Quite a while ago, I was directed to a video of a lecture by Jean Kilbourne. It was an update of her findings since her groundbreaking documentary Killing Us Softly aired in 1979. Kilbourne has apparently made a career out of analyzing the havoc that advertising wreaks on the self-images of women and girls. I know that advertising is annoying and invasive, but I'll be the first to admit that I've never really thought about its effects on how I see myself. Everyone thinks they're impervious to advertising, but is that really the case? The video, which you can see here, is engaging, funny, and highly recommended. That ads are damaging to our body image is well-known by now. What I hadn't realized was advertising's rigorous pushing of all things heteronormative. Kilbourne says:
Advertising does sell products of course, but it also sells a great deal more than products. It sells values, it sells images, it sells concepts of love and sexuality, of romance, of sucess, and perhaps most importantly, of normalcy.
Here's a shocking ad for you to look at while you ponder all this:
"She was asking for it! Shop at JCPenney!" I found the above image at a very interesting site called Gender Ads, which teaches you how to analyze the layers of meaning found in advertisements. It's worth checking out. In her lecture, Kilbourne shows us an ad with the headline, "You have the right to remain sexy!" She says:
You have the right to remain sexy. Which, according to this ad, really means "the right to be a sex object". The right to be passive, the right to have our sexuality defined in a rigid, shallow, extremely limiting and cliched way.
Selling images of sex to asexuals won't make us buy a product, but selling us images of sex as universal will make us buy into standards we can't meet. If I can, I'll try not to let ads just wash over me, but to really look and understand them. Just like we can choose what kind of oversized energy drink to buy, we can also choose what parts of society's "guidelines" we buy into. We're told, in some part by advertising, that we can't. That's why so many asexuals, and myriad other sorts of people, think there's something wrong with them. But here's what JCPenney doesn't want you to know: We can. At least, I'd like to think so...