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Beauty Ads, DreamGirls, and Charlie’s Angels: The Damaging Effect Media Has on Women

By Eliza Shaw

The beautification industry, as well as all media, can be unethical and dangerous, and they are a major reason young girls and women often have unrealistic expectations for their appearance. Advertisements for products such as clothing, makeup, intimate apparel––as well as TV and movies––objectify women and display them in improbable and often unhealthy ways. This, in turn, causes women and girls who view these images to believe they should look and act the same way. Often times in the media, women are often depicted as ignorant and incompetent, only worthy of value because of their appearance and sexuality. As a result, young girls often strive to emulate these depictions and understandably fail, so they think they are unsuccessful or unproductive.

Advertisements for clothing and fashion are a leading cause of young girls’ low self-esteem. Many ads display women with unattainably flat stomachs and skinny legs in apparel that many simply cannot wear. Just because they are not able to pull off certain articles of clothing in the same way models do, girls feel unattractive to others and themselves. By losing self-esteem, those affected can descend into a life of eating disorders and self-loathing since they assume others see them the same way.

I have personal experience with these issues since I have struggled with self-confidence and body image and it has resulted in issues that include eating disorders and an inability to open up to others. People may assume I and others like me are just wired this way, but I believe the media and our beauty-adoring society play a key role in causing or exacerbating such issues.

Advertisements for cosmetics and makeup are no better since most ads portray women as flawless. Photoshopping often creates idealized and unattainable images of women––They very rarely have blemishes, wrinkles, or any signs of imperfection. Sometimes this even leads to girls ‘reinventing’ their facial or bodily features though drastic methods, such as contouring, bleaching, and surgery to emulate the looks of the models. In reality, imperfections are what make women unique and attractive––and the beautification industry destroys their self-worth.

Picture Credit: Huda Beauty

In addition to advertisements, movies and television tend to portray women as weak, dumb, and dependent on men for success. Women are often denied leading roles or are disrespected by men in the media, who are typically in control and wield their power unethically (see Harvey Weinstein).

Movies such as Dreamgirls and Charlie’s Angels exemplify the rampant sexism that exists in the media industry. For example, in Dreamgirls (2006) the lead character of Curtis (played by Jamie Foxx) constantly tells the three women what to do and how they should do it. He gives them no power over their sound, looks, or audience. This implies that women are incapable of making their own decisions. Curtis only wants Deena (Beyoncé) as the group’s lead singer because she is “prettier and skinnier” than Effie (Jennifer Hudson). This implies that women’s talent and popularity are based solely on their appearance.

Picture Credit: Basement Rejects

One of the most significant instances of sexualization in Dreamgirls occurs when the women perform their songs. They are not only dressed in revealing outfits, but their lyrics perpetuate sexism. Take, for example, the lyrics of the lead song: “We are Dreamgirls…boys we will make you happy, we will never leave…” In addition, Curtis refers to Deena as a “product”, threatens to hit Effie if she steps out of line, makes the women’s dresses shorter and shorter, and only refers to their images and not their talent when describing beauty. This further contributes to the rampant and unhealthy sexism in the movie.

Charlie’s Angels (2000) also contains obvious and inexcusable sexualization of women. The three “angels” are strong and talented spies, but they must portray themselves as sexy and dumb girls. Even worse, they must report to and perform all their work for a controlling man the audience never sees. The women dress in tight outfits when completing work and are weaponless. Even though this movie was supposedly empowering women, it actually continued the stigma that women must always act sexy to please men and gain success.

Picture Credit: Digital Spy

The beautification industry, as well as the media, have a huge effect on young girls and women in general. Changes are long overdue, including the elimination of retouching and editing, and giving more active and powerful roles to women in their media depictions. Sparking conversations and protests about the beautification industry––and in particular the objectification of women––should lead to fairer and more accurate portrayals of women, and to healthier and more fulfilled women in our society.


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Writers of the Boston University chapter of Her Campus.
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