Tag Archives: Susan Bordo

Sexism and Objectification: PETA’s Advocacy Strategy for Animal Rights

Peta has been criticized recently in the news for their new birth control slogan, “Plan V”, which tells women they can lose weight through veganism to regain access to Plan B (Williams). However, this is not the first time Peta has used sexism to advance its views or associated veganism with a slender female body.

Photo Courtesy of Business Insider. 

Take for instance this advertisement featuring Pamela Anderson, that has accompanied much of the reporting on ‘Plan V’. This print campaign that circulated in 2010 emphasizes two common problems in Peta advertisements. Firstly, it sells the value of veganism through hypersexualized displays of female bodies. Seen here, Anderson, who is bikini clad and provocatively posed, is reinforcing to female audiences that slenderness is the ideal female figure (Bordo, 205). It also continues a long standing trend in advertising that sex, and specifically the female sex, sells. Secondly, it sells the value of animals rights through the fragmentation and objectification of female bodies. In the advert, Anderson’s body is sectioned off like pieces of meat you would find at a butcher’s. Hesse-Biber asks “how much does it cost to be preoccupied with parts?” (66). Killbourne, in her documentary Killing Us Softly 4, shows that fragmentation leads to objectification, a main contributing notion behind violence against women. This ad explicitly equates a woman’s body with meat, which could instill objectifying notions in the male audience viewing this ad. Overall, although Peta advocates for animal rights, we should really question at what cost is it’s message getting across?

Works Cited:

Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Body Slender.” Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene N. “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.” The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Killing Us Softly 4. Dir. Jean Kilbourne. Perf. n/a. Media Education Foundation, 2010. DVD.

Williams, Mary E. “PETA’s ridiculous new birth control stunt.” Salon 3 December 2013. http://www.salon.com/2013/12/03/petas_ridiculous_new_birth_control_stunt/


Skinny Cow for the Skinny Woman


This ad for Skinny Cow ice cream uses objectification to the extreme in order to promote their product and send a (not so subtle) reminder to women about how society expects their bodies to look.  The feminine, pink background and girly font undoubtedly direct the ad towards women, and the tantalizing treat is shown right in the middle to get the audience salivating.

“–But wait! Aren’t women are supposed to feel guilty at the thought alone of eating such a ‘naughty’ food as ice cream?  Good thing Skinny Cow makes a lower calorie acceptable-for-women version so that women can “indulge” and have skinny thighs!”

This is the message that this advertisement is sending to all women.  If you fail to comply with the societal norm of “self-monitoring and self-disciplining” your body, as stated by Susan Bordo, then when you finally do eat some ice cream, at least eat this kind because then you are allowed to love your butt and thighs.  Clearly, the ad producers believe that a woman’s physical (ass)ets are the defining factors of who she is, so much so that they are “talking” in the advertisement, proclaiming their love for Skinny Cow desserts and therefore stripping women of the power to love their bodies on their own accord.  It is infuriating that ads are now slyly providing women with the detrimental and self-hating thoughts that they are, in the words of Bordo, “out of control masses of flesh” unless they count every calorie and yearn to be skinny.  Will this type of negative promotion of body-image continue so far as to make women find a reason to “restrain, control, or eradicate” every part of their body, including their mind?  Will women soon need to consciously defend even their intellect against such ads?

Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California, 1993. Print.


Spark Post: Empowering or Problematic?

GoldieBlox, a start-up toy company, recently posted this advertisement on Youtube to promote their engineering toys to young girls. The advertisement suggests that girls don’t want dolls and pink fluffy hearts to play with, toys that have been traditionally reserved for them. Rather, they want to play with the same toys that boys do: toys that allow them to construct, engineer and invent.

I struggle with this ad on a personal level. On one hand, the ad’s message would have appealed to me as a young girl. I despised the pink nail polish and costume jewelry that I was given as kid, and would have much preferred engineering toys. I would have seen this ad as an affirmation of my preferences, even as a suggestion that my preferences were superior to others. Yet there’s a problem there. I doubt that every girl (or every boy!) prefers construction sets to dolls and nail polish. This video may marginalize those children by implying that a preference for traditionally masculine toys is better than for traditionally feminine toys.

Bordo claims, though with regard to body fat, that “taking on the accoutrements of the white, male world may be experienced as empowerment by women” (209). Do you think that this ad reflects a desire of women to claim power by acting like men? Do you think that this ad undermines the notion that sex causes gender, or promotes it? Do you think that this advertisement is subversive to gender norms, or reinforces them? What are the merits and faults of this video?

Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body.” Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California, 1993. Print.



Jean Paul Gaultier has been known for risky and controversial ad campaigns that set the imagination into overdrive about sex. The above ad is the latest addition to a long line of print ads supposed to inspire the public to buy this cologne or perfume in hopes of obtaining the opposite sex’s admiration. It is obviously aimed at young, heterosexual, well to do men and women. The intense stare of the male character towards the female, an obvious bulge in his pants, muscular, well-groomed, chiseled features, dressed in blue, and Caucasian. The female character gazing seductively towards the male, long hair, slim, dressed in pink lingerie, hand on hip, chin slightly tilted down, lips parted and Caucasian. Both appear to be on balconies in well-to-do areas watching each other from afar. Her balcony is more feminine with the filigree wrought iron and curtain softly billowing in the background. His balcony is masculine made of concrete and studded. The ideal couple? Not really, you see the two characters are computer generated. An ideal that could never be obtained no matter how much perfume or cologne you douse on yourself. Parts of people pulled and added to make two characters of absolutely sublime beauty. Perfect because they have been created by advertisers who manifest what the public responds to and the epitome of what the advertisers want us to believe to be the societal ideal of masculinity and femininity. The make believe and unreal world is now being promoted as real and obtainable if we just buy this perfume. Sex sells even if it is make-believe. Bordo states “ In cultural fantasies such as Vision Quest and Flashdance, self-mastery is presented as an attainable and stable state” (199). How can one attain a state of make-believe perfection?

Works Cited;

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley. University of California Press, 1993 pg. 199

Hess-Biber, Sharlene Nagy.The Cult of Thinness. 2nd edition. New York. Oxford University Press, 2007

Diet Coke: Helping you become skinny like Taylor Swift


Photo courtesy of adweek.com 

Recently, Coca Cola announced that they would be releasing a limited edition Diet Coke Taylor Swift can, which is notably sleek and slender. The slim can adorned with Taylor Swift’s autograph and a quote, “If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t even change” provides a critical analysis on the process of gender and subsequent expectations of the female body. The diet coke product of the advertisement, has connotations of slenderness regardless of the size of the can, but with the additional slim can it entrenches the product in what Bordo calls “the most powerful normalizing mechanism of our century” (186). The subject of the advertisement, Taylor Swift, adds to the gender commentary of the product. As Taylor Swift becomes the subject of the advertisement, her demographic becomes the audience. Swift’s demographic happens to be women from the ages of 18-24, which intertwines the thin value being sold in the can “as a contemporary ideal of specifically female attractiveness” (Bordo, 205). As Taylor Swift is idolized by this demographic, so is her slenderness, which places an already vulnerable group to becoming more susceptible to the harms of eating disorders.

Works Cited:


Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.


According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, as of 2012, 8 million Americans suffered from some kind of eating disorder. Of the 8 million, 7 million were women. 42% of 1st – 3rd grade girls wanted to be slimmer and 80% of 10 year olds feared getting fat. Schools send home ‘reports’ that call children obese and overweight. The World Health Organization has classified obesity as a problem of “high priority” and at the 66th World Health Assembly this year, they have decreed that obesity is now officially a Non Communicable Disease (NCD) Target to be dealt with. Apparently, obesity is now on par with lung cancer.

A craze over weight has swept the nation. Its not surprising according to Susan Bordo, who writes in her Reading the Slender Body of how society is constantly bombarded with images of supposedly ‘perfect’ and ‘healthy’ bodies that are slim and fit. The media presents a “nearly impossible standard” that society has quickly come to adopt as the ideal. It has even managed to pervade the medical field, which makes broad sweeping statements about how much weight is ‘overweight’ and the health dangers of obesity ignoring the fact that weight and overweight is different for every individual and it is perfectly possible to be fat and healthy. The result of this is rampant dieting and stigmatization and shaming of fat people. Marilyn Wann writes in The Fat Studies Reader of how fat people are discriminated against and in general are treated more poorly than those who emulate the media enhanced slender body.

Its very easy, looking at the body of evidence, to put all the blame on the media. It is, after all, their images and limited depictions that are at the root of fat fear. However, at the same time, I feel that human society needs to take at least part of the blame. The media is ultimately there to make money and despite knowing that they are depicting images to make money and not reflect reality, society continues to view the media fantasy world as a standard of what people ‘really’ should be. There should be a re-education of humanity not to respond and take these advertisements so seriously. Parents and the current generation need to set an example for the younger generations. Telling your children they are beautiful no matter what, then ordering Jenny Craig is not an appropriate example. Our actions belay our words which only further gives the media more power over us.  In this case I am not trying to blame the victim, but at the same time I am trying to posit that individuals should take a more pro-active role in protesting media depictions and not adhering to them.

Marilyn Wann, “Forward,” in The Fat Studies Reader, by Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay (New York: New York University Press, 2009), XIV.

Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 186.

“Eating Disorder Statistics”. Statistic Brain. Web. Accessed 09/26/13


“Childhood Overweight and Obesity”. World Health Organization. Web. Accessed 09/30/13. http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood/en/

Ad Critique: Get Fit or Get Perfect?


Image courtesy of Equinox.

This Equinox ad above utilizes many of the common advertising tactics employed by the media today. The female model in this advertisement projects the image of the ideal woman with her lengthy body, glistening hair, sizable breasts, and slender limbs. A major problem with this image, however, is that it “offer[s] help, while presenting a nearly impossible standard,”[1] considering the substantial editing that undoubtedly went into this advertisement’s completion. In addition, the man holding the camera is focusing on the model’s upper body, dehumanizing and objectifying her by separating her body parts from her complete self. Other blatantly offensive aspects of this advertisement include the woman’s subservient positioning underneath the man and her glance that invites sexual advances.

The fact that this ad is for a gym exemplifies the ambiguous messaging implied by female representations. Women are taught to seek healthfulness, but also slenderness. However, as Marilyn Wann notes in her discussion of fat studies, these two characteristics are not always connected. The result is a female population that is obsessed with “compulsive dieting,” but also “body-building.” [2]

Perhaps one of the most startling elements of this advertisement is that it appeals to the young generation—to the people who will shape the future. We as mainstream consumers must cease to accept this sort of advertising in the name of capitalism. Rather, we must ask ourselves, “what can and should we do to eradicate this type of advertising?”Through collective action, consumers have power to influence the companies that project these damaging images. We must stop buying their products, encourage stockholders to demand tactical redirection, and promote activism in our communities.

[1] Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” in The Cult of Thinness, Second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 63.

[2] Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 191.

Big Question: What is Oppression?

One mechanism of oppression that produces highly pervasive damage and is difficult to eradicate is that of self-censorship. Every day, the entire population of American women uses it, usually unintentionally.

Over the last half century, the image of the ideal woman has morphed into one of genetic impossibility for 95% of the female population.[1] The media’s images of women are often dramatically altered or even constructed.[2] “But how does this negatively affect women?” you may wonder. The answer lies in how women respond to these images. Just think of how many times you, or a woman you know, steps on the scale each week, hoping that the number is lower than at the previous weigh-in. As Susan Bordo explains, obsessing over one’s appearance is a “powerful normalizing mechanism” that ensures “self-monitoring” and “self-disciplining.”[3]

Self-censorship deflects from the reality that propagating one, unattainable version of normal oppresses the entire female sex by limiting expression of individuality and promoting harmful objectification. Moreover, for those who will never come close to the ideal image, like women of racial or ethnic minorities, the oppressive nature of these depictions is especially detrimental. Minorities are continually pushed further from the point of acceptance for who they naturally are. While some argue that the increasingly idealized slender body, “symbolize[s] freedom from rigid femininity,” the reality is that our oppressive image of female idealness serves the purposes of a patriarchal, oppressive world. [4]  After all, society “confers” privilege according to one’s ability to achieve the ideal.[5]

To overcome the adverse nature of oppression and discontinue self-censorship requires identifying and combating the oppressor, which in this case, is the media. Just think, “how would the media respond to mass consumer refusal to purchase or consume products that insist upon the unrealistic ideal woman?” More specifically, “what personal choices can you make to help mass action become a reality?”

[1] Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women, dir. Kilbourne Jean, Sut Jhally, and David Rabinovitz (Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2010), DVD.

[2] Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” in The Cult of Thinness, Second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65.

[3] Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 186.

[4] Ibid., 208.

[5] Marilyn Wann, “Forward,” in The Fat Studies Reader, by Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay (New York: New York University Press, 2009), XIV.

Michael Kors : trying to avoid the ideal of whiteness, but still promoting traditional representations of women.

This Michael Kors ad, released in the American version of Elle magazine, is enhancing the traditional representations of women in advertising. First, we can here find what Susan Bordo meant when she talked about the slender body : there is indeed an ideal of thinness here, the four women being relatively skinny. Moreover, Sut Jhally’s vision was originally related to music videos, but can be applied to any kind of image. Women are often represented as partying, as it is the case here, they are well-dressed and drinking what seems to be some champagne; but above all, they are represented as linked to male desire. Indeed, they are close to men, one of the girl is leaning on a man’s shoulder, while another man is looking at her. And finally, Jean Kilbourne’s point can be seen in this ad, as she presented it in “Killing Us Softly 4”. There is an ideal of whiteness for women in our societies. And even if Michael Kors tries to go beyond this in this ad, by choosing a black and an asian models, they are still very close to the general type of women presented in advertising : the black woman, for instance, has a relatively light skin, in comparison to the man behind her. This ad is thus symptomatic of the norms of advertising and representations in our societies.

Jean Kilbourne – “Killing Us Softly 4” (2010)
Sut Jhally – “Dreamworlds 3” (2007)
Susan Bordo – “Reading the Slender Body” (1993)

(Sorry about the image quality, I wasn’t able to find it on the Internet !)

Photo du 14718870-10- à 04.05

What is oppression? Self-monitoring based on oppressive standards

Women feel enormous pressure to be thin due to media messages that feature impossibly slender and toned bodies as the beauty ideal. Our society has come to believe that “thin is inherently beautiful and fat is inherently ugly” (Wann ix), causing women to fixate on achieving a slender body with firm bodily margins. Women devote an enormous amount of time, energy, and attention in the pursuit of the ideal.

The food, diet, and exercise industries profit enormously from women’s body dissatisfaction, as “women are told that they can have the right body only if they consume more products” (Hesse-Biber 75). By normalizing thinness and stigmatizing fatness, the media has created a “fat-hating culture” in which everyone “inevitably absorbs anti-fat beliefs, assumptions, and stereotypes” (Wann xi). Therefore, our culture oppresses those people whose bodies do not fit into the slender body ideal.

This does not include only “overweight” and “obese” people, but also the huge proportion of women who are at a healthy weight but still perceive themselves as too fat. Weight oppression affects people of all sizes, since “in a fat-hating society everyone is fat” (Wann xv). Women have internalized the media messages and societal expectations. Society has trained women to oppress themselves through self-policing, demonstrated by women’s obsession with achieving thinness.

The oppressive capitalistic system oppresses women by setting up a “battle…with the self” (Bordo 198) for every woman. As a result, women are distracted from the systematic sexism in society and do little to challenge the status quo. Is there a way for women to break free from capitalism’s patriarchal oppression?


Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of CA Press, 1993.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. The Cult of Thinness. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

Wann, Marilyn. Foreword. The Fat Studies Reader. By Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. New York: New York UP, 2009. Ix-Xxii. Print.