Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising's Image of Women
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Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising's Image of Women

1999, Psychology  -   123 Comments
Ratings: 7.21/10 from 57 users.

Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising's Image of WomenTo a great extent, advertising tells us who we are and who we should be. What does advertising tell us today about women? It tells us just as did it 10 and 20 and 30 years ago that what's most important about women is how we look. The first thing the advertisers do is surround us with the image of ideal female beauty so we all learn how important it is for a women to be beautiful and exactly what it takes. Jean Kilbourne continues her groundbreaking analysis of advertising's depiction of women in this most recent update of her pioneering Killing Us Softly series. In fascinating detail, Kilbourne decodes an array of print and television advertisements to reveal a pattern of disturbing and destructive gender stereotypes. Her analysis challenges us to consider the relationship between advertising and broader issues of culture, identity, sexism, and gender violence.

Sections: Does the beauty ideal still tyrannize women? | Does advertising still objectify women's bodies? | Are the twin themes of liberation and weight control still linked? | Is sexuality still presented as women's main concern? | Are young girls still sexualized? | Are grown women infantilized? | Are images of male violence against women still used to sell products?

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10 years ago

Women and Men are not a different species. We are not from different planets or even different sides of the planets. Left alone boys and girls will gravitate to the same kinds of games, language skills will improve in boys and physical activity in girls amoung other things.Most of our differences are the effects of socialization.(our few real differences we ought to celebrate, I know I do :) Advertisers today objectify 'both' sexes (not equally, but it's getting there) only because more boys are feeling the same kind of socialized mind control, worthlessness, and insecurities that was previously felt mostly by girls - and #1 always #1 is that that kind of insecurity building advertising WORKS...SO I agree with others that only a conscious society who both LIMIT advertising (3 years of my life is 3 years too many IMO), and Control the Images used will result in effective change...
Right now however, I think we all have more important things to be doing and should stop shopping altogether-as in stop being sheep and start being activists for our own good health as well as health of the planet. -Peace

11 years ago

some of it i could tell true with media's effect, that count all kind of wrong messages, but its also about how people react on it, if they think abit for themself what might is too much too less.
well the only thing i can be sad of is when i was teenager i got my fingers burned, wrong messages to boys i do know now :) but when your young you try copy others and look in television and might get a little bit wrong idea what is pretty and what is some adult sexual messages.
I dont want to be a feminist at all ^^ because of my bad exsperience i think im abit more sensitive to comments i see as "you own fault, should have known, the dumb answers with kitchen blabla" ^^
i maybe think its about your own past how you take all this big talk with men/woman stuff

sorry my english if i did some mistakes ^^

11 years ago

more feminist propaganda? more "oh my god im such a victim! im so oppressed!"

meanwhile woman have at least 300% more social, political, and legal advantages over men.

11 years ago

Its hilarious how she enjoys a commercial about a breakfast cereal featuring men which has the obvious message that women should stay thin!

11 years ago

lol you are so wrong , this is not true at all, women chose to act like objects noone force the, so stop qq.. this is rly not true!

bud oracle
11 years ago

Excellent speaker, extremely intelligent woman. Very, very sexy..... Thanks

11 years ago

Beauty may be Illusional, which I interpret to mean Idealized, but Ugly is objectifiable and surrounds us on a daily basis. Shouldn't we, at least, strive for beauty and perfection and not let outselves "go"? This rule should, by the way, apply to both men and women.

11 years ago

All things in a capitalist system must first be objectified in order to be marketable for profit. I wonder why Revlon does not market a new Mother Teresa line of make-up.

11 years ago

This was beautifully put together. It still rings true over 10 years later. Anyone who watches this should follow it with The Century of the Self, which goes into detail about how Sigmund Freud's theories on the subconscious mind were used by corporations to sell products as well as government to manipulate the masses. Ads are quite calculated. Whether corporations could have predicted the effect on society is debatable.

Yes, men are being increasingly objectified in ads today as much as women, but don't act as if it is on the same scale. The portrayal of women in ads has its foundations upon the millenia-old idea of them as passive, sex objects. And you can't just "ignore" these ads or "block them out" when they're constantly in your face. You don't even have to watch television to be bombarded with ads. They're on city buses, magazines, billboards, etc. The images remain in your subconscious whether you want them to or not.

The real issue is how the images in most ads change (or not) your perception of yourself and/or those around you. Some people are able to see through their deceptions. But most people internalize the images and this results in self-hatred and low levels of self-confidence or a distorted view of how things should be (depending on the type of ad of course).

11 years ago

"I know girls who don't look at a guy twice unless he's build like a body builder. If you don't have a washboard six pack, kiss date night good buy."

It sounds like you understand exactly how advertising poisons the brain. It's too bad that you know girls like that but TRY to realize that it's NOT normal and not what girls worth your time actually think.

Though this doc has chosen (for its own reasons, there is no evil agenda I'm sure) to focus only on one side, then if anything, use it to understand that side.

The world must be balanced, you're right, and all we can do is show through our own behavior and actions how things really are, not the way advertisers want us to be. Don't buy those products, treat others with respect, it comes back to you by those who understand, and the world can move on.

11 years ago

beauty is an illusion

11 years ago

"The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings or parts become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary."

11 years ago

Man hating is something that becomes more and more common. Almost like a new trend, and the latest fashion. Piss on men, they f&^k up our world. My concern is that the affront women feel about ads, and how they are portrayed, is also an affront to men. I don't believe in the the "victim, persecutor, rescuer" paradigm as these are merely paradigms of create conflict, and not solutions.

So, there is an ad that is unrealistic for women to attain, and creates this false sense of self for them. It has an equal effect on men, telling them this is what your ideal woman is. Not only does this same ad hurt the self image of women, it hurts the image men see of women. Equal damage, as there is so much more for men to seek in a relationship than just the physical good looks (whatever that means).

Men are sexualized in commercials just like women. All the commercials tell men that they have to have this perfectly "V" shaped back, and six packs, and abs and pecks that bulge and could knock the starship enterprise outta orbit. That a man has to have a high pay job, and have power and control over his life and his world. How much of this information about boys is damaging to their self image?? How unrealistic of a view does it give women of what their men should be like?? I know girls who don't look at a guy twice unless he's build like a body builder. If you don't have a washboard six pack, kiss date night good buy. So don't tell me for one second that women are the only people harmed in our over-the-top-consumer society. Our culture of "F*#k God and buy a car", materialism, preoccupation with the world of the physical, is leading us down a path that will have all people feeling disconnected, unloved, and hurt. We live is a world that uses people and loves things, when we really need to love people and use things. One girl I know even said: " I don't need him to have a mind, just a body like that I can ride all night long."

How often do you hear of the boy toy, the cougars out prowling the night looking for young meat. How can we say men are not sex objects? Let's be real folks, humanity is being harmed. You can't cause emotional and psychological damage to one sex without harming the other. Both are hurt equally. Period!

11 years ago

You do not have the right to demonize either sex based on marketing and the assumption of perceptions they may or may not hold. I am a 22 year old male and I have few if any of these prejudices against women. Instead I seem to share more of the insecurities. and with the romance of society and nationalism weighing on our backs we tend to forget that each others conscience is just a serious of emotional triggers rationalized to form bull**** defenses for our ego. How does one place their value? Is it not by action. Why concede your propriety to anger and fruitless rewards. Pleasure/pain incentives, that is what matters. Create your own passion cultivate your own pleasure, why trifle.

If it makes it better i will list all my physical insecurities so hopefully you Won't feel so isolated, insecure and victimized.
Short, ive been rejected many times because of my height.
Small hands even for my short stature.
My ass is flat.
My body hair seems confused at exactly where it wants to congregate.
My skin is porous, and i get acne.
No matter how much i work out my biceps will not keep up with my other muscle groups.
Also stretch marks on my bicep, armpit, thighs chest and shoulders that look horrible.
Not vascular enough.
I currently weigh 170lbs and have love handles at my lightest i weighed 135 and my love handles where still the same size, with no ab definition.
I wish my d*ck was bigger, not that its small. It works **** you!
Did i mention thin wrists.
Anyways all this discombobulated meat on the bones will one day be dust so might as well just have as much fun as you can with it while you have it.

11 years ago

Advertising is a b!tch to everyone, not only women. Maybe it's high time we took it all with a pinch of salt. It would have no power if we all just ignored it.

11 years ago

This chick is an id**t... over feminist with a chip on her shoulder.. yes women are objectified as physical items through media and advertisement and yes rediculous amounts of pressure is put on them to be "beautiful" and to look unaturally perfect.. but u cant say **** like.. the ideal of skinny women is to cut women down to size.. thats just chosing to take something the most unrealistically offensive and unlikely way.. theres an emphasis on skinnyness because fat is seen as unattractive, so therefore the furthest you can get away from being fat (very skinny) is what is viewed as most attractive... and when she refers to the mens calvin klein add for jeans as not being sexist because it doenst point out something wrong with a man eg his penis.... most sexist womens adds dont point out something wrong with the women, they give and example of an unaturally beautiful and unrealistic women and at the same time allude to the possibility of this being you if you buy the product ect, which is exactly what this add of the naked man with the jeans is doing. Jean Kilbourne does raise some important points but she is chosing to take things as sexist as she possibly can when it more then likely isnt even the intent in most of her examples (eg the hands over the mouth images or the 'let your eyes do the talking' ad) she is being as unrealistic as the images and depeiction of women she is discussion. She is overly feminist which makes her complete argument biased and unreliable

11 years ago

I wonder what happened with her when she saw 16 and pregnant. anyway i agree with her. ads lead to violence and sexual offense towards women and teenagers dressed like hookers, sometimes i feel like i live in some kind of sexual fantasy created by a congregation of sexually frustrated CEO's who are trying to make their sick dreams come true.

11 years ago

Nice to know you are one of the few men who do listen to your mother. If we all listened our mothers, there would be no war or brutality. No sane mother would want her children killed and her home destroyed.

Yes, greed is a cause because those with lower quality minds fail to understand that we have to share. They want to take the good stuff only for themselves and some of even lower minds will turn to violence to do it. It is very much a cultural phenomenon, best exemplified by male dominator cultures, which bring out the worst in everyone.

It's not women who are committing genocide like Hitler etc. It's not women who wiped out millions of American buffalo last century in machine gun shooting sprees. It's not women who are the terrorists. I could go on and on...Should I write a book called "1001 Atrocities Committed by Men in History." That could get kind of negative, you know.

Male dominator cultures (not all men) have degraded the quality of human life on this planet and are designed to wage psychological warfare on anyone or thing that threatens them ie women, minorities etc. It's nothing more than a power grab. Instead of working together to create a win-win situation, its winner takes all. Both men and women are caused to lose faith in the feminine, which is the counterbalance force to the masculine. These cultures deliberately engineer mistrust and hate towards others who get in their way to keep themselves on top.

It is very difficult for a women in particular to actualize her higher capacities in this type of society, and if she is not careful, she will end up playing the destruction game like the men or being vengeful and catty. When we make women think less of themselves, this is what you get. It is self fulfilling.

Travis Sichel
11 years ago

Christina is full of it, most guys when growing up follow and listen to their mothers more then anything, So in a way they are leading. And most the worlds problems I believe come from greed, an attribute shared by both genders. Seriously hate it When i am blamed for being male.

I tell my girlfriend she is gorgeous without makeup etc, its her GIRL friends who tell her she looks gorgeous and better in this and that. Sorry about the rant.

11 years ago

The male sex has come to dominate this world through brutality and in so doing has severely degraded the quality of life on this planet for all species and the environment. It has a very low understanding of the quality of human existence, as evidenced by the fact that male dominated history is replete with war, rape, coersion and exploitation. It refuses to allow us to take faith in women's experience, it aims to disempower women, to damage our mental health, reducing women to quarrelsome harpies, etc. The patriarchy is founded on the backs of women. Humanity can do much better than this and it is only through women's guidance that it can happen, but this is difficult since we are trained to ignore womens voices.

We are terribly out of balance. Men govern over the material world and women govern over the world of relationships. Both need to be in balance for society to function.

11 years ago

This doc helped not want to die today.

11 years ago

Hi all.
This is a sensitive topic for both genders, and surely after having read the comments, it is appearent that the issue ignites the strongest of feelings. As a man, I must admit that I am unfairly partialled to side with my own gender, I am however also a university scholar so different perspectives matter and tend to create a deeper understanding. In other words; I forced myself to watch this doc, in order to try to understand the female side of the argument ( how very feminine of me). To my suprise I liked the doc, because even though it focuses primarily on the protrail of the ideal woman in the world of advertising ( which is of course dispicable), at the end it also addresses the crisis in masculinity.
I urge you to put aside any anger you might be feeling after having watched this doc and watch the documentary called " The Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity". It will offer a deeper insight into the opposite argument, after that, you can draw your own conslusions.
My personal conclusion is that both genders suffer, in different ways perhaps, but I think it would be wrong to blame one or the other gender. We need to stop blaming and start understanding (or at least try) in order to stop suffering.



11 years ago

Here is a simple fact, advertising relies on image. Do you want your product associated with an attractive woman that appears to be intelligent, sophisticated and graceful or a fat unattractive woman that is intelligent and tries real hard to pretend to be graceful?
And by the by men are objectified and trashed to a greater extent than women in the media. Get over yourselves ladies.

Donna Damo
11 years ago

This documentary was pretty amusing. Jean's got a sharp tongue with her little jokes and all. She made some pretty good points with some of the ads provided. Women are always objectified in the media. Always the domestic little homemaker. And when men have an ounce of femininity, they are displayed as being weak. But I agree with a previous post that she was reading too much into some of those ads. I had to "lol" and shake my head because the accusation was pretty ridiculous. For example, she was attempting to prove that many advertisements showed women being silenced. One of those ads had the Asian woman that said "barely there." In her eyes, she was barely there, ignored and invisible. In reality, the words in the ad never told the "woman of color" to shut up. I'm a woman. An Asian woman in fact. When I hear barely there for a make up gimmick, I think of light weight make up that's barely there. It's like when a person accidentally spills a bucket of paint on a canvas and people crowd around it claiming it reflects the mental anguish of the artist against oppression. It's just spilled paint, darn it.

11 years ago

An hour after viewing:-what do I remeber?. Well rehearsed patter and spiel from Ms K. Audience behaved like trained mammals;only without the skill to do something like a seal or walrus. Note the gamma male or two 'in' with women. The case for women is obvious; but do they have to be told again to 'wake up'-it's a new century!
We all know the socio-political/gender studies argument, which has some weight. I like women. I could say more' but a comment section -oughtto be brief.
In a proverbial 'nutshell'. Women today fly fast jets-and since 1994-in theatres of war; -and they are 'terrific'.
Still-; there wouldn't be a wheel; a combustion engine-let alone a J79 engine on a Phantom F4-if it were not for the 'male brain'.
I know this is controversial. Please don't rush to insult.

Worse again-and this is from the sublime to the ridiculous; -for decades -why do women allow advertising men or sons of the devil-'dickheads' make infantile and patronising copy and film on 'sanitary products'. Perhaps allow is not the verb as it implies power; but why do women seemingly not complain. There are advertising authorities, if one can believe it.


11 years ago

Great documentary.

11 years ago

Advertisements are so powerful that they make everyone think things they shouldn’t and make us act how they want us to act. People who think they are unique or different are wrong. Even if you don’t follow what most ads say and you are not trying to lose weight or, maybe even gain, to look attractive, you are still following some sort of image you want to go by.

11 years ago

jamie fennessy, your rash remark addressed at Ms Kilbourne proves her right on several points (i) that advertising defines and shapes the way we value women and their anatomy (or parts thereof) (ii) that advertising shapes our perception and treatment of women and (iii) that advertising shapes the importance men place on certain parts of their anatomy, however small :o)

jamie fennessy
11 years ago

Note how the whole audience (mainly women) had a nice laugh and a giggle when the commentator started talking about mens penises in a derogatory fashion.......

if she want's equality, she should start with her own f--k*ing mouth

Leah Ramoutar
11 years ago

I never would of realized the reality behind women in the media. I have just understood that women must look like barbie dolls for men. In order,to feel appreciated and if we want to keep them around we must stay silent to the way we are being treated.

11 years ago

Im good looking male feminist, who would like to address the consequenses of this so called "masculinity", that keeps portraying men and boys into being an a**hole, detacht of any kinds of emotions. What is masculinity anyways? Its a bullsh*t socio-culturally constructed like femininity as well.

11 years ago

I don't think looking good solves everyone's problems. Sure movie stars and models have glamorous lives, but they don't seem all that happy. Drugs, divorce, cheating... it never ends. We all start in our 20s wanting perfect guy/girl, but hey we all get over it and realise no one is perfect (from what I see, usually in late 20s). If someone leaves you because of the way you look, it's not you that have the problem. I say try not to get involved with these people in the first place, they will eventually learn when they go home lonely everyday. :P

12 years ago

more of a lecture than documentary. the info is redundant but would provide good examples for an introduction to media studies.
her solution is of course true (people need to change themselves) but one thing advertisers have done so well is to play upon the triggers and what can be called weaknesses in us.
she's right when she says the awareness part is important (and why i recommend it as a good introduction)
maybe knowing it could "break the spell", so to speak.

12 years ago

shes pretty cute, id have sex with her

12 years ago

I saw an earlier version of this in college and have never forgotten it. The ads haven't gotten any less ridiculous or insulting. The image of the emaciated young woman with the watch on her upper arm is one of the most offensive I've ever seen. Thank you, Jean Kilbourne, for your message and for your important and necessary work.

"The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source." ~Lucretia Mott

Jeffrey Martin
12 years ago

"So stop buying things." ~Don Draper

Advertisements play to the consumer, expecting their desires so to best personalize the advertisement. Better effort could be spent in trying to place value in women's natural self-image than attacking something as large and unstoppable as American advertising is. Advertisements don't benefit by forcing a negative ideology on women, they do it because they think it'll sell more hair and make-up products.

Besides, with over 3,000 ads seen daily, how hard can it really be to pick out a small handful to prove any point on advertising themes. No doubt women are objectified by mainstream media, but picking out specific examples is meaningless considering the plethora of content out there. They're disregarded on a daily basis. She reads from specific ads as if they mean something. As if no one has ever looked around at consumerism and been disgusted.

12 years ago

All too often I have heard women actually being referred to as "It". It! Well, for me, that was it.

12 years ago

I can understand both sides, as a woman whom models I suppose I am lucky with my body, however I did get breast implants, and like any woman I am still not happy with my body.
However Being attractive has its ups and downs, it does open doors for me, which is what I use it for. To lore them with something shiny to sell them something. I'm my world I'm selling thoughts, ideas and art. But I do use sex to attract.
In the same breath I hide from being the conventional attractive by making silly faces and videos, covering myself in tattoos and dreading my hair over ten years ago.
For years I hid behind many facial pierceings for being attractive was a burden, men only wanted me for sex and woman where jealous, so i could never make any real friends.
So since age 14 I hid in my studies of all subjects. Only at age 18 when talking to a close friend how the worlds view of my body placed me in a sexual box and how this upset me, did he influence me in that I should use what I was gifted to spread a larger message. Since then I have, and anyone that knows me now can see that.
Sex does sell, and woman hold the power in the long run no matter how tuff a man looks. However we do live in a world where woman have been repressed, objectified and harmed for being attractive or not. This comes from both men and woman and being if we are being brainwashed as a culture or simply acting out our primal nature in our new complex world, i believe its fine as long as you are not hurting anyone.
However this Documentary is showing what may of my conventionally less attractive female and male friends have voiced, how perfection is unobtainable and we are punished all day, every day for it.
Attractive woman become a object, and less attractive woman become undesired and made to feel as such on a regular basses by the the constant bombardment of advertising.

Michael Langdon
12 years ago

This is nothing more than dogma. She finds evidence to support what she already believes to be true. She is a fraud who can't even get her definitions straight. She refers to cropping an image as dismembering women, which she claims advertisements do to women and not men, except of course, for the Dockers ads that only show us their pants.

12 years ago

Don't blame the adverstisers. Blame the idiotic public who buys their products. I grew up not letting anyone telling me what I should wear or how I should look. I didn't make many friends, but I don't give a damn because I made my own choices. Try to tell me what to do and I'll tell you to go screw your mother.

12 years ago

Try looking at advertising's (and the larger media's) portrayal of MEN: men, especially white men, are almost always portrayed as bumbling idiots. It gets worse: on television shows and movies, men getting kicked in the testicles is viewed as "funny". When has comparable brutality EVER been shown to women?

12 years ago

Thank you for having this documentary up. I've watched it twice in a classroom setting, but it inspires me in such a way that I keep coming back to it and trying to be active in battling offensive ads and the negative ways they impact the way we look at ourselves.

12 years ago

this falls on deaf ears by the looks of most of the comments.

12 years ago

Wow... from about half the speak I stopped laughing. The media is so disgusting that it's not funny anymore.
I've always been very conscious about the message that is transmitted through ads about women, but to be confronted with so many of them, in such a short period of time, really makes you wonder... what the f*** is wrong with this society.

12 years ago

shes pretty hot

12 years ago

Interesting.... the ad that inspired her---the product was for birth control---something that frees women from fear of getting pregnant---and the images in the ad woman's head--were things that keep her tied to domestic duties. so these two worlds and ideas are in conflict, the two ideas of women are clashing.

12 years ago

Advertising always contains the same infantile message that is "you are a sad little BABY, and if you only bought our product your life would be so much better". Advertising isn't wrong but psychological manipulation and brainwashing are key elements in turning the world into mindless consumers bent on buying ALMOST anything that's marketed to them..

12 years ago

I went to art school and heard tons of this crap. I love how she's like only 5% of women look like the girls in the ads. But I see tons of fat and regular babes that are married and banging retards after a trip to walmart. What is she wearing lipstick for? Geez

Lucy Dee
12 years ago

Power to the feminists! Gender equality will never come unless we fight for it. Slave-owners didn't wake up one morning and think "hmmm yeah, I think I'll go down to the quarters today and unshackle them! They should go to school and get themselves an education!"

We have to create the world we want to exist in, we have to fight for the world we want our children to grow up in.

Beauty for girls/women/females is a ridiculously fleeting and hollow power. We must downgrade it to mean nothing, so that all the other amazing things about being a human are brought to the fore - your heart, your wit, your personality, your creativity, your brain. It shouldn't be swept aside by "oh, but she's got great tits."

The time is now! Let's create the future we want to see for our girls and boys.

12 years ago

It's interesting that male commenters are inclined to justify the arguments presented here... I think as a female, it's easier to see that she is not cherry-picking or over-generalizing as much as it might seem. That said, I'm not sure how much ads can be blamed for increasing violence towards females. I wish she had some kind of evidence to back that up, rather than her own wildly emotional interpretations of some ads.

Though I have actively seen gender roles and photoshopped beauty coloring my and my girl friend's experiences in adolescence. A LOT of young girls say they think they're ugly, and really dwell on it, though they have no reason to think so.