Graphic by Cael Hill
“When you diminish one group….you are diminishing the entire society and closing down its ability to expand for good,” said Ms. Gieleghem on how objectification affects our society. She elaborated that objectification is forcing women to take on certain roles in order to be taken seriously, and the roles include staying youthful, attractive, and skinny.
The simplest definition of objectification goes as follows: the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object. For women, that means they are degraded to an object used for sexual pleasure, a way to sell something, or as a sidekick to a man. It is engraved into society that women are only valuable if they are pretty, or as Mrs. Gieleghem puts it, “pretty and skinny.”
Objectification is seen everywhere in the media: commercials, television and film, video games, and even women’s health magazines, which contribute to the societal expectation that women must stay youthfully attractive. Frequent articles from Women’s Health Magazine include titles such as: “How to be Better in Bed” or “Doing This Every Morning Can Snap Back Sagging Skin” which promote the idea that a woman is only good for sexually pleasing her partner and maintaining youthful beauty, and women are expected to only focus on those two goals. Because of this, they end up subconsciously take part in self-objectification, which is psychologically proven to lead to long-term psychological harm (theconversation.com). Sophomore Hayley Orr said, “You’re not a full person…you’re so focused on how you are outwardly, instead of focusing on bettering yourself as an actual person.”
Advertisements often use a womans’ beauty and body to sell objects, especially because “sex sells,” as Senior Riley Pellman puts it. But these women aren’t real women, they are airbrushed bodies with barbie doll-like features, perfectly smooth skin, long shapely legs, and impossibly thin waists. Advertisements like these–particularly those selling lingerie– are programming straight men to desire barbie-doll women. Playboy built their empire on the beauty and youth of women. The problem is, these women do not exist. Supermodels themselves are airbrushed, edited, and powdered with makeup. Pellman said, “It makes me feel like I have to try harder to show people I’m not just a walking sex object.”
Fortunately, several brands have shied away from this type of advertising. Aerie and Dove claim to be “photoshop-free” and their adverts often include diverse women of all races, religions, and body types. According to Dove research, 77% of women believe that all images in the media have been digitally altered, so they set out to change that statistic, and boost body-positivity. Marketing Director of Dove Amy Stepanian said, “It will help identify reality and relieve some of the pressure women and girls can feel to look a certain way.” This pressure is a direct cause of objectification seen in the media, and is only boosted because of altered bodies seen in adverts.
Mrs. Gieleghem told The Page that society has become “a culture obsessed with youth” because older women are rarely seen in the media: unusual for people to see an older woman in a commercial, unless she is representing a wrinkle-free serum or another product advertised towards the older generations to help them stay youthful. This forces women to feel less valuable as they age, because women are viewed as youthful, sexy objects. Mrs. Gieleghem said, “I’m not valuable to this society unless I’m young…once you’re past menopause you become invisible.” Unfortunately, older women are faced with harsh standards to stay youthful and ‘pretty’ while older men are often praised and fawned over. Often called a “silver fox,” an older man can still be found attractive while an older woman struggles to hide her wrinkles and graying hair.
This idea is also represented in the news rooms. Female newscasters are switched out frequently as they age, while a male newscaster can stay with the channel for decades. Junior Dani Luna said, “There’s always a new, younger female news reporter while the men stay there for a long time.” This is another way for the media to degrade aging women. Women not only face ageism in the workplace, but also harassment and sexism. Newscasters Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson have spoken up about working for Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, mentioning that they two were sexually harassed in the workplace. The recently released movie Bombshell illustrates their struggles, but they are not alone. Many women face sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace, as a direct result of objectification because they are expected to act and look how the media portrays them.
Because of these representations, men are viewing their female peers like the women they see in the media. Hayley Orr said, “You can be a doctor if you’re a pretty doctor. You can’t be something without the adjective pretty or hot, otherwise you’re not respected as a woman.” In addition, these representations cause women to tear themselves and other women down. They cannot satisfy society due to the expectations caused by the media. Riley Pellman said, “You give women these false goals and things to aspire to and then they tear themselves down when they can’t reach those goals.”