Singer-songwriter, Frank Ocean, recently revealed that he is gay. Following his admission, protests have occurred over the issue of inappropriate referrals to gays in rap songs, especially in those of highly acclaimed rap artists. This issue seems to be a bit overblown. Why is there such an uproar over a few lyrical references in a few songs when greater issues that have more widespread and harmful repercussions are being deliberately overlooked?

One of those issues is the sexulization of women in mass media—from billboard ads, to magazines, to top brand merchandise stores—all have been guilty of overtly sexualizing women.

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Sexualized Advertisements

Multiple advertisement scandals have been brushed under the rug for years now, as new advertisements continue to push their limits. Victoria’s Secret, Marc Jacobs, and American Apparel have headed some of the latest raunchy concepts.

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Victoria’s Secret has been under fire for its recent Bring Young Things campaign for this year’s spring break season. Earlier this month, moms from around the US joined with The Mommy Lobby in protesting the company’s campaign. A peaceful protest was organized on April 6 where protestors stood outside their local Victoria’s Secret store to show their disapproval of the Bright Young Things campaign.

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Marc Jacobs has also been reprimanded in the past for some of its shameless ads. One ad campaign for the new fragrance Lola in 2011, starring Dakota Fanning, was banned in the UK because of its sexual promiscuity. Dakota Fanning was only 17 at the time.

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American Apparel has been the most recent violator, having two clothing ads recently banned for the sexualization of women that they exude. The company has often drawn unruly attention from the Advertising Standards Authority for its consistently racy ads. These ads have caused the company to be accused of sexualizing children and presenting models in exploitative ways.

These ads are not simply a few sexual ads among many exceptional ones—they are everywhere in our society. They only continue to increase in sexual content and in number. Research on the topic has revealed this.

Studies on Sexualized Media

A study by University at Buffalo sociologists found that the portrayal of women over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized. Researchers revealed this by measuring the changes in the sexualization of men and women over time on the covers of Rolling Stone magazine from 1967 to 2009. The results were astounding. In the 1960’s, research revealed that 11% of men and 44% of women on the covers of Rolling Stone were sexualized. By the 2000’s, 17% of men and 83% of women were sexualized.

This is a problem, especially considering that previous research by the American Psychological Association found many negative consequences of this sexualization of women in media. Some of those resulting issues are related to cognitive and emotional consequences, mental and physical health, sexuality, attitudes and beliefs, and impact on others and society.

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Though APA does warn of the harmful results of the continued sexualization of women in media, it also provides ways to combat the issue. The association recommends researching, educating, and creating public awareness of the topic. By doing this, our society may not be able to protect young women, but we can equip them for the issues they may face due to what they see or experience in the media. In this small way, our society can hope to eventually change the sexualization of women that occurs so frequently in media.

Movement Towards Change

A recent advertizing campaign by Dove has attempted to move towards a more universally beautiful depiction of women in media. This campaign, titled Dove Real Beauty Sketches, can be found on youtube and has had millions of views. Though the message intended in the ad is that all women are beautiful, Dove hasn’t quite gotten to the heart of the matter—not quite yet.

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There are still many issues with the ad campaign including lack of diversity, providing acceptance of judgment, putting blame upon women for critiquing their imperfections, and even hypocritical advertising grounds. But that doesn’t mean Dove isn’t moving in the right direction—they are getting there. No ad campaign can be perfect, but the messages they deliver should be positive, aiming to uplift and empower women of our society, not scrutinize, belittle, or sexualize them.

The SPARK Movement

SPARK advocates for the action against, resistance of , and knowledge pertaining to the sexualization and exploitation of women across all media spectrums. SPARK is an international activist group that began in response to the APA report on the sexualization. It is designed to engage girls to help build their own solutions in leading a movement against the sexualization, objectification, and violence against women in the media. The SPARK team is made up of engaged, passionate girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 22. These women advocate for the awareness, response and  knowledge of the sexualization of women in media.

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One of these women is Alice Wilder. She blogs for SPARK on the movement’s website ( and works to inspire change in our society and world. She is only 17, living in Charlotte, NC, and is already doing everything she can to advocate for girls and women and their power to spark real and lasting change in our society.

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SPARK also has a Facebook page, a Twitter page, and an account on Piggybackr, where Wilder is raising funds for the continued development of the movement. This will involve the training of other young women like herself—especially for the funding of their upcoming summer retreat. On this retreat, SPARK will hopefully spend three days training, learning and planning with young women to expand the scope of their actions against the sexualization of women.

Join the Movement

It is encouraging to see women so young already promoting a cause and standing up for their rights as women and citizens of the US. It is clear that women have been sexualized for long enough and our society is overdue for a change. So let’s spark it, just as these courageous young women in the SPARK movement have, because we need to remind each other that all women are real, and all women are beautiful. The media that depicts women should reflect that truth.

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