In today’s society, advertisements are seen on TV, on the Internet, on billboards, in catalogs, and outside retail stores. Advertisers are trying to grab our attention, and one method they use is sensuality. Because teenagers are a target market for certain companies, such as clothing stores, some ads are designed to reach the teenage desire to be good-looking and popular. Images used in advertisements for companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. are specifically targeting the sexual side of adolescents, creating the idea that in order to be attractive, one must be thin, beautiful, and sexy. The American Psychological Association created a task force to study the effects of sexualization, specifically of girls, in the media and advertising. This task force discovered that sexualization is rampant in the media, that it has increased over the past 40 years, and that there are a variety of negative consequences that can result from exposure to this sexualization. In addition, the Bible warns humanity against sexual immorality. It is unlikely that companies will change their methods of advertising; it is up to parents and other responsible adults to guide teenagers toward healthy standards and godly morals.
Walk through a typical shopping mall, and you will see droves of them: teenagers. The mall is the teenager’s place to socialize, eat, and, of course, shop. Teens spend the biggest part of their budget, approximately 21 percent, on clothing (Reagan, 2013). It stands to reason that clothing retailers use their advertisements to grab the attention of our youth. Unfortunately, the message that some popular companies are sending is a negative one, promoting “sexualization,” in particular, of girls (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). The notion is that in order to be considered beautiful, one must be sexy; in order to be considered sexy, one must be sexual. When this idea is embraced by adolescents, it lays the foundation for harmful consequences.
Two clothing stores that top the teenage shopping list are Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. Ironically, both companies promote advertisements that feature minimal clothing and maximum sexuality, as seen in this Abercrombie & Fitch ad (Levinson, 2013).
Abercrombie & Fitch is not only known for displaying images of scantily clad young adults in sensual poses, but they embrace the fact that their models are the epitome of what society considers good-looking. In a 2006 interview, the company’s CEO Michael Jeffries confirmed that his main marketing tactic is to focus on “hot people” (Levinson, 2013). Jeffries was quoted as saying, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” (Levinson, 2013). Abercrombie & Fitch does not carry extra-large sizes in female apparel in order to limit their clientele to only thin individuals (Levinson, 2013). There is a specific image Jeffries wants displayed in his advertisements and in his stores. He made the statement that, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids.” (Levinson, 2013).
Hollister Co., a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch that features “SoCal” styles imprinted with the Hollister logo, is also popular with the youth of today (Abercrombie, n.d.). It is no surprise that the same advertising method is utilized by both companies. While the models in this Hollister image are wearing a bit more clothing than the Abercrombie & Fitch photo referenced above, the theme still runs true: thin, beautiful, sexy people displaying sensuality (Mulkeen, 2010). Even if this were an advertisement for swimwear, there is barely any swimsuit to be seen.
How do advertisements such as these affect the youth of today? “Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents and psychologists have argued that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls” (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Although the American Psychological Association (APA) has studied the impact media and advertising have on children for years, these studies were focused on violence and not on sexualization. Because of this, the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls was formed (Zurbriggen et al., 2007).
Sexualization occurs when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or
behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates
physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified –
that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity
for independent action and decision making; and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon
a person. (Zurbriggen et al., 2007)
The task force discovered that sexualization of women was found in practically all media forms, “including television, music videos, music lyrics, movies, magazines, sports media, video games, the Internet and advertising” (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Examples of advertisements sexualizing females were not hard to find; sexualization was seen in ads for tennis shoes, dolls, and even thongs specifically sized for pre-teen girls (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Sexualization is not limited to only females; however, men are less likely overall to be displayed in a sexual light. As witnessed in the Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. advertisements, there is a “narrow and unrealistic standard of physical beauty heavily emphasized” (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). In addition, research has shown that over a 40-year period, the number of ads promoting sexualization has increased (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). As a result, society sexualizes females. Not only do girls have a narrow view of beauty to emulate, but males may have decreased interest in ladies who do not meet the unrealistic standards set by the media (Zurbriggen et al., 2007).
There are other negative effects of sexualization and objectification of women in advertising. Cognitive consequences can occur, such as the inability to focus on anything other than physical appearance. Emotional results include low self-esteem and anxiety. Mental and physical health problems may arise in the forms of depression and eating disorders (Zurbriggen et al., 2007).
From a Biblical perspective, there is nothing positive about sex in advertising. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5a reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion” (NASB). Advertisers using sex in an attempt to sell a product are not adhering to the commandments of God, but rather, are seeking the almighty dollar. Matthew 18:7 warns, “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes” (NASB).
In a society full of visual imagery, it is difficult to turn a blind eye to every negative influence. Advertisers want our business, and they are willing to use powerful displays to get our attention. Teenagers form a target market; unfortunately, companies prey upon their heightened hormones and sexual curiosity to lure them into buying their merchandise. The sensual images and objectification of females and males can lead to negative consequences in the emotional, physical, social, and spiritual lives of adolescents submerged in today’s media. We may not be able to control the advertisers, but we can reinforce healthy, positive standards and Biblical morals to fight against the sexualization that surrounds us through advertising.
Abercrombie & Fitch. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.abercrombie.com.
Levinson, S. (2013, May 3). Abercrombie & fitch ceo explains why he hates fat chicks. Retrieved from http://elitedaily.com/news/world/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-explains-why-he- hates-fat-chicks/.
Mulkeen, M. (2010, September 2). Hollister’s immersive retail experience. Retrieved from http://www.postadvertising.com/2010/09/hollisters-immersive-retail-experience/.
New American Standard Bible. Ultrathin Reference Edition. The Lockman Foundation. La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998. Print.
Reagan, C. (2013, May 30). Teen angst: Retailers fight for relevance. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/100774191.
Zurbriggen, E.L., Collins, R.L., Lamb, S., Roberts, T., Tolman, D.L., Ward, L.M., & Blake, J. (2007). Report of the apa task force on the sexualization of girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report.aspx.