Killing Us Softly

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Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women is the newest update of Jean Kilbourne’s examination of the way female bodies are scrutinized, objectified and derided in advertisements. Kilbourne guides the audience through the countless images she’s collected since the late 1960s, mixing some dark humour with her sharp criticism. Though the ads seen in this film offer a wide variety of products, they share an unsettling common ground in the way they use a narrow, unattainable standard of female beauty and sexuality to sell them. The result is damaging to our collective psyches as far as the way we view real women and ourselves. The issues related to the advertisements presented in this film include a sharp decline in self-esteem experienced by adolescent females, eating disorders, and violence against women, among many others. Kilbourne shows the way the ads sell values and lifestyles as well as material things, and some of the most common ideas portrayed in advertising construct desirable femininity as silent, fragile, sexually available, and, of course, a result of never-ending, expensive, arduous labour on the woman’s part. This pattern has become inescapable, and there are pretty much no alternatives. This 2010 instalment of Kilbourne’s long-running series of classic documentaries includes the many over-the-top, Photoshopped, ridiculous ads seen in the recent years, such as the one where the model’s pubic hair is waxed in the shape of the Gucci logo, and the scandalous image of Filippa Hamilton used for a Ralph Lauren campaign, in which her head is somehow bigger than her pelvis. Other recent developments targeted in the film include the increasing sexualisation of younger and younger girls (did you know you can now buy “heels” for babies and bikinis for toddlers?), and the acceleration of sexualized violence in ads (I would think that an image of a woman falling down the stairs in an evening gown would only make you worry about the danger of wearing a...
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