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How did the mass media exploit women's bodies in the late twentieth century, as described in chapter 11 of Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas?

This chapter of Where the Girls Are shows how, in the late twentieth century, the American mass media used images of women’s bodies to promote consumption of their products. The goal was to get women to believe that if they bought a certain product, they would look more like the women in the ads who were being admired by men. This is exploitation because the companies were profiting from a socially constructed myth that equated women’s worth with their physical appearance.

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One of the main ideas of this chapter is how American advertisers in the late twentieth century fueled widespread cultural self-doubt in order to promote constant consumption. Douglas writes that one of the most “oppressive” symbols of this trend was “the perfectly sculpted, dimple-free upper thigh and buttock” (Douglas 247). She explains that this unrealistic image of women in advertising was meant to make American women feel like “worthless losers when they looked in the mirror” (247). By infusing images of unattainable female bodies into marketing for all sorts of products, the mass media profited off of creating standards of female beauty.

A lot of ad campaigns during this time period featured men commenting on or clearly attracted to women who were supposedly using a certain product. For example, Douglas explains how the brand Hanes promoted their product with different pictures of women in cocktail dresses. The tag-lines for these ads always included a compliment about the woman’s intellect and ended with the phrase “ahh ... and her legs ...” Hanes’s goal here was to convince women that their legs would look better if they buy Hanes and they will thus be more attractive. This ad exemplifies the mass media's strategy at the time: that is, to make women believe if they bought whatever was being promoted, they could also win the admiration of men.

As Douglas puts it, “the appearance of female self-love and achievement was used to reinforce female dependence on male approval” (249). The women’s elegant dresses and the nod to their intellectual capabilities suggest they possess a degree of “self-love and achievement.” However, the male voice that clearly admires the women’s bodies above all else suggests that, despite intellect, women needed to have a desirable body in order to be valued.

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