Killing us Softly: What The Media Actually Does To Women
In this new, highly anticipated update of her pioneering Killing Us Softly series, the first in more than a decade, Jean Kilbourne takes a fresh look at how advertising traffics in distorted and destructive ideals of femininity. The film marshals a range of new print and television advertisements to lay bare a stunning pattern of damaging gender stereotypes — images and messages that too often reinforce unrealistic, and unhealthy, perceptions of beauty, perfection, and sexuality. By bringing Kilbourne’s groundbreaking analysis up to date, Killing Us Softly 4 stands to challenge a new generation of students to take advertising seriously, and to think critically about popular culture and its relationship to sexism, eating disorders, and gender violence.
Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on the image of women in advertising and for her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising. In the late 1960s she began her exploration of the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women, eating disorders, and addiction, and launched a movement to promote media literacy as a way to prevent these problems. A radical and original idea at the time, this approach is now mainstream and an integral part of most prevention programs. Her films, lectures and television appearances have been seen by millions of people throughout the world. Kilbourne was named by The New York Times Magazine as one of the three most popular speakers on college campuses. She is the creator of the renowned Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women film series and the author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel and co-author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.
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Sometimes people say to me, “You’ve been talking about this for 40 years. Have things gotten any better?” And actually I have to say, really they’ve gotten worse. Ads sell more than products. They sell values. They sell images. They sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great extent, they tell us who we are and who we should be.
Well what does advertising tell us about women? It tells us, as it always has, that what’s most important is how we look. So the first thing the advertisers do is surround us with the image of ideal female beauty. Women learn from a very early age that we must spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and above all money, striving to achieve this look and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable, because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness. She never has any lines or wrinkles. She certainly has no scars or blemishes. Indeed, she has no pores.
And the most important aspect of this flawlessness is that it cannot be achieved. No one looks like this, including her. And this is the truth. No one looks like this. The supermodel Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” She doesn’t. She couldn’t, because this is a look that’s been created for years through airbrushing and cosmetics, but these days it’s done through the magic of computer retouching.
Keira Knightley is given a bigger bust. Jessica Alba is made smaller. Kelly Clarkson, well this is an interesting. . .it says, “Slim down your way,” but she in fact slimmed down the Photoshop way. You almost never see a photograph of a woman considered beautiful that hasn’t been Photoshopped.
We all grow up in a culture in which women’s bodies are constantly turned into things, into objects. Here she’s become the bottle of Michelob. In this ad, she becomes part of a video game. And this is everywhere, in all kinds of advertising, women’s bodies turned into things, into objects. Now of course this affects female self-esteem. It also does something even more insidious. It creates a climate in which there’s widespread violence against women. I’m not at all saying that an ad like this directly causes violence. It’s not that simple. But turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.
We see this with racism. We see it with homophobia. We see it with terrorism. It’s always the same process. The person is dehumanized, and violence then becomes inevitable. And that step is already and constantly taken with women. Women’s bodies are dismembered in ads, hacked apart. Just one part of the body is focused upon, which of course is the most dehumanizing thing you could do to someone. Everywhere we look, women’s bodies turned into things and often just parts of things.
And girls are getting the message these days so young, that they need to be impossibly beautiful, hot, sexy, extremely thin. And they also get the message that they’re going to fail, that there’s no way to really achieve it. Girls tend to feel fine about themselves when they’re eight, nine, ten years old, but they hit adolescence, and they hit a wall, and certainly part of this wall is this terrible emphasis on physical perfection.
So no wonder we have an epidemic of eating disorders, in our country and increasingly throughout the world. I’ve been talking about this for a very long time, and I keep thinking that the models can’t get any thinner, but they do. They get thinner and thinner and thinner. This is Anna Carolina Reston who died a year ago of anorexia, weighing 88 pounds. And at the time, she was still modeling. So the models literally cannot get any thinner. So Photoshop is brought to the rescue. There are exceptions, however. Kate Winslet has been outspoken about her refusal to allow Hollywood to dictate her weight. When British GQ Magazine published this photograph of Winslet, which was digitally enhanced to make her look dramatically thinner, she issued a statement that the alterations were made without her consent. And she said, “I don’t look like that, and more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that. I can tell you that they’ve reduced the size of my legs by about a third.” Bless her heart.
So what can we do about all of this? Well the first step is to become aware, to pay attention, and to recognize that this affects all of us. These are public health problems that I’m talking about. The obsession with thinness is a public health problem. The tyranny of the ideal image of beauty, violence against women, these are all public health problems that affect us all, and public health problems can only be solved by changing the environment.
There may be small errors in this transcript.[/toggle]
The video below shows how quickly a model can be manipulated using Photoshop