The movie “Killing Us Softly” discusses how women are exploited in advertizing. Jean Kilbourne shows her audience many different ads and deconstructs them to uncover the underlying messages that are being sent. She explains how advertizing molds the way women think of themselves, and the way men think about women.
Kilbourne really opened my eyes to the way the advertising companies influence the way we think as a society. She said that the average person is bombarded with about three thousand advertisements everyday. They are all around us. They are in the subways, at the bus stops, in magazines, on the television, even on the sides of our Internet profiles. I will even stare blankly at them while I’m on the train just to give my eyes something to do if I don’t have anything else to read. So, how can we not be affected by something that is so imbedded in our daily lives? To some extent I did realize that advertisements affected the way we think about beauty and happiness, but I did not realize just how severe the affects of these messages are.
Advertisements are in large part, responsible for giving men and women the wrong idea about what the ideal woman should look like. Women in advertising are without flaws (Kilbourne, 2010). Companies airbrush their pictures to make their models perfect. Women are constantly trying to live up to this look of perfection that is unattainable. In the film they showed how magazines have combined different features from multiple women to make a totally new, completely fictional woman (Kilbourne, 2010). This constant flood of perfection in the media really takes a toll on the self-esteem and perception women have of themselves. Kilbourne references a report made by the American Psychological Association in 2007 that said that girls that saw sexualized images starting early in life, were more likely to develop depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.
Race also comes into play in advertising’s affects on women’s self-esteem. Minority women are completely underrepresented in the media. The media basically tells us that the only women that are acceptable are those that are young, thin, white, or at least light skinned (Kilbourne, 2010). Kilbourne speaks specifically about black women in part of her film. She says that black women are portrayed as beautiful only if they have features that reflect white ideals, such as having a lighter complexion, straight hair, or stereotypically Caucasian features. In advertisements, black women can be seen dressed in animal print in jungle settings (Kilbourne, 2010). This insinuates that Black women are like exotic animal, and therefore, less human.
I was surprised to see that many of the ads that Jean Kilbourne displayed had a violent undertone. There are images of women that appear to be murdered, or that are being attacked and the ads twist the scene to make it more glamorous and sexy. These ads make violence erotic and cause men to act hostile towards women. Women are seen as sexual object that should be seen and not heard. Kilbourne said that a third of the women that are murdered in our country are killed by their significant other (Kilbourne, 2010). Kilbourne states that, “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person.” While, she does admit that men are increasingly being sexualized and objectified in advertising, she states that the difference is that men’s “bodies are not routinely scrutinized, criticized, and judged” (Kilbourne, 2010).
This movie does a great job in showing the power of the all mighty media. Whether we are aware of it or not, it has the ability to shape the way we think about ourselves, the way others think and about us, and the way we think about others. Can this have a substantial effect on the types of qualities that we ascribe to certain people? Has the media caused a dysfunctional halo effect on women that are young, white, and thin? Are these “desirable” women even seen in a good light when you take into account that they are being presented to the world as innocent, sexual objects, that are passive, and unintelligent? I feel that the only people that are portrayed in a truly positive light are young, heterosexual white, men. This could further be debated by reasoning that men are also being affected by being sent the message that they are not allowed to have a feminine side, and the constant pairing of masculinity and violence. Kilbourne doesn’t seem to think anyone can life a health life in what she calls a “toxic cultural environment.”
There were so many great issues that were addressed in this movie and I would highly recommend anyone to take a look at it.