Posted by: elisemonahan | April 4, 2018


“Sex sells.” We’ve all heard this before. In fact, I’m sure that is why this article caught your eye.  “Sex sells,” refers to any form of media hypersexualizing a person (normally a woman) in order to sell a product – and yes, it works.

But just because it works does not mean that the media should turn a blind eye to the consequences. These hypersexualized images can be detrimental to the mental health and self-image of girls worldwide and can lead to eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. In addition to teaching our young to define their self-worth off their sexuality, we are putting them under a sexualized lens from a very young age. In my opinion, the role the media plays in how men view women has an even more detrimental effect in society. It makes them feel as though they have the right to judge a women off her physical appearance and that they have the right to treat women with less respect.

This issue becomes apparent in the workplace. In a room filled with men, women seem to naturally be left out. I’ve heard many reasons for this, but I feel like they all come down to this: a lack of respect. I believe there is a subliminal gender bias due to the schemata developed about women since a very young age. For example, even cartoons in child shows and movies display women in sexualized manor, such as Tinker Bell’s short, strapless dress or Kim Possible’s big hips and small waist displayed by her tight crop top. It seems to almost be a requirement for a women to have the perfect body and show it off if she plays an important role. If we could only stop the media from displaying women like this (while having the male roles almost completely covered up), then we could stop subliminal gender bias from a young age and therefore teach children to treat women with respect and a sense of equality. Media should depict women as strong, independent leaders that dress like normal people and don’t use their sex appeal to advance themselves. This would have a tremendous impact on the lives of women leaders that are not given complete respect and therefore would improve the atmosphere for women in the common workplace. When women are given this respect, the equality will follow.

Unfortunately, we do not have ability to stop media from projecting this image of women. So, what CAN we do? I think the first step is obvious: start with you. LADIES stop altering your body or airbrushing your face or editing on tans. It’s okay to have acne or fat rolls or pale skin in pictures that your peers see. We should not feel that we need to fit into the sexualizing world of social media at the cost of losing our own authenticity. We are beautiful the way we are and should not need to alter ourselves to make people agree. Let’s stop feeding into the “sex sells” cause, one girl at a time. If we have tempered radicals worldwide supporting this cause it will make a difference.

Right after we finished the Miss Representation documentary I knew I wanted my next blog to be about this. The affect media has on society is massive, undeniable, and uncontrollable, so what do we do about it? What do you guys think about how media affects women leaders confidence and respect in the workplace? Are there any other solutions you guys have to this issue?

Check out this article for stunning statistics and interesting ideas that have been implemented to help this cause!




  1. Hi Elise! You are right, this post did indeed catch my eye. I think American society has a problem with sexuality. Everyone sees it and talks about it, yet there are so many societal restraints on sexual practices. In his History of Sexuality, Foucault talked about the repressive hypothesis, the idea that sex was repressed, then proved that the opposite was true: by making sex a taboo subject, people get a thrill out of anything relating to it. Sex is everywhere in our media: it’s used to sell the most arbitrary of all items (do you really need naked women to sell a hamburger?).

    I agree that the hypersexualization of women has negative effects on young girls. I recently wrote a paper about pro-sex feminism, and one of the sources I used talked about the negative effects of young girls seeing sexualized images as normal while they were being taught that sex was immoral and dirty. I agree with you when you say that girls learn at a young age to accept inappropriate behavior. I remember being teased as a child, and an adult saying that such behavior only meant that the boy had a crush on me. If we teach children that being mean is equated to love, then we’re setting that child up to have a complicated love map that eventually leads to them being victimized.

    I also agree that there are negative consequences in the workplace and other aspects of adult life. If an entire generation grows up thinking that women are sexual objects, then that influences how they will look at the world for the rest of their lives. A female employer or manager may not be well respected because she is subject to schema that makes her gender seem weak and only useful for sex. It also allows women to be passed over for such a position, or taken advantage of while on the job. I was watching Dexter, and a character had just been promoted to a lieutenant. She was told to dress more professionally “in a skirt/suit.” Arguably, a skirt suit is more sexy than a pantsuit, because a skirt adheres to the female gender role. If women are only respected in professional situations if they perform their gender, then they are being limited.

    I agree with you that tempered radicalism would be a good way to solve this problem. I know I’m only one person, but I don’t support businesses that oversexualize women as advertising ploys. If enough people decide to do this, and sex stops selling, I think that companies would be forced to re-think their marketing strategies. I am not holding my breath for this to happen at any point in my life, but I like to think I may be making some small change. I agree with you that it’s important to change the definition of beautiful. If we teach children, from a young age, that there is no one way to look beautiful then I think we could start to make a change. There would still be older generations that subscribe to the hypersexualized idea of beauty, but eventually the norms would shift.

    I think there are some aspects of the media that support women leaders. Shonda Rhimes’ shows are coming to mind, in that the women in these shows are in touch with their sexuality, but they express it in subtle (more realistic) ways. I wonder what would happen if enough powerful (non-sexualized) women were represented on screen. I think it would be a good start, but it has to be a bigger societal change. Sex has been selling consumer goods for years now, and I doubt companies would be happy to re-write their entire marketing campaigns based on a few complaints. On a more individual level, I feel empowered when I see a strong woman pictured on television. It makes me want to get down to business and maybe be a role model for someone else. I think we need to have these conversations more often, and include more voices in the conversation. As women leaders, and as male leaders who recognize the importance of women leaders, we are in a good position to start.

  2. The sentiment of this blog post really hits home with a lot of people, especially college-aged women because we are often times the most sexualized and objectified population in the media. These problems absolutely have detrimental effects on one’s emotional, mental, and even physical health, as women go to great lengths to adjust their bodies so that they can match the standards of beauty set up by society. As we watched on “Miss Representation,” airbrushed models and liposuctioned bodies are the minimal requirements for media appearances, especially in advertisements that are directed towards women. TV shows and feature films depict high schoolers using grown actresses, which makes adolescent girls feel that they are behind or lacking in developmental or beauty expectations. Why does it seem that all female superheroes wear high heels? Don’t the writers and illustrators know that kicking ass is almost impossible in 8-inches stilettos, much less walking?

    Of course, the media is also guilty of depicting men in a negative light. Most of the actors and characters that are portrayed in movies and shows are graced with perfect stature, giant biceps, and washboard abs. How many men in the real world do you actually know like this? Besides the physical exclusivity, many men in these roles are often times hyper masculine, following the trope as head hancho at the office or captain of the lacrosse team. These expectations are unrealistic for men and can result in negative self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy among impressionable adolescent boys. However, I think the main takeaway here would be that, despite the distortions that the media depicts regarding unrealistic beauty and identity standards, men still hold most positions of power across industries and organizations. Not only are women’s self-esteem and mental health affected by these standards, but their future prospects and goals take a pretty hard hit as well.

  3. The sexualization of women in general is a detriment to society, but has even more extreme consequences in the workplace. As long as we, as a society, are talking about her body, we aren’t talking about her brain. This means that even though we may have a female leader in the organization, she is only a figure-head, only a token, because her voice and perspective isn’t being heard, much less respected or considered. I think this leads to reduced self-confidence of the female leader and may lead her to lean back and attempt to avoid attention. This, in turn, perpetuates stereotypes of female leaders being pliable, or push-overs. If we focused on what the woman was doing, rather than how she looked or how she was dressed, we may be able to develop better female leaders to fight negative stereotypes and societal expectations.

    I think social media is a good platform to battle these problems because they are so ingrained in society. Social media allows women to use tempered radicalism and “small wins” strategies to combat this problem. Twitter users like Anna Kendrick and Chrissy Teigen are not afraid to call people or organizations out for blatant sexism and have built up a following of men and women who support them. They are trying to stop the cultural norms that encourage the sexualization of men and women in small, but influential ways.

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