The Bare Truth: Women’s Bodies in Ads for Men

In past Vintage Sexism posts, we’ve examined ways ads and commercials target women to sell everything from coffee to kitchen appliances to laundry detergent. Lately, though, I can’t help but notice what seems like an ever-increasing number of ads that use scantily clad or seductively dressed women as a means of marketing products to men. I won’t name names here, but these ads and commercials make me wonder: Is this tactic new?

As you can infer from the images above, objectifying women’s bodies as a way to sell products to men is a practice that has been around for quite some time. The ad at top left is perhaps the most startlingly candid. Below a picture of an almost-nude woman posed in a submissive position, the sales pitch reads, “If you guys don’t buy these new Drummond sweaters, we’ll go right back to male models.” Though the ads that follow aren’t so brazenly verbal about their marketing strategy, they are still very obviously employing the “male gaze.” At top right, a cigarette ad shows a woman with a seductive expression directed toward the man who blows smoke into her face, and proclaims, “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere.”

vintage sexism, objectification, commodification, feminism, women

Images (left to right): Paco Camino, Ms. Taken, Oobject

In the top left photo above, an airline ad depicts a sexualized flight attendant. “Think of her as your mother,” the ad reads, implying that she is there to take care of all of a man’s needs. The center ad for shoes (yes, shoes) uses a topless woman lying on the ground and encourages men to “Keep her where she belongs.” Last but not least, the ad at bottom right for Dacron slacks shows a man surrounded by a bevy of beautiful, hypersexualized women, and boasts, “No matter how strenuous the action,” your pants “are pressed for life.”

What do you think, ModReaders? Are there any commercials on television or ads in magazines today that remind you of these?


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  1. Avatar
    Natasha (ModCloth) 04/28/2010 at 5:29 pm #

    I think I’m lucky to be living in 2010. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    constance 04/28/2010 at 6:26 pm #

    people like to think that things are so much better now a days, but if you will just recall nearly every beer commercial, the absolut vodka commercials, music videos (they, too, are advertisement), and even the prevalence of pornography in the American consciousness as well as the global market, it would be clear that the world isn’t quite such an progressively improved place.

  3. Avatar
    Victoria / Justice Pirate 04/28/2010 at 6:27 pm #

    these ads make me mad. no wonder why human trafficking is on the rise.

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    Hilary 04/28/2010 at 6:29 pm #

    I guess the Drummond sweater advertisement, is kind of clever. Something that could be seen these days (I must admit I did chuckle a little). I like how her hair has been so neatly spread out above her head. What nice little curls.

    The others are just a little much. What were they thinking with the ‘blow in her face’ line? Pretty sure I would not be impressed if a guy did that to me.

    • Avatar
      richalle 09/28/2010 at 2:12 am #

      I thought the same about ‘blow in her face’ line. WTH would you want someone to puff in your face??

  5. Avatar
    Christa 04/28/2010 at 6:44 pm #

    carl’s juniors ads and the new victoria secret ads…”i love my body” no duh you love your body you’re a frickin’ VS model. thanks for making me realize my body looks like dog poo next to yours. stupid ad.

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    Little Gray Pixel 04/28/2010 at 9:05 pm #

    The one that angers me the most is the shoe ad. “Keep her where she belongs.” *Jaw hits floor.*

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    mikki 04/28/2010 at 10:21 pm #

    wow just …wow

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    Sophie 04/28/2010 at 10:40 pm #

    I don’t think the woman in the sweater ad looks “submissive”… those sweaters are the ones looking like they want something she’s got the power to give (or not).

    That said, these are somewhat unfortunate and would not be run today unless they wanted a can of whoop opened.

  9. Avatar
    Vix 04/29/2010 at 9:05 am #

    “Think of her as your Mother”? Really that one is just twisted.

  10. Avatar
    Richard (ModCloth) 04/29/2010 at 10:26 am #

    Wow, these ads are just shocking.

  11. Avatar
    eRiN 04/29/2010 at 10:46 am #

    Um, Axe body products…? Those ads make me so angry! We really haven’t made enough progrss in marketing.

  12. Avatar
    Kelli 04/29/2010 at 10:46 am #

    This makes me sick to my stomach.

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    RachelC 04/29/2010 at 11:07 am #

    I think I would puke if someone blowed smoke in my face, lol

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    Sydney 04/29/2010 at 12:27 pm #

    If a guy blew smoke in my face, he’d end up with a lovely bruise or bloody nose to show off.

    Ads like this are disgusting. But, as eRIN indicated above regarding the Axe ads, they haven’t gone away.

  15. Avatar
    Katie 04/29/2010 at 12:50 pm #

    honestly Axe ads don’t make me nearly as upset as jewelry commercials do. In every single one of those commercials the men have more lines than women, and in some the women don’t even speak. My favorite is one with a couple watching a thunderstorm out of a window and there is a thunder crack and immediately the woman turns to the man and he starts speaking. I mean really?!?! Not that women don’t like jewelry or a loved on buying it for them, but the jewelry is a means of control implying the easiest way to get a women to serve a man is to buy her an ugly piece of jewelry. Every time I see one I groan.

    on a side note, no women would ever buy those pieces for herself.

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    Tani 04/29/2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Some of these are absolutely disgusting, but what we have on TV today is practically the same just not so in your face.

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    Christie 04/29/2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Thanks for continuing to include this in the blog.

    Christa- I also saw that victorias secret ad and thought the same exact thing!

    Also, Axe ads are disgusting and follow the same line of reasoning as the ones included in this post. I am turned off by guys that would even respond to that ad campaign.

  18. Avatar
    becca boo 04/29/2010 at 3:16 pm #

    terrible… but we haven’t come far enough
    I don’t watch TV partly because of this

  19. Avatar
    EmilyKennedy 04/29/2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Oh wow. These are soooo bad. Seriously bad. Thanks for the post!

  20. Avatar
    court 04/29/2010 at 5:43 pm #

    i seen an ad in the newspaper advertising for diamond rings and the caption was, “sometimes it’s o.k. to throw rocks at girls!”

  21. Avatar
    Lindsey 04/29/2010 at 7:52 pm #

    The sweater one was kind of clever. I did giggle at it a bit.

    That being said, all of thes ads are just silly and ridiculous. Its a pity we haven’t gotten much better.

    For example, a new beer commercial (for Blue Light, I think) has got me rolling my eyes and hating on men a bit . Its the one with the Blue Light Girls, who have to save a guy from working late, so they seduce his boss. Its really ridiculous.

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    katie 04/29/2010 at 11:11 pm #

    i agree, advertising hasn’t progressed much at all, in fact it’s worse nowadays. but instead of being “vintage”, it has a ridiculous modern spin.

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    naomi 04/30/2010 at 12:52 am #

    has anyone seem the new tom ford ads?

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    Katharine Ellis Tapley 04/30/2010 at 7:27 am #

    Oh, Katie, I agree with you about those jewelry ads. I hate them. The Axe ads are bad, too.

    I have to admit, the first one kind of makes me laugh. I look at it as the advertisers saying “Oh, we give up!”

    I’m always pissed off by the “wives are always patient and mothering while all husbands are blundering idiots”. I think that’s insulting to both genders..

  25. Avatar
    Jean 04/30/2010 at 1:45 pm #

    I really hate the ads that depict men as being womanly for not choosing the advertised product. Like the Miller Lite commercials that tell men to “put down your purse” or “change out of that skirt” when you’re ready for a real beer.

  26. Avatar
    Kit 05/01/2010 at 2:13 am #

    I hate the Linx ads. Take a look at one of the less offensive ads. (listen to what the voice over says at the end):

    And here is a beer ad:

  27. Avatar
    Jennifer (ModCloth) 05/02/2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Wow! I hadn’t seen some of these. Thank you so much for sharing & responding!

  28. Avatar
    Rebecca 01/18/2011 at 11:34 am #

    Ads will always be unfair and insulting to someone, but people shouldn’t waste their time being angry about it.

  29. Avatar
    Melanie 07/21/2011 at 4:05 pm #

    it’s not a waste of time Rebecca. if people are mad, good. The message needs to get across! these ads make me sick. And certain ads in present day make me sick.

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