Let’s take a look at some of the language and beauty ideals used in advertisements for beauty products and services. With products designed to target women, we often see language like “erase wrinkles,” “shrink your thighs,” “reduce cellulite,” “make your pores vanish.” With men, it’s much more common to see advertisements telling men to “bulk up” and “increase muscle tone” (we definitely still see some ads telling men to lose weight or decrease unwanted body hair, but these ads are much more commonly targeted at women.) Women are told to reduce their bodies while men are told to increase them.
The “ideal” female body that we see in advertisements is small. She is petite and her body is frequently positioned in a way that minimizes the amount of physical space that she takes up. The “ideal” male body, on the other hand, is muscular and powerful. He takes up space and presents a very solid presence.
Check out some of the body language differences that are so common. Women are frequently portrayed in vulnerable positions like these
while men are more often portrayed in powerful stances.
Notice the differences in the amount of physical space that they take up? Look at the differences in the gazes that they have. Just looking at faces, who has a stronger presence?
Our bodies are being used to play out these archaic gender roles that continue to just be handed to us. The idea that women are passive and vulnerable while men are aggressive and strong. Women are told to take up less and less space, to reduce parts of their bodies, to erase their presence. Men are told to be powerful, to take up space, to make their bodies larger, to establish a solid presence.
When these stereotypes are repeatedly presented to us with very few other alternatives, they only continue to be reinforced, to be acted upon. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We internalize the things that we are shown in the media and advertising every day and subconsciously act them out by continuing to believe and perform these gender roles and concepts of gender. It creates a cycle. Media and advertising helps to teach us these things, we act on them, and we consequently create more media that supports these ideas because we have so internalized them.
These standards are unfair to place on anyone of any sex or gender (Do we ever really see people that don’t fit the gender binary represented in advertising? Sometimes, but very rarely. What kind of message does that send?). They present everyone with predetermined roles to play, rather than letting people decide for themselves who they are. Our bodies are used to send us these messages about who we “should” be, whether that means that we “should” be masculine, strong, aggressive, and with well-defined abs, or feminine, passive, and taking up as little space as we can.