Feminism, Objectification, the Body Essay Example
Feminism, Objectification, the Body Essay Example

Feminism, Objectification, the Body Essay Example

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Objectification Theory

Objectification is the perceptions surrounding feminism. It is roughly define as perceiving a person and most specifically, a woman as an object (Levesque, 2011). The objectification theory, coined by Frederickson & Roberts (1997) serves to discuss the causes and the consequences of body dissatisfaction, aspects that are so eminent within the western society. Going by the theory, the women self-objectify their bodies by engaging in the constant body surveillance activities, which results to discontent, reduced self-esteem and shame. Accordingly, Frederickson & Roberts (1997) further argue that when such experiences accumulate in a woman’s life, they may end up causing occasional mental health risks, which affects most women at large. The associated health issues include; sexual dysfunction, poor eating habits and unipolar depressions. The theory further provides a limelight on why the


changes associated with mental health risks come in steps with the life-course changes of the human body.

Most of the researchers perceive the concept of objectification as a process rather than just a one-time occurrence. Levesque (2011) contends that the process of Objectification will therefore, define and represent women based on their sexual functionality while excluding the other significant aspects of female identity. The occurrence can come through different levels of a woman’s life. This could be through interactions on a personal level to a broader social sphere that may demand highest standards of appearance. It is through these interactions and social messages that girls and women learn how to judge themselves as mere sexual objects while internalizing the aspect to appear far much insidious. The makeover episodes encourage women to reject their identities and adopt a completely new look as fashion models. Th

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judge then evaluates and decides the looks of the best supermodel (Loverude, Rhonda, 2011).

The current society piles pressure on women to take up an ideal image of fashion model or beauty. Contestant has to act sexually, stay thin as the standard. The women in the media, especially those ones in the show have to look and internalize the supermodel that acts as the ideal beauty of the fashion model. In simpler terms, they have to copy a supermodel to become a model (Alt, 2008). The upward comparison that advocates thinness to attractiveness may result to low self –esteem provided participants who are considered models must be similar to the thin supermodels. The Western society equates thinness to beauty. This is especially with regard to the women participants, as the society tends to reward women with thin body structures. Due to this notion, the society piles pressure on women to reduce weight for them to achieve this kind of ideal. As such, the women who do not have thin bodies are forced to work against the environment by taking dietary measures and exercise to ensure their bodies conform to the norms of modeling. The media plays a significant role in this effect, as it is always a reference point on which the judges make such unfavorable comparisons.

Some scholars sought to investigate if the women in the society actually agree that the acts of objectification are actually harmful. In their article, Zimmerman, Amanda, & John (2008) begin by noting that despite the ongoing criticism on the issue of objectification, the number of adverts presenting alluring body parts of women keep increasing. This drives the notion that women

are now consumed by the wave of feminism that their perception towards media objectification is now different. In order to prove their point, Zimmerman et al uses a more recent studies hypothesizing that the young , well educated women constantly find the sexual advertisements as culturally accepted and thus less disgusting. As such, Zimmerman et al argue that in as much as the media adverts objectify women, the same women are tolerant of the companies that employ such tactics to sell their products to the point that the women are even willing to purchase the products advertised by those companies.


Commodification entails the act of transforming goods and services as well as ideas and people into objects of trade. A commodity from its basic form is anything intended for exchanging and products for economic value (Dillon 2010). It is interesting that people too turn into objects of economic value. Today, commodification faces criticism in the sense that most things do not to have to be commodified. Such things may include and not limited to knowledge, education, and people. In relation to the Marxist theory, a commodity is the basic component of capitalism, which forms a key starting point of analyzing the economical-political system. According to Dillon (2010), Marx by extension, criticized the commodification impact through the analysis of commodity fetishism.

According to commodity fetishism, the commodity is always simple as long as it has some use-value. For instance, if human labor turns the peace of wood into a table, the use-vale of the wood becomes very clear and the table, being a product, remains an embodied of its material use. However, immediately the table turns out as

a commodity, it becomes a thing that overpasses sensuousness. The commodity form has a mysterious characteristic that consists of simply a reflection of the social aspect of human labor as an objective reasoning of the products labor. In essence, commodity fetishism ideologically creates boundaries between the visible and the invisible. Marx puts it clear that the ideology relates what can actually occur between capitalists and workers while the producers appear to be creating relationships between the things produced.

From the objectification perspective, the value of a commodity comes from intellectual capacity of the human beings to consciously link a relative value to a commodity. Although the world continues to experience heightened campaigns against gender inequality with many systems of governance advocating for women rights, advertisements are still slow to change their perspective on the stereotypical portrayal of women (Smith, 2013). The advertisements are conservatively tied to the old traditional ideologies of brand culture that still use women as a branded identity.

The woman becomes a branded identity through the commodification of her body. The society exploits the female body through the beauty market starting from the point when she attains the culturally accepted ideal female face towards the perfect body by means of plastic surgery. The process goes on towards the commodity fetishism that completes the look of what is required of a woman to purchase branded items (Fuchs,2015).Beginning with television a s form of business, it is closely related to the consumer culture of that has the desire for commodities. With reference of the female audience having their passive participation behind the scene, they are actively segmented through specific tests, some of them involving mathematical, scientific

and at times astrological intervention to help them speak to the female viewers with utmost accuracy.

The beauty industry has along comprehensive advertising budget set aside to focus on the marketing strategies that are set aside to promote their products through television advertising. The reason behind this is that the TV combines both sound and images able to present the contents of advertising brands even at international levels. A socially powerful and well-educated elite group that knows how to manipulate the audience through machines makes those behind the ongoing television programs. In this case, the celebrity machine presents to the female –machine as objects that can relate to one another through emulation (Fuchs, 2015). This, in essence becomes a point of concern since not all female viewers are educated or neither do they have access to finance that can afford what they see. This causes the most impressed women to fall into the cultural trap that binds them to the whirlpool of excessive consumption- the consumption of a commodified female body.

The Gaze/Spectatorship

The term gaze implies how people stare at an image. It may also refer to as how people perceive objects or subjects in a given text (Manlove, 2007). While analyzing the visual culture, the term gaze defines how the audience views the people under presentation. As per the feminist theory, the concept deals with how men perceive women, how women look upon themselves and fellow women as well as the surrounding effects. While studying social interaction, cultural variability is determined through the intensity of gaze. This could be either a sharp gaze, a clear gaze or a peripheral gaze (Manlove, 2007).

In the “Visuial Pleasure and

Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulve (2003) uses the principles of the psychoanalysis theory to pinpoint how the current subconscious society constantly shapes the film industry. Accordingly, the arrangement of the cinematic texts follows the lines that correspond to the cultural subconscious. This cultural subconscious is essentially patriarchic. The text outlines that what determines the popularity of Hollywood films is the preexisting social norms that shape the subject at hand. The analysis combines psychoanalytic analysis of the structures that are desirable and the cinematic means of expression that employs semiotic methodology. The semiotic analysis allows the understanding of how produced films convey the meanings under production while the psychoanalytic analysis provides linkage between the cinematic texts with the viewer while explaining the fascination through which cinematic productions interact with the subconscious.
The main argument under Mulvey’s article is that the Hollywood films utilize women as a means to provide men’s pleasurable visual experience.

The cinematic gaze always portrays the masculine characters through both means of identifying the male hero and through the camera use. According to Mulvey, there are two manners through which Hollywood cinema induces pleasure. The first method is through image objectification and the other method is through identification with the objectified image. In both the two cases, there is a representation of the male subject mental desires. One can easily equates the first form of pleasure to Freudian scopophilia which is pleasure as a result of gazing while the second form of pleasure is comes as a result of needs emanating from what Freud terms as Ego.

In the article, “Ways of seeing,” John Berger (2008) analyzes the cultural representation of men and women as well as

the subsequent results such representations have on their general conduct and mutual perceptions. In the article, Berger argues that the cultural representation of men and women elicit different gazes with men having the legitimate way of looking at women and women also examining fellow women. Berger notes that men always survey women before relating to them and as a result, this measurement determines a man’s relationship to a woman. For this reason, the actions of all women and their appearance indicate how a woman would like treated. In essence, her actions indicate how she would like others to observe her while a man just act. In simple terms, men act while women appear in the sense that they look at themselves from another person’s point of view. This concept of ‘men act, women’ appear supports Mulvey’s idea that regardless of gender and sexual orientation, the viewer is expected to adopt a masculine spectating position to view the woman as an object offering sexual gratification. Berger argues that while the observing woman is a man, the observed woman is still a woman, and through this, the woman does objectify herself as the subject of gaze.

In America’s Next Top Model challenges, the judge and the viewer’s constantly judge the contestants throughout the challenge. Girls have to act under the look of the male vision, which serves the concepts of Bergen ‘when the men act, the women appear’ in what is the gender stereotype. Despite the fact that the audience is free to decide what to receive from the media contents, the media system is always in control of what gender role models are visible and which ones

are not (TOTA, 2013). The media especially the one that mainstreams commercial content aims to attract as much audience as it can. They therefore tend to use a simple language with a stereotyped representation of sexuality whereby males and females are assigned arbitrary roles that are determined by their sex. According to TOTA (2013), TV shows that feature women in the top positions fail to present the actual social tension that exists due to collision of women with patriarchal power systems. Through the modeling cycles, the judges, photographers, the film producers and even the audience embody male gaze while objectifying the contestant’s body through their spectatorship. Through this, the woman’s body signifies sex promising sexual pleasure.

Docile Body

In his critical analysis of the docile bodies, Michael Foucault (1977) regards the body as the regulation sight. In simpler terms, the body is the object and the target of power. The ideation of docility is used to illustrate how the institution by virtue of their bodies regulates individuals. Foucault states that a docile body is one that is can be subjected, can be used or the one that can be improved or transformed. He goes on to illustrate the ordering of the body by asserting that bodies have four characteristics utilizing four techniques of discipline. The characteristics here include cellular, organic genetic and combinatory characteristics of individuality. Out of this, Foucault defines discipline as an artistic work of rank, which, a technique used for arrangement transformations. Discipline personifies bodies through location and fails to provide it with a fixed position but rather circulates the body through relational networks. As such, the individual body turns into elements that others

can replace, move or articulate. Humanity treats trains and shapes the body. Meaning, the body is docile and socially adapts to what Bordo refers to as the “useful body”. An example of this is the hourglass figure that symbolizes how bodies can easily succumb to sexual and domestic ordeals they encounter. Situations of starvation, strait laces, and the subjection to immobility restrict the body into a sphere that only corresponds to aesthetic norms (Bordo 2004).

In the society, the discourses of gender and organizations literally portray women bodies in a manner that constrains their professional identities. The society disciplines the woman’s body through various themes. For instance, a woman’s professional body is regarded as a fit body; the woman’s professional body exudes messages and signs through the comportment of the body, her performances and nonverbal cues of communication. For this reason, the society regards a woman’s body as text that requires some reading. Finally, the woman’s body is considered excessively sexual in nature. As such, the society makes the task of controlling the woman’s body more difficult because it has the overflowing tendency. This implies that the undisciplined woman body points to the notion of otherness. Based on these facts, a woman’s body is made docile and overtly normalized within the society (Trethewey, 1999).

The media on the other hand, strips women of their identity. The mass media representation of women contributes their self-surveillance and discipline which functions to create their docile bodies. As such, women feel much constrained in the society that denies them a collective role in the social, economic and political freedom. Although this perception is slowly changing in the current industrial society, the

woman’s body becomes the basic site for disciplining females through normative feminism. The disciplinary actions associated with the normative femininity entail practices such as postures, the female gestures; use of make-ups and all the roles women play in in the production of female bodies through the cultivation of culturally accepted feminism (Bartky, 1997). Through such representations, the media acts as disciplining device that reminds the female that the fat body is ugly and as such, it requires patrolling and policing. It does this by emphasizing that a woman is defined by her body and therefore drives the notion that the bodies need to be controlled through discipline.

Despite the recommendation Foucault’s text receives from the feminism context, there are some critics. For instance, Fraser regards Foucault’s theory as one that limits the value of his work with regard to feminism as it employs a normatively neutral approach (Luke, & Gore, 2014). According to Fraser, Foucault fails to avail the normative resources that are necessary for criticizing the dominant structures and the guiding programs that can drive social change. Likewise, Nancy Hartsock refutes Foucault’s concept on modern power since it reduces people to mere docile bodies other than the subjects having the capacity to stand resistance to power (Luke, & Gore, 2014). She argues that regarding the subject as an effect of power aims to threaten feminist politics from viability because it denies the subject of liberty hence condemning women towards everlasting oppression.

Social Comparison Theory

Proposed by Leon Festinger, the social comparison theory proposes that there is always a drive within humanity, and the drive is to gain the gain an accurate self-evaluation. According to the theory, individuals

evaluate their capabilities and opinions through interpersonal comparisons for the purposes of reducing uncertainties that may exist in this domain and learning how to define themselves (Festinger, 1954). Ever since its inception, the framework defining the social comparison theory has advanced. The key developments underlying this theory entail self-motivation, self-enhancement, and the principles that define validations and attributions, and the avoidance of closure. Contrary to what was there before, the current studies reveal that an individual was never created just an unbiased self-evaluator, but rather has many objectives that drive their social comparison. Likewise, the social environment may not just play an inactive role but also rather impose some unwanted comparisons. Finally, the comparison process is bidirectional as it may adopt various forms.

This theory is essential in analyzing body dissatisfaction, the concept that is highly prevalent within the western culture. Talking of body dissatisfaction, it implies the non-functional negative attitudes and beliefs towards one’s own weight and shape. In particular, it entails the notion that one’s particular body parts such as hips and buttocks are extremely large. This is due to the western culture that advocates thinness as an ideal body shape, which is usually not attainable. As a result, individuals, and most specifically women, tend to feel dissatisfied by their own body size and shape (Myers, 2010). According to Myers, the level of feminism belief does not affect the number of social comparisons an individual makes. Additionally, the women who subscribe to the feminist beliefs experience some comparable levels of body dissatisfaction when considering an upward social comparison that is appearance focused.

This argument is not different from what Jones found out while evaluating the

empirical correlation between social comparison and the overall body image of female college students. Accordingly, Jones found out those females who reported social comparisons related to appearance are likely dissatisfied by their body images. As such, research can easily establish the link between the social comparisons and low perceptions of personal body image since the appearance comparisons have mostly targeted celebrities and models. In addition, the media images of the muscular males versus thin females demonstrate the version of physical attractiveness that already idealized. Furthermore, the while analyzing the appearance magazines, one can easily discern the steady collision of images that already underscore the vitality of idealized appearance (Jones, 2001).

Several critics exist that argue against Feininger’s theory of comparisons. For instance, Deutsch and Krauss made a remarkable argument that for the purposes of providing valuable self-knowledge, people seek others who are not similar to them. Learning the range of scores individuals can personally attain meaningful impact than just relying on oneself (Wood, 1989). They insisted that people define their achievements while relating to others who are within their social environment. This is because; the subjects cannot interpret their personal scores without having prior knowledge of where others are standing from the dimension. Others claimed of the ambiguities brought forward by Festinger with regard to the important dimensions of similarity. As a result, Goethals and Darley came in to clarify the role of similarity through their suggestion that people would always prefer to compare similarities through related attributes such as capabilities, characteristics and opinions. However, the scholars maintained that while validating attributes, individuals prefer those people who are not similar as far as the related attributes

are concerned (Wood, 1989).

Post-Feminism Theory

Post feminism theory describes the reaction against feminism contradictions and absences. By definition, whereas feminism seeks to address equality, postfeminist supersedes the absolute need for equality for all male and females (Brooks, 2002). Post feminism is one of the most contested concepts within the context of feminism and media studies. This is due to the interpretation different scholars attribute to the understanding of the concept. Some regard the concept as political position that goes in line with the feminist confrontation of some difference, some regard it as historical shift of feminism while others regard the concept as backdrop of feminism where the celebration of traditional values take preeminence. Nevertheless, there is no fixed meaning associated with post feminism. It may simply imply a discourse of plurality mainly emancipated within the academic principles or television and cultural studies and in the media context of consumer and popular culture (Brooks, 2002).

The issues regarding gender struggle remain critical within the public and the private sphere. According to Adriaens (2009), the media discourse plays an important role in representing, revolutionizing and developing the concept of post feminism. The media is essential in emphasizing the dangers of women’s sexual encounters. They do this by focusing on the themes such as sexual abuse and female objectification through the media discourse. In some cases, the media faces criticism due to its over preoccupation with sexualizing women bodies hence promoting a contradiction intention of post feminism. From this, it appears as though femininity considers a body as property as opposed to the social and structural outlook. As such, the women have the notion that possessing a sexually attractive body

represents their key sources of personal identity. Because the presentations of women bodies constitute the largest portion of media content across all forms of media, the newly regarded feminism may be taken over by the feminist popular discourse.

In the same way the concept has attracted approval from scholars, it also faces criticisms. For instance, Meaghan Morris argues that post feminism poses the risk underestimating the basics of political action through gender differentiation since it is extremely anti-essential (Balsamo, 1987). One of the most notable aspects of post feminism is its focus on differentiation. The fact that the men create and define women as “other” is largely argued by most scholars such as Simone de Beauvoir. They challenge the male definitions of women and call on them to define themselves outside the dyad of male-female. She urges the women to be subjects rather than objects (Balsamo, 1987).
As the criticisms bring differences, irony on the other hand causes distinctions. For instance, Haraway ironically creates a political myth through the cyborg Citizenship. As a creature of post feminism society, the cyborg appreciates partiality and the commitments of political nature based on the available affinities as opposed to the essential identities. Through the concept of cyborgs, Haraway tries to reclaim the role of the social post feminism. In the process, she recognizes the networks within which the society politically embedded. This, she calls it the sign of informatics dominations whose processes are part of the current information age, a characteristic of the latest capitalism (Balsamo, 1987).

It, therefore, turns out that post feminism concept essentially serves to criticize the second wave feminism that is currently old fashioned. In particular, post

feminism criticizes binary thinking as well as essentialism through its perception on sexuality, and the relationships between feminism and femininity. It offers criticism on the modern enlightened models where it focuses on the hybridism, anti- essentialism and therefore, the difference. It pierces through these fixed binaries and promotes their identities.


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