It is time we normalize sex and stop comparing ourselves to celebrities
By Alexis Zygan, Staff Writer
The subliminal messaging in the media strips women of their autonomy by presenting them as objects designed for male pleasure.
At this point, we are familiar with the cliche saying “sex sells.” For that reason, advertisers continue to draw on the efficacious marketing formula. First witnessed in 1871 when Pearl Tobacco designed a sultry Venetian woman for their label; the rest is history.
Feminist theorists object to the sexist undertones of this staple marketing tactic. They argue that the outcome of portraying women from a heterosexual male gaze is objectification. That the subliminal messaging in the media strips women of their autonomy by presenting them as objects designed for male pleasure. And manipulating lustful imagery to receive a response from men sustains heteronormativity in the media and reinforces heterosexuality as the default sexual orientation.
Despite these advertisements’ regressive nature, sex in the media can be advantageous by normalizing sexual urges, allowing people who grew up in an environment that demonized intercourse to feel comfortable acknowledging their sensuality. However, there is a limitation that hinders pleasure outside of sex. And the prevalent taboo that sex belongs on screens, not in everyday discourse, impacts how youth uncover sensual intricacies. According to a 2014 study from MediaSmarts, 23 percent of youth between 13 and 17 are accessing pornography.
People Magazine ranks men and women based on their sexual appeal, awarding the winner with the title Sexiest Woman Alive and Sexiest Man Alive. Kate Upton won the Sexiest Woman Alive award in 2014 and later appeared in “Who am I,” an advertisement for the mobile app Game of War, which premiered at Super Bowl XLIX. The 30-second clip depicts Upton gracefully emerging from a bath while a group of women drape her in luxurious fabrics before she suggestively rides a horse amid a battle scene. Upton parallels a Greek goddess in a seductive costume that accentuates her bodacious figure. According to a Los Angeles Times article, installs of the app skyrocketed after the premier. “Who am I” served to profit the game’s developer, Machine Zone, while adversely impacting viewers. According to Social Comparison Theory, people determine their worth by measuring their attractiveness up against others. This innate urge to evaluate sexiness based on the Sexiest Woman Alive, Kate Upon, likely resulted in poor self-image in the everyday woman. Keep in mind, Upton is a supermodel who sat in a makeup chair for hours before filming the commercial.
Creating an award for the Sexiest Person Alive is detrimental to self-worth and not an accurate representation of what the masses find attractive. Rather, it is a subjective perception of beauty from the lens of a celebrity magazine that has received scrutiny for photoshopping cover models and depicting an unrealistic standard of beauty. Instead of rewarding people for their appearance, People Magazine should award empathy and compassion.
Sex appeal is a cliche and sexist marketing tactic. More progressive campaigns have gone ahead and featured sexuality from a different lens. These new advertisements also push boundaries by resisting heteronormativity. In 1994 Ikea made headlines when the Swedish-based furniture company featured a same-sex male couple in their advertisement. The ad stirred controversy by receiving backlash from the Christian organization One Million Moms. After gay marriage became legal in the United States, queer couples became commonplace in the media. Critical changes are also happening on the small screen with TV show Sex Education teaching teenagers about sex.
Eliminating sex as a taboo allows for open-minded conversations about sensuality at the dinner table or in classrooms, where youth can learn about the spectrum of sex, gender, and sexuality. After watching a sexy ad, the absence of titillation may be because an individual belongs to the ace community. Discourse normalizes that no sexual attraction is as natural as feeling horny.