Youth equals beauty, thus advertisers often portray women to be much younger than they actually are. Ageing and experience are unattractive. Youthfulness and innocence with a hint of sexuality is “ideal”. Thus many fashion and beauty campaigns have sexualised young women in order to sell their products. The fact that a baby doll face, resembling a female child is deemed “beautiful” and sexy is disturbing, evoking an element of Lolita-esque as “normal”. Should it really be considered “normal” for men and women alike to find images that look like little girls as sexy? Of course not! Yet advertisers have long bought into and reflected the idea of “Lolita” being beautiful and feminine.
Sexualisation of young girls has been around for a long time. However, in the 1970’s Love Cosmetics took this to an entirely new and disturbing level. Love Cosmetics released a new line cosmetics titled, “Love’s Baby Soft” which was all created around the image of body soft skin and the tagline “Because innocence is sexier than you think”
Jean Kilbourne states whilst deconstructing a Baby Soft ad that: “the way she is sitting, the fact she is dressed like a little girl but has a cleavage. All of this is designed to send out a very powerful and sexual message that at the same denies it” Advertisers send out a mixed message, which is indeed unrealistic. We are expected to be virginal yet sexy, innocent but sexual all at once. Jean Kilbourne in Killing Us Softly 3 suggests that these expectancies are also insulting, “The real message is “don’t grow up, don’t become a mature sexual being, stay like a little girl” and we’re still getting this message over and over again”. [21.28]
In another “Baby Soft” advertisement we see a young female model of questionable age, wearing a full face of glamorous make-up and bouffant hair. She holds a fluffy teddy bear close to her face which denotes innocence and vulnerability whilst striking a provocative and Lolita-esque pose: wide eyed and pouted lipped. At first glance, this looks like an image of an eight-year-old girl about to compete in a beauty pageant. However, you notice a much larger hand and realise that this is in fact a young woman. The burning question is who are these images aimed at?
Calvin Klein has also brought a lot of attention to the sexualisation of women. Klein deliberately used very young models in his advertisements and commercials to mimic scenes of child pornography. It’s disturbing that Klein went as far as to imitate scenes of child pornography to sell his expensive jeans. This was meant for added shock value, but nonetheless, highlights the fashion industries obsession with youthfulness and sex.
Below are some images from a reality-show I enjoy, “Toddlers and Tiaras” which depicts young girls competing in beauty pageants across America. The show and competitions themselves have sparked much controversy over the appearance of the young girls and the sexualisation of them. The girls often perform acts which are much more adult in nature. The use of heavy make-up, fake tan and even padded bras is all the rage: in fact they look like little drag queens! Even these little bundles of make-up, tantrums and rhinestones show the performative nature of gender, age and identity:
Kilbourne, J (2002). Killing Us Softly 3 Advertising’s Image of Women. Northampton, Mass, Media Education Foundation.
Wolf, N (1991) The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. Vintage.