Sexist adverts: has anything changed?

Hopefully the majority of us today would be appalled by vintage ads that are not so subtly sexist. With titles such as, “Gray hair cost her her job!” and “No wonder Jim keeps breaking dates! You’ve let your complexion get so dry, lifeless, coarse-looking,” it is shocking that they were ever published. However, looking at today’s ads, I’m not sure if we’ve progressed at all. We just have to look at Elizabeth Arden’s “Ten Years Younger?” advert selling their ‘Daily Youth Restoring Serum,’ and Olay’s “Our eyes should show emotion. Not our age,” advertising their ‘Firming Eye Serum.’ They use varying selling methods, but the underlying message has not changed; women should not show their age.

While vintage ads are arguably more sexist, in that they openly claim that grey hair can cost you your job and your boyfriend, our contemporary ads are much more subtle. They do not outrightly claim that looking your age is at your detriment, but they plant the idea in your subconscious. They slyly make you believe that you want to look younger, that you are doing it for yourself and not because it is what is expected of you. These ads are perhaps more dangerous, as while we can laugh off the vintage ads as being ridiculous, our contemporary methods are far more manipulative.

Furthermore, the Elizabeth Arden and the Olay adverts were both in the same edition of a magazine, amongst many more promising to get rid of your grey hair and age lines. We are bombarded with the same message day after day, to the point where it’s hard to believe otherwise. Looking young is a beauty standard that we, as a society, are not going to let go of any time soon. It is not surprising that these adverts are always aimed at women, too. Sure, there are a couple of ads here and there, but even then, the difference in their marketing approach is jarring. L’Oreal’s Men Expert fronted by Hugh Laurie preaches ‘Be yourself, and never let go!’ The contrast in their language use is striking, and proves that men will never be subject to this incessant marketing, at least not in the way that women are.

However, once in a while, an advert will cause some backlash. Protein World’s ‘Are you beach body ready?’ caused so much offence that it was taken down. American Apparel’s ‘Now Open’ was deemed sexist and objectifying, so was banned. It is clear that we ban the openly sexist ads as we recognize that their are sexist. The contemporary anti-aging ads, however, have been so naturalized that we hardly bat an eyelid. We accept them as the norm, and accept that this is what is expected of us. While they may not be directly claiming that signs of aging will cause your boyfriend to break up with you, or that you might not get the job you want, they are influencing us women to believe that there will be consequences to the natural process of aging. Sadly, sexism is still ever present in our media – it has just become more sly.

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