The Return of the Headless Woman

While living in North Carolina, I couldn’t help but notice the logo of a chain of local strip clubs—a graphic featuring the high-kicking silhouetted torso of woman within a circle—sans head. Not terribly surprising that a “gentleman’s club” would focus on women’s bodies while deliberately leaving out the part of us featuring face and brain, though.

Earlier this year I stumbled upon jewelry hangers in a Washington, D.C.-area Target—cute-at-first-glance but disturbingly headless purse-carrying torsos. After snapping these pics and discussing with some friends, one recalled The New York Times being called out on their use of headless female torsos in an ad campaign earlier this year.

Others have written about the trend of popular book covers featuring headless women, and of course history’s full of beheaded queens. What does it say of our society when depictions of women without heads—the home of the human thought and imagination—become so commonplace that we hardly notice? As Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins today, shouldn’t we pay extra attention to this sort of imagery?

There are too many nonfiction stories in today’s news of real women and children being beheaded at the hands of men. We don’t need fiction or pop culture perpetuating the brutally symbolic practice. Decapitation must not be a new design meme. Violent death is barbaric, intolerable both as reality and fashion trend.












  1. Um….these are mannequins for clothes. I think the idea is to showcase the clothing? Would an undefined head be okay? Or full face? I don’t see a problem with mannequins without heads because it’s puts the focus on the clothing, which is where it should be. Also, I think it’s weak to tenuously connect Domestic Violence with this. The mannequins are for women. I doubt men look at clothing stores and really become desensitized. A bit of reach.

    • There are lots of male fetishists out there, so yes, even an undefined head is better than none.

    • These are not mannequins for clothes. If you look below, there is a tag that says they are jewelry hangers.

      • So b/c they are jewelry hangers, does that make a difference? I don’t think so.

        Also, I personally find it sexist and dangerous that men’s underwear packages only show a big close up of, well, a package. Usually not wearing a shirt so you see just abs, legs, and bulge, this type of subconscious advertising is disgusting. What does it say of our society when depictions of men without chest, legs, and heads—the home of the human thought and imagination—become so commonplace that we hardly notice? I’m personally offended underwear men would be dehumanized to just their genitals in such a blatant and sexist and offensive way.

        P.S. That men’s underwear rant is sarcastic to show why I think this might be an overreaction and going out on a limb to voice dismay over these jewelry hangers

  2. I agree with Fran above in reference to the jewelry hangers at Target. If we’re going out on that limb, let’s jump on the racism branch as well. I’m offended they’re all white; where’s my share of this article? We’re definitely reaching here and NOT in a way that’s productive.

  3. Cheryl Fuller says:

    Fat people are routinely shown in ads as headless. Common enough that the term “headless fatties” is widely recognized in the fat acceptance community.

  4. I think that removing the face and the brain — the very things that make each of us unique — is disturbing. This depersonalizes women. When you stop seeing someone as an individual it makes it easier to use her (or him) as a punching bag.

  5. Carol Osnato says:

    Ms. Kenney, thank you for this article. Many women of my age group (born in the early ’40s) need you young women to show us things to be aware of in advertising because we don’t always make a connection to feminine issues. I really appreciate your take on this & will forever notice this headless issue as disrespect to my gender.

  6. I hate this kind of advertising some of my favorite artistic book covers that seduce me into buying the book are pictures of interesting looking womens faces, particularly with interesting makeup or a facial expression that makes you wonder why she is making that face and why she feels that way. I know they say dont judge a book by its cover but thats something that I enjoy. For instance this book that I have called the calling by kelly armstrong and the mysterious facial expression really makes u want to read it. Good point about the BLINDLY CLEAR AND OBVIOUS historical significance of women being beheaded. That would be a terrifying way to die and utter disrespect to the intellect and spirit of women.

  7. I hate the headless book covers. Period. I am not going to argue about it. I have been reading historical romances since the 1970’s. I like the book covers with heads on them.

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