“In media studies the concept of hegemony is useful in showing how, through images and text, this consent to dominant ideological position is won. For example, the position of women in western society is generally subordinate. This subordination is, in part, created through the representation of gender, in which men are seen to be powerful and dynamic, and women are weak and passive… the predominance of such patriarchal representations are a powerful socializing agent” (Lacey, 313).
In particular, the media works to enhance gender representations as a way to increase consumption; this is achieved through the disciplinary functions of normalizing to what society deems as acceptable. In the politics of gender representations, the media notoriously subjects females to its rules by constructing a certain kind of ‘ideal’, for all women to aspire towards. For example, Winship regards advertising as a means to: “…sell us, as women, not just commodities but also our personal relationships in which we are feminine: how we are/ should be/ can be a certain feminine woman, whose attributes in relation to men and the family derive from the use of these commodities. … A woman is nothing more than the commodities she wears: the lipstick, the tights, the clothes and so on are ‘woman’” (Barker, 310). The Media’s representations of women work to enhance female insecurities as a way to encourage consumption. The focus of this discussion will be how Cosmopolitan, a popular woman’s magazines, exploits representations of beauty, physique, sexuality as a socializing agent to increase consumer demand as women strive to achieves such ideal standards.
Aesthetic beauty is undoubtedly a high propriety component in the representations of women. Our visual society has put more pressure on women to conform their appearance to fit into the ideal standards of beauty. Female appearance constitutes as a main focal point as a project for self ‘improvement’. In reference to Featherstone, “Identity projects and the aestheticization of daily life are linked together within consumer culture through the creation of lifestyles centred on the consumption of aesthetic objects and signs” (Barker, 203). The content of Cosmopolitan emphasizes the need for women to be aesthetically pleasing by offering an abundance of how to articles to be more beautiful. Women are given advice on related to hair, fashion, and make-up in order to be sexy and attractive. This advice is often attached essential commodities to achieve such standards. Cosmopolitan is overloaded with images of women that represent ideal standards of beauty, which serve to reemphasis the gap between them and the ideal model type figure of woman. These representations of beauty increase real women’s feels of dissatisfaction and desire for advertized commodities to make them feel better about their appearance. According to Currie, author of Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers:
“Even readers who criticized the beauty standard perpetuated by commercial representations of women provided an extensive inventory of physical characteristics that are a source of personal dissatisfaction… conflict often surrounded a conscious acknowledgement that, while cultural representations are a source of anxiety for many girls, readers themselves accept these images as valid messages about femininity” (277-78).
The female physique is yet another area subject to scrutinizing standards. These standards dictate how a woman’s body should be in order to be considered ‘sexy’. The female body commonly degraded to the representation of a sex symbol, obliging the objectification of women. The media demonstrates an ideal figure of women as very slim and lean bodies with large breasts. “…We are surrounded by homogenizing and normalizing images – images whose content is far from arbitrary, but instead suffused with the dominance of gendered, racial, class, and other cultural iconography” (Bordo, 1101). Reaffirmed by magazine imagery, nearly every single image of women presented in Cosmopolitan posses an ideal slender physique. “Among the more powerful and influential representations of women within western culture is that of the ‘slender body’. This discourse has become a disciplinary cultural norm” (Bordo, 1993). Cosmo offers their women audience articles for weight loss, exercise tips to achieve a sexier figure, and fashion advice the makes you look slimmer or increase your cleavage. Feminizing commodities, such as push-up bras and high heels, sever to emphasis the ideal features of a woman to make her feel ‘sexy’. These attention headlines are put on the cover, like “Flatten your belly”, along with the alluring picture of a Victoria Secret model. Women are constantly consuming this information and junk articles in the attempts of obtaining satisfaction with their own body. Beyond the world of popular magazines, the obsession to conform to these standards is evident in the increase consumption of diet pills, weight loss plans, and occurrence of eating disorders among women. “Slenderness is contemporary ideal for female attractiveness so that girls and women are culturally more prone to eating disorders than are men” (Barker, 310).
In addition to the visual ideals bestowed to women, there behaviors that are considered to be ideal in terms of conduct. In popular culture mediums, women’s subordination to men is still a prevalent trait in gender representations. These patriarchal representations play into the ideology behind female gender roles in society. From the works of Simone de Beauvoir: “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him;… she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her…He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.” Even in our modern society, it is still evident how are women are relative to men. Through the media, women are represented as mere sexual symbols which serve as a demeaning and degrading stature from a being to an object. For instance, in the movie Ten, Bo Derek was degraded to a sexual object that served a purpose only to be desired. Her character as a human being carried very little significance, her value was neither in her personality nor her charisma, her value was in her sexual appeal and desirability. Many women internalize the objectification, and rather than opposing it they play into it as a form of empowerment. Yet, in reality this empowerment that comes from the attention is only feeding back into the same system of male dominance. Cosmopolitan’s selling forte lies in their sexuality content; it’s what distinguishes it from other popular women’s magazines. The magazine capitalizes on women’s aspirations to be desired by men by selling sex advice, insight to male preferences, and secrets to obtaining the ‘one’. The tone of these messages present women with ‘how to’ on how to achieve pleasing male desires. This medium encourages women to embrace their sexuality, yet at the same time identifies with subordinate tendencies by focusing explicitly on male satisfaction.
The politics of gender representations are used by the media to promote consumption, by offer the audience a means to their aspirations to cultural norms. The cultural industry reaffirms patriarchal gender representations by promoting ideal imagery that assists culturally normative ideals. Popular media, such as women’s magazines presents ideal representations of women that encourage their need for improvement by creating tendencies of dissatisfaction. Therefore, magazines exploit these icons of beauty, physique, and sexuality to promote and sell commodities that will supposedly aid females in achieving such goals.
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage, 2008. Print '
de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex, Woman as Other.1949. Print.
Bordo,Susan. "Material Girl: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture." Michigan Quarterly Review (Fall/Winter 1990).
Currie, Dawn. “Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers”. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
Lacey, Nick. “Image and Representation: Key Concepts in Media Studies”. New York: Palgrave, 1998. Print.