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Style vs. substance

Because the Monitor is a family newspaper, we couldn't show the ads described in this week's cover story.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Most people have encountered similar ones in fashion magazines, on highway billboards, and TV.

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At the same time, we wanted to illustrate how these advertisements distort and compartmentalize women, and can undermine their self-confidence.

We originally put together a collage of magazine ads to form a single woman. The composite was colorful and provocative. Unfortunately, it violated the integrity of the photographers' work, and left the Monitor vulnerable to copyright-infringement lawsuits. Needless to say, we dropped that idea.

After several tries at an illustration, including one of a woman looking into a mirror and seeing a younger, slimmer self, we settled on the image here (see right).

As the editors flipped through ads that were exploitative and often sexually explicit, someone remarked, "I know why men might like these images, but why would women?"

It's a hard question, and one that ascribes base motives to the male of the species, while calling into question the intelligence of the female. Advertisers encourage women to project themselves into ads or, worse, to measure themselves against what they see. Most women want to look attractive, and they seek ideas from the culture at large and ads in particular.

The cult of physicality that drives advertising isn't going away. Sex still sells. But as more consumers - women and men - question the assumptions in ads, the better off our culture will be.

*Write the Homefront, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail us at

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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