Friday, May 23, 2008

Sex Sells: Femininity Depictions in Advertising

Sex sells. Advertisements can be seen everywhere – buildings, magazines, billboards, commercials. Many of these advertisements include a vivid image of sexuality and uses sex as a method of selling something. This concept can be seen in many images of the models pictured in the advertisements, especially the women. Numerous disembodied gendered objectifications appear in images of femininity and masculinity within these ads, and they depict society’s view on how women and men should be. Although both men and women are used as models in advertisements using sex appeal, sexual boundaries are made and the concept of what a woman should do and look like appears to be very submissive compared to the concept of how a man should carry himself. Also, by using these methods to sell products, an ideal illusion of beauty is created. Many women feel as if by making oneself look like the models, one can be attractive and beautiful. There is no doubt that women’s sexuality is used as a means to both promote products in the market, as seen in Calvin Klein Jeans advertisements, and reflect feminine “identity” in society.

As seen in the collage collection of Calvin Klein Jean advertisements, sex appeal is a main tactic used by marketers to sell products. Images of male and female models are used to convince the audience to purchase and promote the product. As Sut Jhally mentions in “Image-Based Culture,” advertisers

“use images and representations of men and women as central components of their strategy to both get attention and persuade… [A]ds draw heavily upon the domain of gender display – not the way that men and women actually behave but the ways in which we think men and women behave… Sexuality provides a resource that can be used to get attention and communicate instantly,” (Jhally, 253).

This can be seen in the collage collection of Calvin Klein Jean advertisements. Many of these advertisements picture men and women in explicit relationships. Sexuality is used to immediately attract the attention of consumers. Several advertisements feature naked women and men, engaging in sexual displays of affection. In an ad for jeans, for instance, a seemingly naked male model is depicted taking off a seemingly naked female model’s jeans. Although the jeans are the main product that the ad is attempting to sell, the jeans are not the main focus of the ad. The woman’s rear end is centered in the ad, along with the male’s muscular biceps. Because these are the center of attention in the ad, consumers look at the ad and focus on these ideal images of beauty. This is the butt all women wish to achieve; these are the muscles all men wish to achieve. Society’s view of the ideal body is depicted in the ads. Long female legs are featured in the CK Jean ad on the bottom right, and although a bit censored, a naked female model is featured in the CK Jean ad on the center left. These female models have long legs, perfect skin, seemingly large breasts, and thin waists. This ideal look in the advertisements that surround everyday life advise the audience on how to dress, how to get a man, and most of all, how to look.

Not only can sexuality be seen throughout numerous advertisements, but certain ramifications of the female identity are also portrayed via these advertisements. Females are portrayed as commodities in many advertisements, and objectified and used to sell the products by “becoming” the product. Females are also pictured as being submissive when compared to men in these ads. For instance, in the CK Jeans collage, the two top advertisements featuring two couples depict the male model with a look of toughness and ruggedness. His facial expressions show his leadership, strength, and masculinity. The female model, on the other hand, is pictured behind the male model in one ad. The male model is the “leader,” while the female model is in the background, tending to the male model, hugging and caressing him. This depicts females as being nurturing. “Females touch people and things delicately, we caress, whereas males grip, clench, and grasp,” (Kilbourne, 265). The ad in the top center features a male model holding the female model, as if he is protecting her. This again depicts males as being strong and fearless, while females must nurture and rely on males to ensure well-being. These messages behind the ads can be seen in other ads that do not feature male models, too. Advertisers influence ideas of feminism by depicting these models in certain positions that represent how a female should be according to society. “Advertisers are members of the culture too and have been as thoroughly conditioned as anyone else… On a deeper level, however, they reflect cultural concerns and conflicts about women’s power,” (Kilbourne, 262). In the collage, the advertisements featuring one female model portray the model in a submissive or restricted position. The ad on the top left portrays the woman inching away from the camera with her arm covering her face, the ad on the bottom left portrays the woman in a cowering position, her back toward the camera, and the ad on the bottom center features women covered and restricted by male police officers. Even the ad in the direct center of the collage represents the limitations on femininity by positioning a female model with her arms restricted and bound behind her. These restrictions and cowering positions are used to develop a feminine identity via advertisements. By using these females as models, not only are CK Jeans able to advertise for jeans and their product line, but the advertisers are also able to advise the audience on how a true attractive female should be – submissive, nurturing, and thin – by using these negative depictions of feminine identity. Overall, these ads use sex appeal to show society’s ideal concept of femininity by making women appear submissive and vulnerable in the photos.


"Calvin Klein Ad #748." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #68." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #70." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #339." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

"Calvin Klein Ad #392." Calvin Klein Jeans. 23 May 2008 .

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 249-257.

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add." Gender, Race, and Class in the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-265.