Sexual Objectification, Part 1: What is it?

This is Part 1 of a four-part series on sexual objectification–what it is and how to respond to it.

The phrase “sexual objectification” has been around since the 1970s, but the phenomenon is more rampant than ever in popular culture–and we now know that it causes real harm.

What exactly is it, though? If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, 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. In it, I propose 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 them as only a body by erasing the individuality communicated through faces, eyes and eye contact:

We achieve the same effect when showing women from behind, which adds another layer of sexual violability. American Apparel seems to be a culprit in this regard:

Covering up a woman’s face works well, too:


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:

Likewise the woman in this fashion spread in Details, in which a woman becomes a table upon which things are perched. She is reduced to an inanimate object, a useful tool for the assumed heterosexual male viewer:


3) Does the image show sexualized persons 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 Sociological Images 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 who can’t consent?

In this “spec” ad for Pepsi (not endorsed by the company), a boy is being given permission by the lifeguard to “save” an unconscious woman:

Likewise, this ad shows an incapacitated woman in a sexualized position with a male protagonist holding her on a leash. It glamorizes the possibility that he has attacked and subdued her:


5) Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person? 

This American Apparel ad, with the copy “now open,” sends the message that this woman is open for sex. She presumably can be had by anyone.


6) Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity that can be bought and sold?

By definition, objects can be bought and sold, and some images portray women as everyday commodities. Conflating women with food is a common sub-category. This PETA ad, for example, shows Pamela Anderson’s sexualized body divided into pieces of meat:

And this album cover shows a woman being salted and eaten, along with a platter of chicken:

In the ad below for Red Tape shoes, women are literally for sale and consumption, “served chilled”:


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 more than 10 years of research demonstrating that living in an objectifying society is highly toxic for girls and women. I’ll describe that research in Part 2 of this series.

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog and Sociological Images



  1. Justine says:

    Yes!Most of them are clear cut while I didn’t find the VS ad offensive as far as objectification goes,even though i was because they all look so skinny and only represent one body type, But that’s another argument.I hate to see ads like this it offends me deeply as a woman. I only wish more companies would stop sexualizing female beauty. While I think we should NEVER SEE TOXIC ADS LIKE THESE I also think we need more female empowerment. We reject so much of our sensual or sexual sides because of the hash backlash of our culture if we do. These images should not represent woman, or how we are sexy. To be frank:NONE of these images are sexy,just representation of how the nation needs a good sex therapist! It’s ads like this that create a stigma on woman We think somehow we’d be stripped of respect if were sexy and I think it’s a shame. ugh i’m rambling,I just feel strongly about this topic. To the point: loved the writting agree with you, the media needs to change!

    • Joseph Rumble says:

      I agree, most are very offensive, except the victoria secret seems beautiful and simple to me. This degrading filth will continue untill more people, especially women stand up and make noise.. Dont turn a blind eye to JAyz because he is married to beyonce. He mad a video last year calling women international bithes, with that slimball kanye. I am on twitter ad heard nothing from most of you young women in media.. it should have been front page on your magazines too. that is calling them out.

    • The biggest problem with image today, and I’m focusing on women’s self image is the public image that is represented by media, which believe it or not is controlled by us. We are made to believe that we do not have control over what fads, or fashions are in style or what political stances are moral and immoral, but we are misguided and wrong.

      We determine the nature of media every time we choose what to endorse. The only reason women are objectified is because we made it popular, we are to blame for what we deem now as damaging and immoral. we do this simply by investing in the products that these images endorse. When you and I go out and buy that flash BMW, or suck down a few cans of Four and yes ladies, buy those women’s magazines that tell you that you’re not good enough, so you need to purchase that over-priced lipstick to feel adequate.

      Do you know that you support and reinforce that image. You do this by crediting these organisations with our current credit system, MONEY. How do you think businesses are run? How do you think businesses are maintained? How do you think advertising companies measure their success? By the almighty dollar. Why do you think we came up with currency. It is a means of control, “The Rich control the Poor”. The only value that money has is the value that we give it. We sell our time, our minds, our bodies and our skills to gain this, and guess what, women’s image has a price on it too. if you want to make a change, guess what, together as nation of the poor, we are the wealthy and we have control.

      If you do not believe in something, do not buy it. Because every time you buy something that supports something that you do not believe in, you effectively sell your soul a dollar at a time. save your money, make it work for you, change the image that we have moulded for ourselves.

      Even if you do not believe you can do it, their’s no need worry, because I believe in you.

      • Well said. Your words are right and thoughtful…I’m happy there’s strong people who believe they can do good and change what needs to be changed.

  2. Nikki Kilburn says:

    This is a fantastic illustration of how the female body is exploited by advertising, to make money for multinational companies that sell not just a product, but a lifestyle to consumers. And sadly it is young people that are heavily influenced by these images, consequently developing a distorted understanding on how the female sex should be viewed and subsequently treated.

  3. SMStexas says:

    I would just like to add one point on which many people are confused. Objectification does not just objectify the individual person in question: the model, the porn actress, the stripper, etc. It objectifies all women and girls. It sends the message that this is how women and girls can be viewed, regarded and used. It is a commentary on women’s value as a whole. I do not have to be depicted in a picture like those shown above to be objectified by them. I am objectified simply by being a woman in a society where images like this are normal, accepted and widespread.

  4. sergio pezzulli says:

    You know what?
    I am horrified, terrorized and frightened !!!
    I didnt believe it could do such an effect on me but the mix of pics and comments has really done the the trick of showing the violence in all its crudity.
    I wonder the subconscious effects of these images on teenagers.
    On young girls in particular it can be really devastating.
    But boys too of course can be completely alienated by this.

    Thank you very much,
    you are a benefactor

  5. Dawn V Dudley says:

    Ok, first let me start by saying that I am fully aware of the fact that what I am about to say is going to piss people off. I refuse to give men the power to victimize me by being angry or offended by these sorts of images, which only reinforces the ‘humorless feminist’ stereotype. We want equality? Fine….then I want to see these sorts of images depicting men just as often. Though two wrongs don’t make a right, the fact is that we are sexual beings….all of us…so women should get as much enjoyment out of this as men. This issue isn’t inherently moralized….society chooses to make it that way. What if we all chose an alternate point of view? The blockbuster success of the film ‘Magic Mike’ proves that what is good for the goose is long overdue for the gander. It is your right and expression of free speech for you to protest what is heretofore being referred to as the sexual objectification of women (or, more broadly, humans), but understand it is just as much my right to enjoy sexuality and many of its perversions, and that doesn’t make me or others like me ‘bad,’ or ‘less than’ in any way. It takes a lot less energy to choose to be empowered than it does to be angry and victimized, at least in my personal experience. The trick is to make men give us what we want by convincing them it is THEIR IDEA to respect and admire us…and I can say that I have A LOT of fun doing exactly that 😉

    • You said it yourself. Two wrongs DON’T make a right. While I agree with the assertion that women have the same rights as men to express and enjoy their sexuality, what you’re purporting is the sexual objectification of men. The main point of the article is that this kind of sexual objectification in the mass media is harmful to general perceptions of those being objectified (in this article women, but the same argument is equally applicable to men). There is nothing wrong with expressing your sexuality, and since women’s sexuality has in many ways been socially repressed for centuries especially in western culture, it is understandable that a certain vein of feminism espouses the necessity to take back this sexuality and express it freely. If I understand your post correctly, this is the kind of reactionary line of reasoning to which you ascribe. However, the larger argument here is about respect and responsibility. These kinds of sexually objectifying representations of women are disrespectful to women because they undermine women as individuals. Women are essentialized as sex objects rather than individuals with personalities, thoughts, emotions, and their own desires. If we as a culture are determined to move towards equality of men and women, it means equal respect, NOT equal disrespect. The conviction to create a more equal society entails a certain responsibility, in that we must make responsible decision about how we choose to depict women (and men) on a broad scale, such as in the media. Women should be just as free as men to express their sexuality and seek out their own sexual fulfillment as long as it is in a manner responsible and respectful to the opposite sex and their sexual partners. Depiction of either men or women as sexual objects in the mass media is irresponsible as it creates an insidious disrespect for those being sexually objectified. This is the main argument of the insightful article and one on which I think we can all agree. It is conversations like these and conscious identification of the underlying subtexts of our media and popular culture that will help create gender equality and hopefully a society in which you, Dawn, never have to “trick” a man into giving you what you want or “convince them it is their idea to respect and admire [you].” Hopefully there will be a day when men respect and admire you because IT IS their idea and you won’t feel like you have to trick them or objectify them to feel equal.

      • Well said, Ryan. THANK YOU.

      • Ora Hall says:

        Ryan well done. Well said.

      • Well said, Ryan! It’s about respect, maturity and fellow-human feeling.

      • Do you really think these pictures show women expressing THEIR sexuality? I don’t. They are depicted as objects.

        And I don’t want to “trick” men into anything. This isn’t men vs women. People should treat people with respect. I don’t want to play games and flatter a man’s ego by “making him think it’s his idea” to treat me like a human being. I mean… what?

    • The thing is….the kind of thing you’re saying is exactly the “But it’s empowering ladies, you should enjoy this” line that has been used to insidiously degrade the image over women over recent years.
      We DON’T see as many images of men looking like this as women.
      We DEFINITELY DON’T see as many mainstream images of men being objectified in these ways (if any).
      And this idea that any admiration from a man is a good this…well, that’s BS I’m afraid. Men will always think that women look nice and vice versa. But the images above are not about “convincing men to admire women” (and why do they require convincing, might I ask? We’re all people), they’re about saying that the women in the images are JUST what they look like.
      See enough images like that, at the right age, and you start to think yourself “Maybe I am the sum of what I look like”. It’s not a leap of the imagination, it’s what happens.
      And maybe you’re ok with that, maybe you’ll be happy for your daughter to care more about her looks than her studies, health or self-respect. But I for one am not and I worry and I don’t know what else I can do.

      • I have seen more and more overtly sexual images of men in magazines and advertising lately, but something stands out. The images are NOT being produced for women. They are being produced for gay men and often have a gay perspective. The media STILL isn’t interested in objectifying men for women’s benefit (because the idea in the media is still the old “men pursue women don’t” trope).

        I also think that the media is reluctant to picture women as having sexual autonomy, because they know they are selling images of women’s bodies to men and women having agency isn’t “sexy” to men like vulnerable, helpless or drugged women are (and that’s messed up).

        That said, it’s interesting that these overtly sexual images of men (I’m thinking of Marc Jacobs “Bang” cologne, or another ad Calvin Klein maybe? that featured full frontal male nudity) are selling male sexuality to men not women. I think the media really does have a hateful view of women and they are loathe to admit that women are anything but sex objects or moms who need to be sold cleaning products – cause you know women aren’t turned on my men, they are turned on by cooking and house cleaning (joking/sarcasm).

    • I’m a man and hate the idea of women being exploited as objects I love and respect my wife and do not likie to see women in underwear / bikinis etc on 10 feet high posters in shopping malls.The images are forced onto us men and we are not sex starved animals.Some of us(men) have wifes who fullfill all our love fantasies in our own homes. I hate nudity in mainstraim movies that makes either me or my wife feel that the special intamacy that needs to exist only between married people is totally disrescpected in movies.

  6. while you have many good points about the degradation of women as a marketing technique, you fail to mention the other side of the coin: the over sexualization of men. Many people get caught up in the overly-sexed, impossibly-fake, unrealistic versions of women that young girls (and old girls) are bombarded with on a daily basis, but what about the young boys? Every action movie, every shaving commercial, every cologne add says that men must be clean-shaven (but able to grow a beard), be perfectly muscled, and, of course, be drop-dead handsome. there are many movements to speak out against and stop this behavior as it applies to women, but where were the picketers at the premier for “Magic Mike”?

    • “but where were the picketers at the premier for ‘Magic Mike'”

      I don’t know. Where were you?

    • Caroline Heldman says:

      Jon, please see my critique of Magic Mike. We’re in agreement about male objectification being a problem, although only 5% of objectification in popular culture is male, so this is a mostly female issue.

      • Arielle says:

        How convenient that there is no way to reply to your blog. This attitude is one of the biggest turnoffs of feminism for me. Seriously…you sound like a real fun lady, and that is said in extreme sarcasm. I guess only men enjoy having sex from behind in your world and getting pleasure from pleasing your partner is probably a foreign concept to you Lol. You are responsible for your own orgasm. If you can’t communicate what you need to your partner it’s pretty pathetic to blame the entire male gender for “ignoring female needs.” Maybe if more women spoke up and didn’t act like sex was a chore and actually had fun, that wouldn’t be a problem.

        • Wait, what? What are you even responding to? No where in Heldman’s personal blog does she claim anything you’re railing against. You’ve even quoted “ignoring female needs” as if you lifted it directly from her article–but it isn’t there. At all.

          Also, no where does it say that when signing on to the internet, you are entitled to comment on someone’s blog post. Folks are allowed to express their opinions without weird straw man arguments like this derailing the conversation. Or is “speaking up” only allowed in the bedroom? With you there to act as judge?

          Seriously, what’s up with all your projecting, chica? I’m half tempted to tell you to cool your jets just so you know what it feels like to constantly be dismissed and mocked for having the temerity to express a critical thought–one of those little things that feminists have been dealing with for decades. And will keep dealing with so long as other women keep finding some bullshit reason to dismiss feminism out of hand, like your comment does.

        • Arielle what a pathetic comment. How can you write something so rude and nasty and then complain in the same breath that other people don’t seem fun enough?

          Personally I don’t care if I seem fun and sexy to sexist idiots. That isn’t really my top priority. I am actually becoming really really angry with these kinds of comments. How dare you tell us we have to seem sexual on your terms and laugh at the blogger for not having enough orgasms (or something… based on what I don’t know), how DARE you.

          You might as well be saying you stupid uptight bitches should just loosen up and let men give you a good fucking. Is that you think?

      • Professor says:

        Dr. Heldman: It is wonderfully refreshing to hear you say that sexual objectification of men is wrong. The trend is growng by leaps and bounds. Since you agree that objectification of men is bad, why do you not more forcefully condemn it and work to stop it from spreading? Doing so would earn you considerable credibility among a wide range of concerned citizens. Instead, you APPLUAD in your article grandmas going to a movie to sexually objectify men. When I read that, I was unable to see you as a rational (consistent) thinker. So, please, condemn clearly the rising tide of male objectification: the young boys of this and future generations deserve no less.

      • ” although only 5% of objectification in popular culture is male, so this is a mostly female issue.”
        Sexual objectifcation? The majority of objectification of men in culture is between the walking-wallet objectifcation of men for their wealth (notice how many ads show men wearing very expensive clothing, driving very expensive cars, etc), “Mr Muscles” (Think Hulk, Arnie, overly large muscles that need steroids to achieve) or the super-cut athlete (this affects both genders, and takes a very harsh gym routine and diet to get to for most people) and the other is disposable male with absolutely huge levels of violence portrayed with male victims (it’s very easy to see many thousands of onscreen deaths in violent movies alone, 99% will be male if you look at the action genre). This is well well over 5%, take a look at the major blockbuster movies and most include violence perpetrated against mostly men, the countless no-name male actors who are bullet magnets to die for the onscreen gorefest. The message to men is to sacrifice your life to fight for your country, sacrifice your life and fight for your woman (many kids movies have this theme), be rich otherwise you’re ugly, be physically “cut” and toned otherwise you’re ugly. Objects that give money to women, objects that look good, objects that die for entertainment, etc. Not going to comment on who is objectified more because it’s a super duper complex subject, physical looks wise definitely has more female objectification however.

  7. Shame on these companies for objectifying and exploiting women in such disgustingly base fashion and even bigger SHAME on the models for allowing themselves to be pimped out that way. Only when all women educate themselves and stop allowing themselves to be exploited for money or for whatever other stupid reason, that’s when real change will begin.

    • I really don’t the idea that it is an even bigger shame for the women, who are working from a marginalised position than it is for the predominantly white, male, upper middle class, degree possessing people who have the controlling interest in these corporations.

      One is working from a far more limited set of choices than the other…. if you’re going to point the finger don’t target the people who are working from the disadvantaged position, who have to live in the culture where the attitude where women are sexualised, and suffer directly as a result themselves.

    • I’m glad all models are dumb. We should really educate them how to think and show them the right way and why their jobs are purely wrong. I’m glad these beautiful women must be dumb and uneducated because they were making lots of money and doing a job. Yes, you could say they should say no, but don’t call them uneducated. That’s simply offensive as 1) you don’t know these women, 2) they might know the effect of their ads, but know it’s a job, and 3) you are simply expressing an opinion, not facts Models know what they are doing and why they are hired.

    • I must say that statements such as “I’m glad all models are dumb” and calling them uneducated as a response to an article that is criticizing objectification of those models made from a self-proclaimed position of a feminist proves how “dumb” and “uneducated”, to paraphrase you, you Alexis and CC are. What you are not realizing is that you are clearly contradicting yourselves when it comes to feminist values. By calling those models “dumb” and “uneducated”, you are supporting the social stereotype beauty=stupidity which is against feminist values. Feminism is supposed to argue for the notion that a woman should not be judged based on her outer appearance, just as much as a woman should not be reduced to a sexual object. By calling a woman “dumb” based on her appearance you are reducing her to an empty shell, which is what objectifying does.
      I am a model, I am in one of world’s best international agencies, and I don’t think I am uneducated. I graduated from the most prestigious and challenging school in my home country. My IQ is around 130. I use modeling as a way to fund my university studies, otherwise I would not be able to attend a university that fulfills my academic demands. I consider myself a feminist and condemn objectification of women. If I said there are no models who don’t enjoy objectification because it gives them a sense of value, in a twisted, self-degrading way, I would be lying. But what you must realize, like Ollie said, models do work from a marginalised position. To a certain extend we can say that we will not do a job that makes us comfortable or goes against our values, and whenever I can reinforce this right, I do and I would never do an American Apparel ad. But I cannot do this all the time because it would mean that I could violate my contract with my agency which could result into not being able to fund my studies and, in consequence, be “uneducated”.
      The third thing that you need to realize is that if I said I would not do a job, coming from such marginalized position, would not make an impact on the result of the advertisement because I would simply be replaced by another model who is willing to do it for whatever reason, and trust me, most models don’t enjoy doing such degrading jobs. The market and the way a brand does its marketing is a response to the demand of the customers. They are the only one’s who can influence the way advertisement is done by boycotting the products the seller offers. You may argue that the customers are conditioned to buying those products by the advertisement but we may as well argue about what was first: a chicken or an egg? This supply-demand when it comes to advertising is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken for the sake of the models and the general society and it can only be done so by buying products from sellers whose ads do not objectify or in any other way degrade women and boycotting the products that are sold by inappropriate advertising.

  8. Some of these are pretty tame, the thing is there seems to be an unlimited number of women more than willing to be “objectified.”

  9. princesschipchops says:

    These images taken together are pretty shocking. I especially hate the one with the women in a cooler and the one with the woman being used as a table to hang sunglasses, ties etc off.

    I don’t actually find the Victoria’s Secret ad objectifying. To me the ads and images that are problematic are the ones where womens heads are cut off, or they are reduced to nothing more than mere body parts.

    However more and more ads are also objectifying men. Yves Saint Lauren has done a number of ads with male bodies with the heads cut off for aftershave. In fact they did a full frontal nudity one (although you could see the models face in that). The Tom Ford ad is an interesting choice as he is often found objectifying himself. As is Marc Jacobs who posed for his own ad wearing nothing with just a bottle of aftersahve between his legs.

    For me its the context that matters, people posing in ads and looking ‘hot’ isn’t something I find offensive, womens breasts being served up as a platter to adverts a car – with their heads out of shot – is.

  10. zeldafitz says:

    i hate to see that PETA ad lumped together with all of these other ads (and others like it in similar articles and discussions) because that thing needs a whole discussion of its own. obviously PETA’s over-sexualized “messages” are a problem, and i have a huge problem with them (even being that i am vegan and an animal rights supporter).

    but that ad specifically, is [supposed] to be a play on the ad that’s on the cover of The Sexual Politics of Meat, in which a drawing of a woman is similarly portioned off like an animal to be consumed as meat. that ad on the cover of that book shocks us into realizing that the plight of women and animals have been very much the same, and that in many ads women are interchangeable not only with each other but also with animals – because we are all up for consumption and use by men. this may have been where PETA got the idea for their ad, but i seriously question whether they fully understand its implications. that and i know that from what pam anderson ever said about the ad, she sure as hell didn’t understand it herself.

    oh, and what do 4 pairs of breasts have to do with mercedes benz? can someone explain that one to me?

    • Mmm…re connection: maybe it’s that men like breasts. And men also like cars.

      Not the most creative moment for the Mercedes Benz ad department … lol.

    • Thanks, this is exactly what I wanted to say. As a vegan, I usually don’t support Peta except for this very ad which is to the point.
      I think it’s really important that we realise that domination patterns are the same whether they target women, animals, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, etc It is these patterns we need to bring down, whenever they are and whoever they hurt. Mentalities need to be changed and get a complete a overhaul. As long as we (humans) condone the use of power against anything/ anybody and the need to organise living beings into false hierarchies solely based on discriminatory and arbitrary criteria, we’ll never get equality of any kind.

    • Yup, pretty much agree. Peta has run a lot of sexist and objectifying ads, but the idea of that one is obviously to be horrifying, unlike the Red Tape ad.

    • Sorry I don’t buy that PETA excuse; they want attention and media coverage. They’ve also used images of unshaved (shock horror!!) women, and even did a controversial video about sexual violence being all sexy, if you go vegan you will be so manly and good in bed you’ll put your partner in a neck brace… right.

      I’m afraid I don’t believe them.

  11. Here’s another:

    Sexual objectification is (or may be) present if a sexualized person is present along with another person who is not sexualized. For example, a woman in a swimsuit alongside a man in a suit.

  12. Excellent article! The more people understand this concept, the better. This type of objectification has been normalized,and encouraged in our society and it needs to change!

    For those of you that don’t see a problem with the VS ad, didn’t you notice how their bodies are so warped and photoshopped that they are barely human? What message does VS send to their female readers- you are considered sexy and desirable if you are a certain body type- and an unobtainable one at that – naturally mega thin with large breasts and stick think legs.

  13. This was a terrific article. I like your criteria for defining an image as ‘sexually objectifying.’ On another note, wow, collectively these images are pretty shocking. I’m an escort, and I can honestly say that most prostitution ad photos are less objectifying those in mainstream advertising …

    I think American Apparel has broadly been criticized in the past, but I’m really suprized/kinda shocked to see the PETA ad. The Mercedez Benz ads were also shocking to me in the way they completely disembodied the women’s breasts/bodies from a face …

    Like with porn, I don’t think it’s productive or makes sense to focus on eradicating offensive images. We need to put out equally marketable, salient non-objectifying images in advertising.

  14. Just a question. Are women sexual beings, like all humans, who should have the right to enter into healthy sexual relationships, engage in consensual adult activity, and simply be themselves? OR, is it women can be young, independent sexual beings, but only when we (and by “we” i can’t imagine it be a large percentage of all population) believe that women being independnet sexual beings is proper in our personal opinions? I’m not saying the ads don’t objectify women, but now we’ll have to hear not that these adult women are educated and smart and beautiful, but that clearly (with no evidence) that these women were manipulated and objectified and wrongly pressured to make these ads. It’s smacks of hypocricy

    • Michelle says:

      I’m not sure how you’re figuring that its hypocricy. Sexual objectification is pretty obvious and I don’t think there should be any place for it in advertising. The more people refuse to buy these products by writing letters to these companies, perhaps they will finally realize that selling products this way, does not work and only offends and contributes to a worse society. There’s absolutely no accountability on their part. It’s unbelievable! Your question about if women can be sexual beings has nothing to do with this. The answer is, of course! But why would you want to be degraded like this?? That’s something completely different. These women did have the choice to be in these ads which I think is what you’re getting at, but why didn’t they say no? Is it because they’ve been brainwashed to believe that this is “just the way the industry is” OR if you can’t beat em, join em? or boys will be boys, etc. All those stupid phrases for excusing inapprorpriate, f’d up behavior. Maybe these women don’t see a problem with it or realize the impact it can have on society. Maybe they don’t care? The point is the advertiser is the one to go after, not the models. They’re just doing their job and maybe they feel powerless to speak up about it because if they do, they won’t get the job. We the people have to let these advertisers know that this needs to stop NOW!!!!

    • Arielle says:

      Not all women think this is objectifying. I don’t. Think for yourself. You don’t have to be offended if you aren’t just because you think you should be. Personally none of them bothered me except the table and leash ones which were clearly made to shock. Everyone is different and no one should give in to “group think” regardless of what side it’s on. What offends one person won’t offend another. I assume the women in these ads would not agree with this article. Some women celebrate and use their sexuality and sexual nature and enjoy it. Others get offended and will say those women were brainwashed, raised wrong, etc, etc. In other words, think for yourself. And kudos for being brave to post your opinion!

      • Thank you Arielle! I think when efforts from any group are thought to be beneficial to society as a whole, it’s SO easy to paint an entire group of individuals (i.e., women) with broad, unfounded generalizations. Yet, when these same people don’t like the generalizations other people make, it’s considered wrong to group all women together.

        1) You say “degraded,” many would agree, many would disagree. Freedom to express yourself. Personally, I think some examples are extreme but not all. Also, I’m sure all of us are just picketing the Magic Mike movie!! HOW DEGRADING! Paint these men as strippers! Personally, I don’t know what the movie is about because it’s all just dancing in the ads!!! HOW APPALLING! These men clearly did not understand what they were getting into and I’m hoping all women who find these ads as objectifying, will join a protest of that film! haha like that would happen

        Now, I’ll wait ten minutes before people respond with such hypocritical statements like “well, magic mike is just one example. This is everyday women.” and “you clearly miss the point.” Please explain? lol

  15. I feel strongly about this issue… but I’ll limit my comment to this: objectification of women does not exist solely in overtly graphic ads. Multiple readers made the comment that the VS ad is ‘tame’ and therefor does not objectify women. My response to this is simply that the sexuality of a woman being sold in a one-size-fits-all package, lessens the perceived worth of women as individuals. Objectification is not the result of overly graphic ads as most in the post are; objectification of women (and men too, as it has been previously stated) is the result of an ever increasing acceptance of nudity/position/innuendo and expectation. We as a society got to this place of disrespect and general disregard for individuality as it pertains to a woman’s contribution outside of the bedroom, because we once looked at ads like the VS one and thought “OH MY GOODNESS!” and then did nothing about it. It does not take exposed genitalia or sexual presentations of a woman’s body to objectify women.

  16. First
    1. We have to educate women. Every woman should know about feminism, why it started, to what extent we should practice our rights etc etc

    2. Stop PORN ! search engines like Google make porn even teen/child porn easily available. Where does it stop… the ad makers men and women know about porn…most men watch it and think that baring a woman is normal. We are all caught up on a daily basis with some sort of objectification of women which i think stems out of early viewing of pornography. WE HAVE TO STOP PORN !!!!

    3. Playboy magazine- men lived healthily before its publishing and will once its publishing stops. I pray everyday Hugh Hefner and men like him die a horrible death !

    lets continue strengthening and empowering young women

    • Goldmarx says:

      Playboy started in 1954, I believe. Men lived healthily before 1954?? Does that include gay men, black men, or are you just assuming ‘straight white’ as the norm or default value?

      Oh, and how has it worked out for women in countries with no porn?

      You pray for a horrible death for Hefner, who has not killed anyone and who not only supports a woman’s right to choose but has donated millions on behalf of that cause.

    • Professor says:

      Good for you Deepa! Powerfully stated. The porn culture is indeed ruinous. (I would rather say that I hope for a late life conversion to moral sanity by Hugh Hefner than to his firey death–but I take your point!) Now just admit–as reason demands–that the same ire must be concentrated against Magic Mike. It MUST be.

  17. mrsculpepper says:

    Interesting that you mention Playboy. Right after I read this post I actually flipped through the most recent issue. Aside from the fact that it was Playboy, it didn’t appear to be objectifying the women who were photographed. Not a single model was shown as disembodied parts. There were no shots from behind. Now were they presented as commodities available for consuption? I guess that’s debatable. I didn’t seee that they were presented as interchangable but neither was there any diversity. So where does porn fit into the everyday objectification of women? I don’t know for sure but I do think that it can be done in an empowering nonobjectifying way.

    • Goldmarx says:

      So far, Ms. Heldman has not mentioned porn, which is both surprising and pleasing. If she leaves that out of Part 4 as well, then she will be accomplishing something rare in feminism – a unifying agenda against objectification that avoids the divisiveness of the sex wars.

      We’ll see…

  18. The images above clearly illustrate why objectifying women is so dangerous and undermining. Looking at these ads makes me feel sick to my stomach. However, I’m not sure I agree with point 7. Both of the ads featured there also violate point 1 of the SOT. I would argue that body as canvas has a valid place in the world of art, and including it here is unnecessary, in my opinion.

  19. I once said this to group of ladies on facebook that most of the women all over the world are not free….they live under these psychological enigmas. These weird images above are made to be normal but the fact is that they are degrading women’s self esteem……

  20. IIf anyone tries to tell me that NONE of these pics have been photoshopped then I call LIAR.

  21. I love how you guys broke down the different types of sexual objectification of women. These advertisements, especially american apparel and by the way, I will not be shopping there is appalling and ridiculous. If these companies had so much confidence in their products, they wouldn’t need women to “sell” their products. This crap is offensive and I was not born to please men. Sadly, we live in a patriarchal society that degrades women to their lowest value, but is also starting to sexually objectify men as well. I also blame the women, mostly the young women because many of them are uneducated about feminism. When I was in college I took several women studies courses and vowed to always adhere to female empowerment.With that being said, I refuse to buy from companies that demoralize women!

  22. Check out this new project by Norma Kamali who is fighting back against sexual objectification of women…

  23. It leads to NO SEX because people, especially men, look for an ideal that doesn’t occur naturally. It adulterates something that should be enjoyable (not just for procreation) and beneficial to both a couples and individual well-being. By creating these images, especially porn, it makes something that is probably unobtainable seem normal, it degenerates intimacy between couples under the guise that it’s “adult entertainment ” when by its very nature perverts.

  24. The typical porn user knows that fantasy is different from reality.

    Also, masturbation to any sexual fantasy would, by your logic, degenerate intimacy between couples.

  25. I agree with everything stated here. Tonight I googled perception of porn on men…out of disgust for AOL’s photos of the “hot” Dallas Cheerleaders — crotch shots, breast shots, pics of the women bending over, exposing their breasts. Don’t get me started on AOL’s promotion of the “side boob” picture. It made me feel sick and degraded as a woman.

    I am actually having difficulties with a man as a result of these images….As so many women are brainwashed by them. I have to contend with bimbettes who think their only worth is their sexuality and body parts throwing themselves at him at at women showing up at professional events with their disgustingly vast cleavage, etc.

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have never had to expose my cleavage to interest a man. I googled this too (sad, but true) to understand the mentality — only to find women love the power they get by having men mesmerized by their breasts and feel sexy having strange men they don’t even know leer at them. Can you imagine?

    I wish women would stop conspiring in their own objectification. They are truly destroying the relations between the sexes. Sex should be a beautiful expression of love between two people. Now women present themselves as commodities to be used and exploited and seem to enjoy it. They also tempt men who are in relationships with good women.

    As pathetic as this is, I actually broke up with my bf tonight since I felt so hurt by his salivating over women coming to office parties with their boobs hanging out and jumping all over him. The pain was excruciating as I know I don’t play the sex card or use my sensuality to entrap men or empower myself at their expense. But men, do response — and it hurts all of us.

    • Wow, Kate – well said…I am in the same situation with my bf…I hate him just because he happens to be born a male and I HATE SEX as I am constantly haunted by the idea that my bf is deriving his pleasure from my body, boobs and all…using me as a sex object for his pleasure, that his excitement comes from all the images of naked women that are imprinted in his head. It is awful to live like this!!! It destroys relationships, intimacy and love. I am afraid to stand in front of him nude…I cover my private parts and feel so disempowered, helpless, frustrated, angry…really really angry…I was a sexual abuse victim when a young girl… to add to my misery…I am shaking every time it comes to having sex with my bf…I am closing up to love my man as he so much deserves it…I am desperate…I go insane inside my boiling blood and outside verbally…always inadvertently making him responsible for the sexual abuse of women from the dawn of humanity up to this day. Crying…crying..and more crying…it hurts…

  26. My relationship with my current boyfriend is going well. But, it began as him sexually objectifying me and me sexually objectifying myself. Though I am no longer choosing to objectify myself, I feel I should end this relationship because I don’t want to be the recipient of his. He argues that objectification is empowering for women. Any advice please?

  27. Objectification isn’t inherently bad. Let’s get technical here for a moment. We are all physical objects and thus it is perfectly reasonable and rational to treat one another as objects. If I am walking down the sidewalk I navigate around other people as objects. Sure, I know they are people, but there is a sense in which I perceive and treat them as objects. The problem is when a person or creature is treated ENTIRELY or SOLELY as an object. This point is unfortunately missed by many well-intentioned feminists and other theorists. There is nothing wrong with treating people as objects and in fact it is necessary and natural to do so. We just have to be careful not to treat people only as objects. Any human or animal is both an object and subject to every other human or animal. Things go wrong when we ignore the subject side and treat someone purely as an object of some kind. When I am physically attracted to someone there is no doubt that I am in some sense seeing and treating them as a sexual object and there is nothing wrong with this. Again, it is necessary. Sexuality is inherently object based. At the same time I also see and treat them as a dignified subject who is to be respected as such, and I recognize my dual object/subject nature from their own perspective.

    I know there is a huge problem in our society with treating people and animals purely as objects and ignoring the fact that they are also a subject. Technically the pictures depicted here do not really do this as a picture on its own cannot do this. Pictures represent objects and don’t really represent subjects. The picture can be OF a subject, but any picture really only represents the object side of anything. It is only if you interpret the picture as objectifying in some greater sense that it is seen that way. I don’t interpret these pictures as objectifying because I don’t see the subjects in the pictures solely as objects, even though that is what they are in the picture. Basically what I am saying is that there is really nothing wrong with treating people as objects for the purposes of art and photos because art and photos deal in objects. As long as we, the viewers, recognize that the objects in the pictures are also subjects in real life, then there is nothing afoot.

    Some people argue that pictures like this try to have you focus on the object side of people and thus perpetuate the objectification of people (in this case the sexual objectification of women). This may be true, but the fault really lies in the fact that we are social trained to be vulnerable to this. It is really our own faults for seeing a picture of a beautiful woman (or part of a woman) and thinking of her only as an object. Personally I enjoy such pictures but by no means do I see the women in them as only objects. I see them as whole people, object and subject combined. Of course since I don’t know the women in the pictures I am more focused on the object side, but it doesn’t mean that I am treating them only as objects.

    Do I like the fact that companies use such strategies to advertise? No, because they are exploiting social problems that are already there. But they aren’t creating the problem. Only a person who already views others as objects with interpret objects in a picture only as objects and not also as subjects. We are somehow raising people to ignore the subject side of people and animals and this isn’t the fault of advertisers. In a society in which we all saw each other as subjects to be respected, there wouldn’t be a problem with using us as objects in ads. We only see it as wrong because it reminds us that some of us see a sexy woman in an ad and see her only as an object.

    • Devin it is very obvious and also very subtle. Objectification is energy just like everything else. Sexual objectification distorts our energy in the body and mind at the very deep level, it splits us in half: lower body pelvis area where our genitalia resides and upper body where our heart is. This split with time will make us less and less capable of true, unconditional love which only the connection of the pelvis to the heart, where emotions and spirit are, can do. Focusing on both subject and object confirms the split already present. And yes, we women have a big problem with the sexual objectification considering the history of a woman (horror of all horrors!), let’s not put oil to the fire.

  28. Look at the woman’s face in that “now open” American Apparel ad. She doesn’t look happy or comfortable with the position she is in. If your model isn’t comfortable with it, you shouldn’t be doing it.

  29. Do sexual thoughts/fantasies differ from sexual objectification?

  30. I am tired of every object in the world for sale even including a degree plan having an enhanced altered version of a female portrayed in a seductive demeanor.

    So many women will willingly engage and chase the illusion of an image.

    So female X just got botox, hair extensions, boob job, nose job so Female Y has to go get the same and a Marilyn Monroe mole tattooed on her face to ‘compete. I would not be surprised if women start altering their height and reshaping bones next.

    I consider these women humanoids and not human.

  31. hi guys i really nead help on an essay i am writting about “does advertising show young women as sexual objects and are women effected negativley in todays society” i would really like to hear what you think about it. Thank you!

  32. I agree with everything except number 7. I know plenty of self-respecting women who use their bodies as canvases for tattoos. It’s a legitimate form of self-expression. Then again it’s not the same as having some company draw their advertisements directly on your skin.

    Also, the PETA ad you mentioned is certainly objectification, but unlike the others, it’s INTENDED to be disgusting. PETA was reminding us all that to eat meat is to cut up a living creature – a very disgusting truth indeed.

  33. But which country in the world is free from this?? I agree it’s highly toxic for women, you feel insulted and slapped in the face everytime you see things like this, it’s degrading. I would like to know if there’s a place on earth free from this, I will consider moving there…. someone please send me suggestions.

    • Many countries objectify women, but I think the US tops all if the others. And we call ourselves civilized? We won’t shoot a loose bear, but will show photos if naked women for men to look at.

      Every noticed how in television and movies, when an animal is handled and they always put in a disclaimer to say that no animal was hurt or harmed during thus filming.

      But yet and still we see men hurting and harming women in print, television and film, everywhere, yet, without a statement to apologize that the women were not harmed.

      Women, we allow men to do things to us and we need to stop demeaning each other and stand up together and stop this sexual objectification of women. Oct 15-15. 8:50 am

    • There are none! But Spiritual Awakening is happening within many individuals now all over the world and we are evolving as humans one person at a time – that’s my country, that’s my company!

  34. Lisa Merrill says:

    That woman posed that way because She wanted to. She knew her photo was being taken. She wanted the money. And, she knew that if she did not do it, some other woman would.

    Women do this to each other. And, it is my thinking that these ads are aimed at the woman who feels the need to compete with other women. “Buy our product, and you can win. You’ll be the one he notices . . not her”.
    In other words, it would not be this way if woman did not want it. This is what “sexual freedom” has brought us. If I don’t, she will.
    Therefore, jerk men are allowed to procreate.

    I would suggest your magazine focus an article or two on “personification”. Liberty, is personified as a woman, by men! Justice is a woman, Wisdom, Nature . . all depictected in art, sculpture and scripture . . by Men. I would love to see you focus more on that. Then maybe women will begin to see how much we really mean to a Good Man, instead of focusing on what we look like to a jerk.

    • Well said! Those are the evolving men who are trying to connect to their Yin side. Mother Nature gives and it’s also has the power to take all away! It gave them breath of life, better men respect Mother Nature.

  35. Self respecting men do not allow society to paint them as helpless and unthinking idiots falling for the normalization of women as mere sexual objects. This is more an insult to men than women, casting them as easy targets of subliminal ads, just barely above apes in a society of primates.

    Most men don’t fall for that ideology, and think men have more value than that, just as women do.
    It’s a matter of intellect!

  36. It’s an awesome paragraph for all the online users; they will get benefit from it I am sure.


  1. […] aspect of this consciousness is that it objectifies people. The objectification of women—turning them into body parts that exist and have value only to the extent they satisfy male […]

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