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The marketing of Victoria Secret is harmful to the social development of women because it is selling sexuality rather than the product. It portrays women as beautiful, sexy dolls with no brain, and they are used as a tool for seduction. The sexualized image of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media exploits girls’ self-image and healthy development. Sexualization of girls is linked to common mental health problems in girls and women such as eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. And psychologists call for replacing sexualized images of girls in media and advertising with positive ones.

The ads are very catchy and young girls as well as women are the targeted audience. The young women are depicted as entertainers with no self respect and dignity. Women portrayed as “fantasy babes” have a profoundly negative impact on the health of girls and women. Females are presented in very seductive postures in bras and panties with their boobs exposed. The pull of sexualized image is seductive but the sense of power sold in these images is a false one. Because these sexy images are sold as a kind of girl power, many girls don’t realize that this kind of power is not the kind that will help them to be successful.

The images in these ads contain or imply:

  • Violence
  • Superiority and domination
  • Fragmenting and sexualizing body parts
  • Playfulness and exaggeration
  • Coy Behavior
  • Emaciation
  • Fetishism

Images of highly sexualized youth are not just a marketing tool. They also deliver powerful message about sexual behavior to young people. These are the series of ads for Victoria Secret appeared in its promotional site, peek –a – boo bras and sexy Santa accessories. A second ad depicts the young woman displaying her boobs in a push up bra. Ads containing sexualized images also deliver strong messages about gender relations. The campaign uses young female models to promote its products, but with overtone of violence and domination. The posture of models and their facial expression images as a stripper. Sexualism depicted in advertising is often portrayed as a joyful act. Pleasure has been replaced by boredom and deadened emotions.

Sex Sells

Advertising often pushes the boundaries of good competition for “eyeballs”. Any image that entices a reader to linger over an ad-whether tasteful or not-causes that person to remember that particular brand advertised product. Even controversy can be effective in getting a brand or name in the public eye (as Calvin Klein has often proved). There can be no denying on “sex sells”. Abercrombie and Fitch, one of the successful and trendy US clothing manufacturers, puts its catalogue(which are geared to college students) in plastic bags to prevent them from being opened casually, because of controversy over the sexualized images of young people contained in them.

It is also thought that Sexualization and fetishism are increasingly being used as a means to attract gay and lesbian consumers, who tend to be a fairly affluent and largely untapped demographic (Tallim, Sexualized Images in Advertising). It is not uncommon to see ads featuring women in provocative, sexualized encounters- images that attract straight men and gay women, as well as male teens.

Increased Sexualization in advertising is not happening in isolation; rather it reflects the overall pushing of the envelope that is occurring through out the media. In film, television, music videos and popular culture, sex is increasingly pervasive and mainstream. For example, music videos of artists such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have been directed by well- known directors of pornographic films.

Effects of Sexualized Images on Children

Child development experts have long raised concerns about children’s exposure to sexualized images. There is speculation that, physiologically, early exposure to these images (combined with other factors) may trigger the onset of puberty.From a mental health perspective, continual exposure to sexualized images in the media may lead young people to believe that more teens are sexually active and that “fringe” or exploitative sexual behavior is normal. Increased exposure to unrealistic sexualized role models-for boys and girls-can affect self-esteem, body image and expectations regarding the appearance and behavior of the opposite sex.

“The consequences of the Sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to have a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” says Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, chair of the APA Task Force and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

Research evidence shows that the Sexualization of girls negatively affects girls and young women across a variety of health domains:

Cognitive and Emotional Consequences:

Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety. Advertising exposure leads to cognitions, such as memory about the ad, the product and/or band; which in turn leads to attitudes, such as product liking and attitude towards possible purchase; which in the end leads to behaviors, such as buying the advertised product (Andrew Mendelson, 2002). The consumer who is not able to carry out the desired behavior because of lack of economics resources leads to differential patterns of emotional cognitive respond during processing of an advertisement. Differences in emotional and cognitive responses of young college students of different socio-economics levels are revealed through physiological responses such as heart rate, skin conductance and facial EMG.

Mental and Physical Health:

Research links Sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women—eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression or depressed mood. Girls or women who don’t have good figure are always frustrated .They are risking their health in search of impossible dream. In a 70,000 school children research, forty percent of 14 and 15 years girls had either nothing or just a drink for breakfast and many went without lunch (Laura Clark, 2007).More than half believed they needed to be slim, even though only twelve percent were overweight according to body mass index. It was also found girls’ biggest worry was their appearance.

Dr. David Regis, researcher manager at SHEU, said in depth interviews with participants suggested media images of super slim celebrities and models such as Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and Nicole Richie fuelled the obsession with weight. He also stated “Dissatisfaction with their bodies often seems to originate from, or is certainly accentuated by, celebrity culture and the print media and magazines. Young girls and women are very aware of pressures from the media around body image and appearance.

Sexual Development:

Research suggests that the Sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image. Teenagers after viewing view such ads try to copy them. They dress up in the way models do and sexualize themselves. Their dressing style and behavior pollutes the society. Due to more vulnerability, there will be more rape cases in our society. Sexually charged music, magazines, TV and movies push youngsters to intercourse at an earlier age; perhaps by acting as kind of virtual peer that tells them everyone else is doing it. The teenage pregnancy rate in the United States is three to ten times higher than in other industrialized nations (Michael Conlon, 2006). “As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings—ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls,” (Dr. Zurbriggen, 2007). “The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents—boys and girls—that lead to healthy sexual development.”

Materialism

One of the established effects of advertisement is that it increases peoples’ desire for consumer goods and promotes materialism. Materialism in teens appears to be linked with their self-esteem, with their desire for consumer goods mounting as their self -esteem decline. Advertisement in televisions, internet or in papers increase the teen’s appetite for the commodity. The level of materialism in teens is directly driven my self- esteem. Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self-esteem increases materialism and materialism also can create low self-esteem. They also found that as self esteem increases, materialism decreases.

Consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual. It’s good for the economy when young people believe they need to buy new wardrobe every year, for example. But the hidden cost is much higher than the dollar amount. There are costs in happiness when people believe that their value is extrinsic. There are also environmental costs associated with widespread materialism. People believe that buying more and more things make them happy but this is not the case. Buying more and more unnecessary things is damaging our planet and contributing to global warming. There is considerable cost of what materialism does to the environment. If we want to save the environment then at some level we have to buy and consume less. We don’t need to buy all the products that are advertised in the media. Youth and adults alike believe they need to have them in order to enjoy life and feel good about themselves.

Financial Pressure

Ad campaigns are spending lots of money for their products promotion. They are using top models and paying millions of dollars for them. The money they are using to promote the product is retrieved from the customers. Customers are charged high amount of money for the product. These products are expensive and lots of money is spent for it. Psychological pressure is imposed to middle class people as they cannot easily afford it. Teen’s parents are bound to purchase expensive Victoria secret products for them if they don’t want also , which rises monetary pressure on them. Such campaign promotes sexy images and then encourages girls to buy clothing and makeup to look like the models and celebrities they feature.

Sexualization

The report published by American Psychological Association in Feb 19, 2007, defined Sexualization as “something occurring when a person’s value comes from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified.” Every media form contributed to the Sexualization of girls and women by portraying them in a sexual manner more often than boys and men. Marketers are reaching down to younger girls, selling a version of what it means to be teenager, since for them it is all about being hot and sexy. The physical appearance is the most important goal for the girls and they may also play a part in sexualizing themselves by wearing clothing to make them “sexy,” thus viewing themselves as sexual objects.

In the current environment, teen girls are encouraged to look sexy, yet they know little about what it means to be sexual, to have sexual desires, and to make rational and responsible decisions about pleasure and risk within intimate relationship that acknowledge their own desires. Younger girls imbued with adult sexuality may seem sexually appealing, and this may suggest their sexual availability and status as appropriate sexual objects.

Impact of Sexualization on our society

There can be negative impacts of Sexualization in boys /men and others in the society. Women are often considered sexy only when they appear young so adult women suffer a lot and they are bound to go through a lot of mental tensions. Other effect of the constant exposure to sexualized images of girls is that individuals and society may be “trained” to perceive and label sexualized girls as “seductive.” And men can misperceive friendliness in women as sexual interest. Society presents engaging in sex before marriage as the default choice for relationships, and this picture places pressure on young people to simply go along with what seems like the norm of behavior.

Hence, it can be concluded that sexualized images presented in The Victoria Secret Ad Campaign is exploiting sexuality in our society. It not only portrays young women as sexualized objects but also harms girls’ self image and dignity.