Posted by: nataliemgrim | March 26, 2018

And the Oscar Goes To..The Headless Women of Hollywood

When considering what earns Hollywood actors and actresses accreditation or success, most of us would think of their acting skills, creativity, charisma, and sure, their physical appearance. Plenty of celebrities insure physical body parts, which if they didn’t have, they would be out of their career. Some insure their smiles, some insure their legs. Some insure their singing voices. Women and men both (granted women especially) depend on their body parts to make a living.

However, recently I came across the “Headless Women of Hollywood Project”, a project started by Marcia Belsky, which compiled a collection of movie posters and advertisements that used sardonic humor to reveal truths about the way women are objectified in Hollywood. I visited their website, scrolled through their collection, and what I saw were numerous real movie posters, men’s faces, and a conglomeration of women’s body parts. What I didn’t see on the posters, however, were the women’s faces.

We all know that Hollywood, and really advertisers in general, utilize sex appeal when selling their products. But when we remove the faces of women in these ads, we effectively objectify them. But are we also symbolically, metaphorically insinuating that we aren’t giving faces to women? When we remove a face, we remove an identity. Without a face, without a head, we are just a summation of parts. We are removing the emotions, the expressions when we remove the eyes. We are removing the ability to think and discern when we remove the head. It may be just a movie poster, but that is the image. Anyone who views that poster is viewing that woman’s parts, but not her face. Not her.

So what? You might think, it’s a free country, with a free capitalist system, and this is old news. Those women are getting compensated, and this is America.

Then why are men’s faces always in the picture?

We are asking ourselves why we have the problems we have with sexual assault in the country, with the intellect and talent of women in the professional spheres being ignored or underestimated, and we ask why we don’t have women in positions of political power, and I think Belsky and the other collaborators have identified one valid piece of the complete answer to that question.

Source: The Headless Women of Hollywood Project


  1. The first time I found out that celebrities insure various parts of their persona, I thought the article I was reading was a parody article, but no such luck. The Hollywood industries rely heavily on physical traits of various famous people. Many women insure their legs, bums, or breasts. The men who insure their bodies participate in very physical activities, like professional soccer or stunts for movies. The women seemed to insure their physical traits that are particularly sexualized, which reminds me of the documentary Miss Representation. Women are portrayed a certain way in the media, and are encouraged to preserve their looks by getting surgeries or injections.

    I agree with your point that representations of women without faces or identities is ultimately harmful. These women are indeed being paid to be featured in these magazines, but in reducing them to a body type or sex object, they are diminished. I saw this video of some young kids looking at a Black Panther movie poster, saying how the characters looked like they do. This only illustrates the power of images: young children look at the various sexual images they are presented with and they internalize the accompanying messages. How are young girls supposed to grow up confident in themselves if they are constantly surrounded by images of women reduced to their bodies.

    I think we would probably react negatively to images of sexualized men everywhere. First, it would be competently off-putting. We’ve been socialized to accept women as super sexy creatures, but our automatic assumptions are often not to look critically at men’s bodies. Second, the media executives that have ultimate say in what the company produces, are highly unlikely to sign off on an image that objectifies men in the same way that women are constantly objectified. I think one way to slow this phenomenon is to have more women in higher levels of advertisement and media productions. They would be able to say things like “It’s highly unlikely that a woman would nonchalantly change her clothes in front of a man” or “Naked woman cradling perfume bottles makes no sense at all.”

    I thought the Muhr and Sullivan reading from a few weeks ago was really interesting. It talked about how leadership is an intersection between sex, gender, and sexuality. We all navigate the world according to our schema, and one of our current expectations is that women will be pictured in more sexualized representations than men will be. Expectations of leadership are influenced by sex and gender: women are expected to act a certain way, and often face repercussions if they act against their gender norms. This is especially true in the case of bodies that transgress normal societal expectations.

  2. Unfortunately, sexism is still rampant in Hollywood, which is why the #Me Too movement is so important. Men are rated by their acting abilities, while women are rated more on their bodies. For example, a male actor like Chris Pratt, is seen committed for gaining or losing weight for a role. A female actress like Amy Schumer, on the other hand, is objectified if she is too skinny or fat. Women are even pressured into augmenting their bodies to fit certain stereotypes, especially in the buttocks and breasts. Breasts and hips need to be large, but not too large. Noses and jawlines need to be narrowed, but not too skinny. Lips plump, but not too much where they are seen as comical.

    It is obvious that women’s bodies are objectified, but for what purpose? Is the message Hollywood is trying to tell women is that they are only there to sexually satisfy men? In the James Bond films, women are only relevant if they can be eye candy to the men. Real names are even replaced with pseudonyms such as Pussy Galore. Even Penny, who shows up in every movie, is only there as a secretary and secret love affair to 007.

    The “Headless Women of Hollywood Project” does a good job in uncovering the objectification of women. It is distasteful, but not surprising to see how many movie posters only show women’s bodies and not their faces. I agree that when we remove people’s names and faces, we remove their identities. Without a head, there is no brain. In a symbolic sense, Hollywood is telling people that women cannot have thoughts or opinions.

    Advertisements and movie posters do have a large impact in society. They are displayed everywhere on billboards and in magazines, and young people hang them up in their rooms or lockers. I liked how Maddie related this to how the youth then internalize these messages, which then creates a perpetual cycle of sexism and objectification. It will have to take a cultural shift to make advertisement and movie poster designers realize what messages they are sending to the public. People need to question their reasons for only using female bodies and to suggest better ways to advertise movies. No one is compensated enough for having their head and identity removed from a movie poster. Especially since females are paid so much less than men.

  3. This makes a lot of sense! I never noticed before how many women’s faces aren’t shown in film posters, but their bodies are. To play the Devil’s advocate, do you think we could be overthinking the sexualization of women? On one hand, there are many films that focus on sex, and women’s bodies tend to be the ones on display. But then again, doesn’t our culture seem to revolve around sex these days? While the media does impact our society, we could also say that the media is trying to cater to pop culture…and if pop culture constantly consumes media with arousing characters, then why should the media stop if it brings in the money? Also, one of the posters from The Headless Women website was from a movie called Just Go With It, and there was a woman walking towards the beach in a bikini, her back facing the viewers, her face hardly visible. For those who know the story line, it would make sense that the woman is walking away while partially looking back because it symbolizes her character’s obliviousness to Adam Sandler’s character’s lies. Plus, they are on the beach. Are women not allowed to wear bikinis on the beach because, heaven forbid, they would appear too “sexy”? That’s why I ask if we are overthinking the sexualization of women–some women choose to wear clothes that show more skin than others. Does that mean they’re oversexualized? To them, maybe it’s an outfit choice to look and feel beautiful, but we could be placing a negative sexual judgement on them. So, if we want the media to stop portraying these highly sexualized products/images/films/things, then pop culture would need to stop consuming them.

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