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Cutting Girls Down to Size

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Jean Kilbourne is a feminist speaker, author and film maker who is internationally famous due to her tireless works on image of women in advertisements. She has several credits to her name including the introduction of media literacy education as one of the ways to avert problems thought to originate from media advertising campaigns. She has authored many books and articles among them a critical chapter “the more you subtract, the more you add” cutting girls down to size where she extensively focuses on the susceptibility of young females to seductive power of advertising. She mainly focuses on adolescence, an important development stage which is thought to be a time of crisis among young people, the fascination about thinness, advertiser’s image of ideal beauty and many others. This paper is going to focus on Kilibourne’s chapter “the more you subtract, the more you add” cutting girls down to size.  

Adolescents are considered to be a group of new and inexperienced consumers thereby becoming prime targets for advertisers. Jean Kilbourne main argument is that advertisements undermine girls’ self esteem. Advertisements are known to equate ideal body image with fitting in and also diminish young females in many ways. Young females become confused as they try to make sense of the contradicting expectations of themselves in advertisement dominated culture. Young girls are encouraged to be silent, passive, ashamed and childish by advertisements. Furthermore, their passive need for men attention makes them compete with other girl friends thereby creating tension rather than friendship amongst themselves. This culture is reflected and reinforced in advertisements where females are urged to acquire a false self where they try to become more feminine by becoming kind, sweet and nice in the process burying their real self. In the process, girls are placed in double bind as they are supposed to repress their anger, power and exuberance and simply become just nice (Kilbourne, 2000.p.230). This is further worsened by the fact that they have to compete equally with men in the world of business and become successful. Advertisements suggest that girls should be explicitly attractive and sexy but at the same time submissive and virginal.

Advertisement is considered one of the most powerful message carriers in a culture that is destructive to girl’s self esteem. Girls are targeted by advertisers because they are beginning to have significant disposable income thereby becoming new consumers who develop brand loyalty that usually lasts a long time (Kilbourne, 2000.p.230). Advertisements try to convince girls that the most important things about them are their bodies, beauty, perfume and their clothing. Advertisers use sleek images of flawlessly beautiful and tremendously thin women to try and convince consumers especially the targeted girls that with enough effort and self sacrifice, they too can achieve that look. Because of this reason, many girls spend a lot of time and energy in an attempt to achieve what they see on advertisements not knowing that it is trivial and completely unattainable. Women are vulnerable because their bodies have been objectified and commodified for a long period. The most vulnerable are young girls who have had certain unpleasant experience in life such as early deprivation, family violence, sexual abuse or other life related trauma’s. Girls are often portrayed as playful clowns in advertisements thereby bringing out the attitude that women are childish and hence they are not taken seriously. In the contrary, men are generally portrayed as serious, secure and powerful (Kilbourne, 2000.p.236). Men usually appear upright and alert an indication that they are in control of their lives and are comfortable. In contrast, women usually appear weak, insecure and off balance where their bodies appear bent depicting submissiveness, appeasement and unpreparedness. All the above point out how advertisements undermine girls self esteem.

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