Part 1: Sexy Women
It’s no secret that sex sells…pretty much everything. It sells our technologies. It sells our clothing. It sells our hamburgers, yogurt and soap. It even sells our water and toilet paper.
I’ve been aware for a long time (irritatingly so) that artificial sexualized women are most of all used to sell things–not to men–but to other women. A slinky leg , moist with water and caressed by feminine hands sells a woman’s razor. Four women stare enticingly from off the page, their large (implanted) breasts heaving out of the very bras they are trying to inspire other, averagely endowed women to purchase. A woman, posed “sexually” reveals a nipple, sucks on a lolly pop and allows her long bare legs to fall gently open. What she wants you to buy is her nonexistent lee jeans.
The extent photographers and advertisers will go with their sexual content is shocking, but I guess that’s the point. Lately, pushing the “shock” boundary has been an indication of elan, innovation and apparently a better product.
What bothers me about it all is that when this girl with the lolly pop sells young women her nonexistent jeans, she sells something else–she sells them an idea-image of sex, of themselves in sex, of themselves as sexual beings. These images lead most girls into a totally false, forced and (if not hurtful) unpleasurable relationship with sex.
I’m supposed to look this way to be sexual. I’m supposed to arch my back this way and hold my legs this way and make this face and wear these clothes and wear this makeup and ….
I can write from experience: There is not much enjoyment available in so much stress and poise.
Critic John Burger’s famous line, although dated, remains pertinent: “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the relations of men to women, but the relation of women to themselves.”
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Woolf laments the extent this advertising affects women–by infiltrating our very fantasy lives. As a young girl in middle school, when I used to day dream about kissing a boy, even in my mind’s eye, I was not me. I was not good enough for me. I was thinner, lusher, tanner. I had whiter teeth and was by advertising, Hollywood, commercial standards, more beautiful. When I fantasized about wonderful things happening, they did not happen to me, they happened to a different girl, altogether.
But this is all nothing new. In fact, it’s probably quite boring if not tedious. We prepared school projects on this very social dilemma in high school (still it persists?) My solution has been to boycott women’s magazines and to limit television while renegotiating a relationship with my body and my sexuality on my own terms.
I’ve dealt with me–but what about my son?
Part 2: Sexy Children?
For father’s day, I bought my husband the game of Clue (he’s wanted it for a while now). As we opened the product, we couldn’t help but notice the sexy lady decorating the box’s lid.
“They’re really using those ladies to sell board games these days,” my husband remarked, referring to the Trivial Pursuit game we’d recently received and the excited, glamorous blond rolling dice across its cover.
We opened up the game and flipped through the character cards. Apparently, Ms. Peacock went on a diet and invested in Botox, while Mr. Mustard got a home gym and a clean shave.
But it’s a kid’s game.
I shook my head.
Sure, sex sells to adults. That’s nothing new. In fact, it’s about as old as advertising itself. Tom Reichert’s The Erotic History of Advertising traces commercial sex images as far back as the 1850’s, when naked women sold mostly men products from tobacco to beverages.
And very quickly, the progression becomes clear: selling the sex-image to men (old as advertising, older) —> selling the sex-image to women—-> selling the sex image to children?
We used to pick on goody two shoes Barbie, with her impossible breast-waste-butt ratio, her Aryan friends and her prissy rich wardrobe–but those sexy Bratz could kick Barbies 33 inch ass. These ladies are in charge with their tight pants, thigh high boots (six inch heels) and pouty, swollen lips. The catch: The Bratz aren’t simply dolls to play with, they are literal models, templates for little girls to follow. MGA offers its consumers (children) make up kits and hair supplies to use on both their Bratz dolls and themselves. Now they can look like eachother!
Meanwhile, Dora the Explorer blossoms. She ditches her androgynous bowl haircut for long luscious locks. Her non existent lips gain shape and her pudgy baby body stretches.
Part 3: Sexy Men
Because there’s no need to sell the sex image to men (Why? The most obvious answer may be so cliche it inspires an eye roll or two, but I have to write it: we live in a male dominated society and the beauty sex image is the perfect way to keep women both subdued and spending their money) the consumer industry does not target little boys as aggressively.
For this reason and others, generally speaking, males are not as vulnerable to the profligated beauty myth as females; and yet, they are assimilated into the consumer sex culture in other ways, with other images with their own expectations.
This is how I see it: This sex-world with its images and products is created by ingenious men (and some women) who want our money–a continued stream of our money. I want to raise my son outside of this world. I do not want this world, this commercial fabrication (of women and what sex is supposed to be) to pervert my son’s natural development.
When an old friend of mine in college started the group, Men Against Rape (known by it’s ironic acronym M.A.R.) I was impressed. It’s message: Women’s issues are men’s issues, too.
It’s going to take both men and women to make any social change.
How am I gong to raise my son to be sensitive enough to these false images to reject them without presenting him with too much information too early on?
I know these questions will answer themselves as time progresses and opportunities arise. The first thing I can think of is to establish in him healthy interests, healthy realistic world views and a healthy perspective on beauty. And I mean, early on–before they get to him first.
Part 4: Sexy Conclusion
Okay. So Henry’s two months old. He can hardly look at a brightly striped tie without getting overwhelmed. Maybe I’m a little early with my concern–but his eyes get so wide, taking it all in. His eyes do not blink as he leans in to listen, to watch, to absorb like a sponge a universe of information with its infinitude and variety of messages.
Why not start now?
How is now not the best time to start?