The media of today’s society plays the peddler to the stereotypes that plague our country. However, the media is not solely to blame. Susan Sontag states in her essay “The Image World”:
“Through being photographed, something becomes part of a system of information, fitted into schemes of classification and storage”(Sontag 196).
Through our own demand as consumers, the use of advertising in television, newspapers, and especially magazines relays to the public an erratic system of stereotypical information. The system of information relayed through photographic imagery in advertising directly affects the thoughts of society, on how a woman should look and feel. Thus, mixing the stereotypical woman of delicacy, and grandeur with sex and sexuality.
The vast amount of stereotypical advertising today is directed at the middle-class, American worker. This specification in advertising is due to the fact that the middle class workers are the main consumers. This idea is represented in the magazine, Newsweek. Printed on April 3, 2000, Newsweek prints numerous articles of news that are not so focused and in-depth, but still contains valid consistency. The magazine is
truly tailored to the middle class and so is its advertising. In the midst of clutter, from articles of political power, to the rise of the doughnut culture, sits an ad of poise and content. Posted by the Target Corporation, a store tailored to the middle class, the ad displays, a very young, beautiful woman covered shoulders to toe in ivy, holding a rayon handbag. She is
poised, illustrious and elegant, a mirror image of a statue. The backdrop of the image is calm, organized and serene. The ad reads “ivy plant $6.99, rayon crochet bag $14.99”(Newsweek 7). However, the ad’s imagery at first glance does not fully portray the stereotypes within it.
The appearances of stereotypes in this serene ad are hard to find, but are found deep in the text of the image. The apparent purpose of the ad is to sell items such as a handbag, and ivy plants. However, the apparent does not relay the reality. The use of a woman’s stereotypical sexuality covers up the real with the fantasy. A stereotype as defined by the Module, “Images of Women and Men”, “is viewed today as a process that distorts reality”(Unger & Crawford 219). So in essence this is what the image, or the advertisement has done. Advertising takes the process of photography, and distorts its reality by applying such methods as stereotyping. This creates a desired and common appearance of the perfect, beautiful, fantasy woman. The posture of this image relays a sense of refinement, such
refinement that would be found in the stereotypical elegant, sexy woman. The placement of her hands gives way to the image of elegance. They are poised, and hold to the endearment of elegance, beautiful but refined. Even when with the sense, or stereotype of the refinement, comes the sexuality of the image. With the refinement comes the notion of sex. To explain this,
one must consider that the woman is covered shoulder to toe in ivy. This is the same ivy that is on sale for $6.99. The ad leads to the fallacy that even the elegant and refined woman can be sold. This ad also carries with it, the stereotype of the fantasy, or the storybook notion.
When looking at the ad, one can see reality redefined. As stated by Susan Sontag, in her essay “The Image World”,
“Photographs do more than redefine the stuff of ordinary experience, they add vast amounts of material we never see”(Sontag 196). The material in this case, is the application of the fantasy image. From birth, we are confronted with the stereotype of the fantasy woman, relayed to us by fairy tales and myths. Fairy tails and myths that convey the common illusion that all women must be beautiful, and graceful, re-confirming the fantasy stereotype. The ad in question has also re-confirmed this childhood belief. Covering the young, beautiful woman almost completely in ivy brings her to the fantasy level. This image is almost comical in a sense, but is an erratic
stereotype. The image portrays her as a common fantasy, directly out of a child’s storybook, posed in ivy, controlled by a mer plant. This image relays the attitude all women are controllable and must adhere to the fantasy. Strive to be young, skinny and beautiful.
In analyzing the ad, another prevailing stereotype can be seen. The use of gender stereotypes also plagues this ad, more specifically, the stereotype of the desirable, attractive woman. Gender stereotypes can be defined as “consensual beliefs about the different characteristics of men and women”(Unger & Crawford, 213). The consensual belief portraying the misconception of reality. Or rather, the common views of stereotyping shared by our culture and re-enforced by our media. The classification, or stereotyping of such attributes of the “sexy woman”(Unger & Crawford, 217), can be clearly seen in the advertisement at hand. The concepts of a good figure, long hair, and pretty face are all combined in this ad to further enhance this classification. However, no one concept is more clearly used in this ad than the concept of the pretty face. In fact the face is directly focused on. Her hair is also a prevailing factor of stereotyping. The hair gives the woman an exotic, yet refined look. The surrounding borders of the ad are a dark shade of purple and pink, but in the center is a focused illumination of the woman’s face. The illumination does not focus on the
products for sale, but focuses the effect on the woman. Directly enhancing her face and upper chest area, focusing the attention on her sexuality and so-called main control factor.
Media has successfully continued to suppress women and enhance the stereotypes that women are to adhere to. By applying
supposed unconscious effects such as stereotyping and classifying, we as a society have fallen victim to media’s ploys in advertising. For years the common belief that a woman’s only power is her sexuality has been instilled into our society by media propaganda, in advertising. The media is seen as playing to the crowd. The common notion that sex sells is directly represented in such ploys of advertising and more over in this ad. As Robert L. Heilbroner states, “advertising is not only a bearer of messages; it is the message”(Heilbroner 99). The message that advertising carries is the underlying faction of stereotypes. The stereotypical ploys that will attract the consumer to the product, the selling feature. In this ad, the woman and her fantasy image are not only selling common stereotypes but selling the very woman herself. Placing the woman in the ivy makes the statement that woman is the ivy. She is the very object that is for sale. The ad is also, selling the very ploys that have been conflicting with the struggle to pursue equality and not the products stated to be for sale.
We as a society will never be equal unless, we strive to rid the propaganda at hand. Media and advertising are vessel of all ruin, in the advancement for a stereotype free image of a woman. What good is it for a woman to declare herself an individual, if she is continuously plagued with the common stereotypes of classification and sex? To truly be equal, we must strive to see the degradation that all stereotypes in media and advertising bring upon our society.