Advertising teaches us from a very young age how to act, dress, speak, and relate to others, especially the “opposite” sex. It is gender construction and stereotypes; it is there to sell us a line. And that line is that you are imperfect. Not only are you imperfect, but it is your duty, as a woman, to strive for an unrealistic perfection that you will never reach. When you fail to reach this imperfection you internalize the failure and see it as your fault, something you did. This contributes eating disorders, low self esteem among women, and even violence against women. Advertising is teaching American women to want to be sexually provocative but to be sexually provocative through the clothes they wear and how they look to the male gaze looking at them. I chose this topic because it affects everyone regardless of age, gender, race, or class and certainly some of those more than others.
Women are vulnerable in a culture that uses them for their body parts. Women are not valued for their actions, their intelligence or what they say, but how they look and how they wear their clothes. They are used to sell products. Their sexuality is exploited to sell, sell, sell. This exploitation in advertising leads to other much more dangerous exploitations such as domestic violence, harassment, child abuse, murder, and rape. Advertising is everywhere and in everything. The image of women portrayed in advertising and the media at large is how we have come to see ourselves “what we take ourselves to be is how we perceive ourselves to be perceived” (Reichert 185). It is so pervasive that women who claim to not be influenced by advertising still find themselves dieting nine months out of twelve and buying expensive cosmetics to cover their wrinkles, dye the gray out of their hair, and dress twenty years younger than they are to appear attractive to men. It is a male construction that only young females are attractive but we buy into it every time we buy that foundation, or promise to lose those ten extra pounds gained over Christmas. We are taught to think that is what we are supposed to do so that is what we do. That’s why I have chosen this topic, its very penetration into the core identity of all women.
Advertising has deep roots in America. The first advertising campaign began in the nineteenth century and was used to entice Europeans to come to this wild and foreign country describing America as “The Garden of Eden” (Sivulka 7). Advertising in Europe had its beginning in the 1440’s when Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press with movable type in Germany on which the first printed book was the Bible. After that the first form of ads were handbills, posters, trade cards, and newspapers, which were the first mass produced medium. In 1477, William Caxton, a London printer, printed the first printed advertisement in English selling a prayer book. Soon magazines and newspapers picked up ads and carried them into the surrounding community. It was not until the 1700’s that advertisements became the main source of revenue for newspapers and magazines. The first printing press in America was established at Harvard College in 1639 (Sivulka).
Benjamin Franklin founded the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1728 and was the first known American to use illustrations in his ads. He was pioneer in the advertising field using ads on the front page, using white space and headlines. During this period most ads were focused on land, runaway slaves, and transportation. But it was the demand for news about the American Revolution that inflamed newspaper circulation, but also worsened the paper shortage at the time. The Civil War gave rise to a consumer economy and Isaac Merritt Singer’s sewing machine became the first heavily advertised machine made for the American home. As is customary with every war in history America has been involved in women were active in the workforce during the war. In 1870, “1 out of 6 workers were women all young and unmarried with money to spend” (Sivulka 20). Due to this women were the primary consumer’s spending their wartime paychecks. This is …