real nail polish made for infants, beauty-themed clothes for little girls, and a common category of dress up: beautician outfits. I counted a surprising ELEVEN of these:
The latter reverses into a nurse’s uniform.
The Alpha Parent concludes:
Makeup toys prime girls for a lifetime of chasing rigid norms of physical attractiveness through the consumption of cosmetics and fashionable accessories.
They are also generally non-sex-transferable, meaning that parents are often loath to allow their boys to play with girl toys. Gendered toys, then, increase the rate of toy purchasing, since parents of a boy and a girl have to buy special toys for each.
It’s a win-win for corporate capitalism. Socialize the girls into beauty commodities by buying these toys now, plan on reaping the benefits with the real thing later. Brainwash the boys in an entirely different way (the Alpha Parent notes tools and electronics), do the same with them simultaneously.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Men and women in Western societies often look more different than they are naturally because of the incredible amounts of work we put into trying to look different. Often this is framed as “natural” but, in fact, it takes a lot of time, energy, and money. The half-drag portraits below, from photographer Leland Bobbé, illustrate just how powerful our illusion can be. Drag, of course, makes a burlesque of the feminine; it is hyperfeminine. But most all of us are doing drag, at least a little bit, much of the time.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Thanks to YetAnotherGirl and Kari B., we can now feast our eyes on this ad from Unik (“unique”) Wax Center. It’s a promotion offering 50% off hair waxing for girls “15 and younger.” The Consumerist reports that all procedures are fair game, including bikini waxes.
The usual concerns regarding the sexualization of young girls apply here. Why do girls this young need to be concerned about how they look in bikinis?
Perhaps more interesting is the frame for why such a girl might want to undergo waxing. According to the 4th of July-themed ad, it’s to “celebrate freedom and independence.” Implicitly, hers. So, to follow the logic to its endpoint, a girl of 15 or younger can’t feel free unless she’s hairless.
The company, responding to criticism, gave arguments along these lines. They framed waxing as a “regular activity” and a “process in life” that “goes along with our country.” Moms are coming in to get waxed (as all women do), explained the corporate offices, they’re dragging their tweens along with them (obviously), and the girls “have questions” and “get bored,” so the next step is to initiate them into the ritual.
So, the whole process is “natural,” as the ad copy specifies. It is just an inevitable step in a supposedly universal way of (female) life. And one that liberates women from… um, I don’t know what… embarrassment, I guess.
The ad is reminiscent of many similar campaigns aimed at adult women, ones that frame consumption of clothes, make-up, jewelry, and cosmetic procedures as expression of freedoms. In this way, it’s a capitalist appropriation of feminism/liberation ideology. It’s also a naturalization of what is, in reality, a lifetime of compulsory, expensive, and sometimes harmful beauty practices.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Rebecca sent in an ad she saw in an Australian women’s magazine that explicitly reinforces the idea that women are in perpetual competition with one another. The ad declares an anti-aging product a weapon to be used “in the war against other women,” reminding women that we should consider ourselves to be in a battle with one another over who is most physically attractive — and thus, presumably, most likely to win the ultimate prize of remaining sexually attractive to men:
Check out our earlier posts on the discourse of women-as-competitors, how objectification divides women, the “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” advertising trope, and an Israeli Bacardi ad campaign that told women to get an ugly friend to make themselves look better.