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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Language and Women in Advertisement


Advertisement—as defined by The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA) -- is “every form of advertisement, whether to the public or not, and whether in a newspaper or other publication, by television or radio, by display of notices, signs, labels, showcards or goods, by distribution of samples, … by exhibition of pictures, models, or films, or in any other way …”

Ronald Gross (1969:97-98) says that the language of advertisement is language which is used to sell – both products and services. Advertisement copywriters must create words which will influence the largest possible number of people. The subject matter is what most people have in common – their basic fears, anxieties, and hopes. It also means people’s lifestyle. Advertisement copywriters must bear in their mind that they do not only emphasize the characteristics of the products or services, but they also must b able to make people—as consumers—feel that they need the products/services; either to fulfill their daily needs or to fulfill their lifestyle, or to follow the trend.

Why women? 

Patriarchal societies regard women as more consumptive than men. It makes women regarded as potential consumers so that many advertisements show women as models. This image originates from women’s roles as homemakers and as creatures who are concerned with their beauties. Women have to provide all household needs—food, drink, clothes, etc—in order that they will be considered “good housewives or mothers”; they also provide things needed to beautify themselves—makeup, shampoo, hair color, etc—in order that they will look more beautiful. 

This article will elaborate how advertisements make use of women as models and why they use women to get profit as much as possible.

Advertisements in Cosmopolitan February 2002 Edition

In this article, Cosmopolitan magazine February 2002 edition is used as sample to do a small research on the advertisements inside it. Cosmopolitan has a slogan Fun Fearless Female. The slogan shows that the magazine wants to shape women to have fun and fearless characteristics.
Britney Spears—who is given the tile Fun Fearless Female of the year—is chosen as the cover model in this edition. In the cover, Britney Spears posing sensually wearing tight red dress showing her sexy body, her two hands are behind her head, her eyes look at the readers’ sharply and her smile is very pretty. On the whole, Britney’s picture shows beauty, freshness, and youth enthusiasm. Britney—as a singer—appears in most of her video clips as someone who is always full of enthusiasm and energy. It corresponds with ‘fun’ characteristic. Besides that, she is ‘fearless’ because she always appears in sexy clothes among men as if she wants to show her strong body. Therefore, her picture which shows beauty, freshness and youth enthusiasm corresponds with ‘fun’ and ‘fearless’ slogan.

Inside the magazine, there are more or less 84 advertisements, most of which are about products to beautify women, such as lipstick, mascara, shampoo, hair color, nail polish, powder, foundation, hair comb, body lotion. Other advertisements are about breast enlargement, weight loss system, food, car, credit card, cigarette, shoes, birth control pill, books, etc.
From those 84 advertisements, 46 of them use women as their models. Most of those women have similar appearance to Britney; they are pretty, wearing sexy dress, and they look sensual. It is understandable because most of the products are expected to be used by women—as aforementioned that women are always related to beauty. Two advertisements use men as the models (one is credit card and the other is music school). Thirteen advertisements use both men and women as models, such advertisements about car, weight loss system, books. The rest only shows the products without models, such as cigarette, candy, hair comb.

Women = consumptive?

So far it is believed that women are big shoppers. This is made use by producers to maintain gender inequality for the sake of beauty and image of a ‘good housewife’. Those idea roles are merely based on what the producers want to make their products sold out. Women are most of the time related to beauty, gorgeousness, or they are merely seen as sexual objects. These images inspire advertisement copywriters not based on women’s needs but based on lifestyle of certain social walks of life. Advertisements dictate women to be ideal and modern by offering beauty products. Beautiful women must hair fair complexion, slim body, no freckles in their face. To maintain their beauty or to make themselves more beautiful, women must use many kinds of makeup products, such as mascara, powder, lipstick, shampoo, etc. To make their body slim, women must consume dietary pills, or go to weight loss medication center.

On the other hand, many women identify themselves with advertisement models who are mostly already beautiful. Therefore, they are always worried if they are not beautiful anymore so that they are willing to spend their money to buy beauty products and to suffer. Naomi Wolf in her book The Beauty Myth, How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, quoted by Nur, stated that women are willing to suffer by doing strict diet and they are willing to spend much time to maintain their body to be slim, gorgeous, and pretty (2003:122).

In line with that, beauty becomes standard measurement to judge women. pretty and sexy women become identity of quality of certain products. Therefore, sometimes though the products are not related to women’s beauty, the models in the advertisements are also women (in Cosmopolitan February 2002 edition for example advertisements on toothpaste, food, and car.) It is based on assumption that women with their physical beauty are very beneficial to create good impression on certain products. This assumption is base on belief that women’s quality depends on physical beauty only, and not on women’s brain.

Image that women are consumptive, then, is the impact of advertisements that make women’s beauty and gorgeous body as the standard measurement to increase sales. Appreciation toward women which is based on beauty values is made us by capitalist agents to get as much profit as possible.

Women’s exploitation in advertisements is closely related to capitalism that places women as one way to produce profit. Capitalism values things as long as those things have important role to accumulate capital. Therefore, consideration on values, norm, and moral in advertisement is not important.

Women in Advertisement and American Culture

Advertisement does not only offer products and service, it also offers certain kinds of lifestyles and shows certain social classes. Someone’s decision to buy a product is based on certain motivation such as to fulfill physical needs (e.g. food, drink, clothes), secure feeling (e.g. credit card, birth control pill), social class (e.g. car), self-image and self actualization (makeup products).

In Cosmopolitan February 2002 edition there are 84 advertisements ranging from makeup products, car, dietary pills, credit card, birth control pill, food, drink, clothes, etc. Most of the advertisements have women as models. It shows that American society—just like any other patriarchal societies in the world—thinks that women are always related to activities to beautify themselves. They pay more attention to their appearance—to look more beautiful—rather than to their brain—to be more intelligent.

The products which make women look more beautiful are considered women’s needs. Therefore, advertisement copywriters create words to make women feel that they need those products. For example to advertise Covergirl lipstick, the copywriter asks a question, “Can your lipcolor outlast this day?” Women who do not wear such a lipstick will think that they need it.

To look beautiful, women must have qualities just like Britney Spears on the cover of the magazine—fair complexion, blond hair, slim body, flawless skin. Therefore some products are advertised to have similar appearance to Britney, such as hair color, dietary pills, stretch mark cream, makeup products from powder, mascara, until lipstick and perfume.


The explanation above shows that in recent American culture, American people value beauty highly. This is done purposefully to make capitalism survive. Women are made to feel that they need the products so that they will buy them. it will give capitalists much profit. It means that women always become victims in advertisements. Women are exploited in advertisements, and women are forced to buy the products advertised without their awareness.

  • Gross, Ronald, “The Language of Advertising”, in Neil Postman (eds) Language in America, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, New York, 1969
  • Leiliyanti, Eva, “Konstruksi Identitas Perempuan dalam Majalah Cosmopolitan” in Jurnal Perempuan number 28, published in March 2003
  • Nur, Tri Hastuti, “Stereotipe dan Komoditisasi Perempuan dalam Iklan”, in Jurnal Perempuan number 28, published in March 2003
  • accessed on September 22, 2003

Yogya, December 2003

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