Home > Advertising > Advertising! Part 7: Killing Us Softly 4 and “Ugly” Women

Advertising! Part 7: Killing Us Softly 4 and “Ugly” Women

Part 1 of Jean Kilbourne’s lecture documentary film Killing Us Softly 4 can be found here, at YouTube. Click an image to see a larger version, and click the link in the text nearby to that image to see where I got it from.

In my last entry I discussed what Kilbourne said in the film about advertisements presenting the ideal image of beauty to younger and younger women and girls. Now, we look at how advertising treats “ugly” women.

It’s bad enough that we rigidly define “beautiful” and “ugly” and then apply those labels to women, and that we encourage women to aspire to be one or the other. It’s even worse when “ugly” women are portrayed in advertising as being the butt of the joke:

A recent Israeli Internet advertising campaign for Bacardi tells women to make friends with an “ugly” woman in order to “look amazing” in comparison; I’m not sure what Code Breaker is, but I know that it thinks that wives are older, sexually undesirable and comical-looking, and that “mistresses” are more fun and appealing (also found here); Durex’s New Zealand advertising campaign, “Last longer”, featured an “ugly” woman on a pillowcase as ejaculation-discouragement during sex. Durex actually distributed promotional pillow cases for that one.

The ad to the right is a Public Service Announcement from the UK. Its public service message is a positive one: it discourages binge drinking. Its cultural message is a particularly horrible one: Men, be careful not to get too drunk, because your decreased sexual inhibition may put you at risk of speaking to, flirting with, going home with, and having sex with, an “ugly” woman – and that will ruin your enjoyable evening. The goggles have “Beer Goggles” written on the strap, and the copy reads, “Afraid you’ll pull a moose? Stay focused by pacing your drinks… Why let good times go bad?” In the UK, the term “moose” is used as a particularly nasty term for “ugly woman” (see the ad’s source link).

Ads warning women of the danger or amorality of certain behaviours evoke women’s fear of being unattractive:

(And I had managed to avoid PETA for all that time, up until now.) PETA admonishes Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson for including fur in their fashion line, calling them and their customers “ugly people”; PETA perpetuates the current beauty trend which dictates that women should never have any visible pubic hair in order to be attractive (and also requests that you not wear fur); the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) uses a facetious slogan in a public service announcement to warn women that the principal reasons to avoid smoking tobacco are the danger of developing bad-looking teeth, and looking undignified holding a cigarette.

The ad to the left is another NHS public service announcement, this time targeting binge drinking. It is riddled with negative societal messages, including: It is not okay for women to drink to excess, but men are expected to do it; If women drink to excess, their femininity will be compromised; If women drink to excess, they risk looking “ugly”, with messy hair, silly make-up, wrinkled skin (accelerated aging) and unfeminine facial features; It is bad for women to be unfeminine or “ugly”, and it is also funny, and women who suffer from these afflictions will be ridiculed, and; Members of the trans community are inherently “ugly” and funny, and deserving of ridicule. Although the ad attracted complaints, the NHS defended it, claiming that it was effective in deterring women from binge drinking (see the ad’s source link).

If the qualities of advanced aging, such as wrinkled skin, are aspects of “ugliness” in women, then it is imminent that all women will progress toward it as we age. Of course, the mainstream media is riddled with ads for anti-aging products:

Andie MacDowell for L’Oreal; a mannequin for Elizabeth Arden
; an absolutely ridiculous stock photo that I’m seeing everywhere on-line lately, that usually places the woman’s age at 55 although clearly she’s simultaneously in her late 20s and in her 70s, that shows that the woman is only effecting change on the skin on her face (by casually peeling it) and yet shows her with two different sets of hair, and has many different versions and this particular one is the sort that will probably shut my blog down when I link it here. For goodness’ sake, what is this thing? Look at the copy on this version of it: “400,000 unemployed cosmetics workers hate her”. A sudden plunge in employment figures, you say? Whoo, yes please, sign me up right away. The link is even worse – it’s an article about how her “beauty tip” has caused the major skincare companies to experience “dwindling sales figuures (sic)”. Ugh.

Moving right along, just like they do other women who fail to display conventional beauty and are thus dubbed “ugly”, advertisers exploit older women for comparisons and ridicule:

Another ridiculous on-line ad; an ad for Juicy Couture in which the taller, younger woman who is granted poise and individuality is placed next to four shorter, elderly women who are distinguished by colour-coded hair and clothing, one of whom is displaying a caricatured sense of displeasure at her inferiority; Trebbiano handbags ridicules older women with its slogan “Seen enough old bags?”; an ad for Ripolin paint creates a comical likeness between a melted paint job and an elderly woman’s breasts, which have sagged due to aging.

The overall message that these ads send to women is this: if you defer from the constructed image of conventional beauty, then you will be unattractive, you won’t be well-liked by society, and you will be an object for amusement and ridicule by the people around you. If you are “ugly”, if you fail, you will regret it – and with such impossible standards to meet, all women, ultimately, will fail.

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