sexy naked women absolutely everywhere

Bear opened his new headphones. “Check it out!” he said happily, gesturing at them.

I peered into the box. There were the headphones (I don’t know much about headphones), and directly below them was a glossy photo of a naked woman, wearing the same headphones.

He followed my gaze. “Is she totally naked?” he said, only a little surprised.

“Yup,” I said.

“Is that a nipple?”

“No, but almost.”

“Phew,” he said, grinning. “Wouldn’t want to see a nipple or anything.”

“Awesome,” I said.

“Now I REALLY want to wear these,” he said, teasing me. “Naked ladies LOVE these headphones.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “But seriously? I mean, seriously?”

“Seriously,” he said.




We got off the subway, Eden on Bear in the frontpack, on our way to buy a little plastic plate and a little plastic spoon and maybe even a sippy cup for the first time. It was the weekend, life was good, the city was muddy and cheerful and the cold felt like the right complement to hot chocolate and wool. I glanced up, waiting to cross the street, and there, covering the side of a building, was a butt.


A mostly naked, young woman’s butt, the cheeks round and glowing and tanned. The panties being advertised were a blushing pink afterthought.

“Seriously?” I said.

Bear looked up. “Nice underwear,” he said. “Looks like a great product!”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s basically porn,” I said, and felt immediately self-conscious for sounding so histrionic about it.

“Nah,” he said. “See? Underwear! Just a happy young woman wearing some excellently crafted underwear.”

I made a face at him.

“Well, some of a young woman, anyway,” he added, studying the three-story image with a thoughtful expression. “And maybe it’s only implied that she’s happy.”

“I’m not happy,” I said.

“The butt part of a young woman,” he continued, in high spirits.

I pointed at the baby girl on his chest. “See that?” I said. “She’s going to see that.” I pointed at the giant butt.

He looked more serious.




On our way to Eden’s six-month doctor’s appointment, crossing near the park on a snowy sidewalk, I was confronted with a bus stop advertisement for “European” waxing services. A woman’s long, bare legs strolled along beneath a gleaming, lean torso. The waxing was thorough, you could see, because only a faint slip of her vagina was covered with cloth. Again, she was headless.

I looked at Bear. He looked at me.

“How am I supposed to raise a daughter?” I asked him.


I keep telling myself that it’s not that big of a deal. Here’s what I say to myself: There are naked guys on billboards too sometimes. Probably a lot of them, in total. Just not as many. Everyone gets objectified…As though that makes it better! Well, it makes it more normal. So it’s normal. It doesn’t have to stand out. No one has to even notice or if they notice they don’t have to pay attention. Advertisements are stupid! Everyone knows that. They can fade into the background, hardly registering. I’m just noticing suddenly, but I can tune it out. I just have to tune it out.

Whatever! It’s gone!

I don’t want to be offended. Offended people are too serious. They get picky. They waste their time. They are distracted by things that don’t have to matter.

And at the same time, I can’t shake it. This feeling that something isn’t right. I’m not even looking for naked women and I’m seeing them everywhere. I can’t avoid them if I try.

I can’t shake the feeling that there doesn’t have to be a naked woman in the headphones’ box. It isn’t necessary at all. It tilts in the direction of insanity. Why does she need to be naked to wear headphones? (Isn’t it enough that she’s always gorgeous and sleek and perpetually nineteen and twenty pounds lighter than everyone else and more often blonde than not? Isn’t that enough to sell something? You would think.)

I don’t want to say this out loud. I think it’s uncool. It’s a rant. No one cares.

I don’t even really want to say it to Bear.

I feel a little lonely, noticing the naked butts of New York’s advertising.

I feel strangely excluded from the world of consumerism. I can’t be who these ads are for. And yet the literature disagrees. It says: HA! You would think they’re for men, because of all the sexy naked women. But no! That’s the trick! They’re secretly for YOU!

HA! says the literature, it’s actually women who buy things that are displayed on the seductive lithe bodies of other women.

It’s aspirational, it’s compulsive, it’s some social psych thing that normal people can’t fully understand, but we keep responding to anyway. All of these campaigns are tested a million times first. There’s a million hours of market research here. And all of the market research agrees: sexy naked women are the way to go, for everything!

So these ads are for me, then. That’s what the research says. Then why do I feel disturbed and put-off? I must be malfunctioning. It’s me. Something’s off-kilter. I have to figure out how to shake it back into obedience, into obliviousness, into the cool of not caring. I have to learn to be a better liberal—I sense that being a good liberal means embracing all of the nakedness. It’s just bodies! Bodies are beautiful! Don’t be a prude about it!


(i can’t help it- when i hear “prude” i always think “prune”. source)

I think I’m supposed to ignore the fact that they are almost always the same bodies. That they are so much always the same bodies that they seem to implicitly ban the contemplation of other naked bodies. I think I’m supposed to ignore that they’re almost always young women, and that they are so sexualized that they seem to implicitly instruct that young women are for sex for sex for sex and only for sex.

Maybe my daughter will be more normal. Maybe she’ll just buy the underwear and move on with her day.

Only, I can’t help but think I don’t want that for her either, even though it sounds more emotionally efficient (although probably a waste of money).


“What am I going to do?” I ask Bear, standing still in the middle of the sidewalk as the people in their black down coats eddy around us. I’m so tiny in this huge city. My red hat is a speck. A drop of blood in a major artery.

download (1)


He shrugs, obviously not wanting to think about it. She is only six months old. She is deliciously fat—right now, everyone thinks it’s perfect.

I try to imagine myself, walking in this city with my older daughter. Maybe she’s ten? Who the hell can imagine that far ahead?

I try.

I see that she’s looking at the huge naked butt.

“Isn’t that ridiculous?” I say. “What a stupid ad, right?”

We laugh a little. We agree. It’s very, very stupid. We go on with our day. At least she knows: this isn’t just normal. It’s not creatively liberated, either. It’s listing towards insanity. It’s laughably, seriously absurd. It may be right in front of us but we know there’s something wrong.

*  *  *

Do you notice the naked women? Are you over it? Or are you in it? Or some of both?

Unroast: Today I love the way my feet look in wool socks. Like I might be sipping hot chocolate up here.


Kate on January 29th 2014 in beauty, body, fear, feminism, motherhood, new york

62 Responses to “sexy naked women absolutely everywhere”

  1. skye responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 11:11 am #

    I understand that lonely feeling, and the not wanting to talk about it, even with one’s husband. Mentioning the butt out loud calls too much attention to it. And what if he likes looking at it, a little bit? I hate the ads, but I do think they’re geared toward me. I’ll order a pair of pink underwear after seeing such an ad, especially in the middle of winter, when I’m feeling muted and heavy, and online shopping is a good way to have a burst of pretty color and hopefulness arrive in the middle of a dreary day. Until I try whatever it is on, ha. I do feel way less surrounded by naked women now than I did while living in NYC. NYC is positively plastered with them. It’s different here in the South. But Eden is lucky to have you to guide her through it. There are many, many moms who play right into it. She is such a lucky girl.

  2. morgaine responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 11:25 am #

    What bothers me about these arguments is that objectification happens on so many different levels, but the sexual kind is the one people are most concerned about. We basically objectify everyone we meet – cashiers are the robots that ring us up, bus drivers are the robots that take us places, etc. Soldiers especially. The fact that such things often take a backseat to the sexual arena tells me that there’s still an undercurrent of woman-needs-saving in even the more progressive corners of American culture.

    Is it tiresome to see the same images over and over? Of course. But I’d rather promote what’s missing rather than tear down what’s there. I think there’s room for everything.

    I wrote an article earlier this month that touched on this subject. Not to blatantly clickbait you guys – it’s genuinely relevant to the conversation.

  3. Raia responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 11:25 am #

    Ugh! I hate all the ads using parts of women. As though she (or any of us) is not a whole person, just a combination of parts (ideally sexy parts). The images are likely photoshop-ed beyond any semblance of her real self any way, further making her body into a thing. It’s so objectifying, portraying woman’s bodies as things – like a hanger. I have a daughter too and it troubles me to think about the messages this sends to her and all other women out there. It’s important we do stop and say “hey, that’s not right! whoever’s naked butt that is – she is a person.”

  4. Kate responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 11:44 am #

    I’d like to think it’s not really about what if he likes it or I like it or anyone likes it a little bit (although maybe there’s a tiny bit of nervousness, always?). People like a lot of things that I don’t really love the idea of being confronted with constantly in public.
    Interesting that you definitely have the sense that the ads are for you.
    I’ve discovered online shopping recently, since having Eden and not being able to ever get out on my own for a reason as frivolous as shopping. There’s something so exciting about getting a package, like a present, in the mail. Even when I know exactly what’s in it (a boring tank top that I can nurse in), I get this little shiver of anticipation.

  5. Carmen responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    This is how I felt about this way back in 2010, and I feel the same now:

    It feels me with rage, and I for one rant about it with abandon (but then I am a sociologist and I can pretty easily pull the “criticizing this is literally my job” card).

    I’m well aware that I’m an “uptight” “prude” for calling it out, but I carry on, unmercifully, because I am right and because the “uptight” “prude” stuff is a silencing tactic meant to preserve the mean streak of plain old misogyny running through the “progressive” movement (see also:

    I don’t have children, and part of the reason is because I don’t want to face raising a daughter in this, nor do I want to raise a son who becomes complicit in this (do we really expect boys to grow up to value women as equal partners and human beings when they are raised on a diet of this?). It disgusts me.

  6. CL Mannarino responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Yes to the first and no to the second. I feel the way you do–I can’t stop seeing these advertisements and going to war with myself over whether or not they ought to exist. I do think we need to be much, much more aware of them and how often they appear.

  7. Erika responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    You should totally watch “killing us softly 4″. 45 min speech about how advertising portraits women.

  8. Emily responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    Looking at the (sometimes disembodied) bodies of other women in the context of advertising is harmless and legal. It does not mean your husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is automatically comparing you to them and judging you and intellectually cheating. It does not brainwash children, the ads alone. That’s where good parenting comes in. We all need to muster up a little (a lot) more confidence in ourselves, faith in our partners, backbone in our children. And that includes me, too.

  9. Britta responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    There is the wonderful TED talk by Caroline Heldman. I loved the way she explained sexual objectification and what it does and why it is damaging and NOT empowering. It might help some women to verbalise what is going on and to argue their point.

  10. skye responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I see what you’re saying, but I think the potential of liking it – not just my husband liking it, but the entire world liking it – is part of what makes the ads so horrible, and also so effective. Companies unapologetically put up these images as though they represent a universal truth – “This is what people like.” So like you demonstrated, speaking up and calling it out, saying “Actually I don’t like this, it’s terrible and abnormal” is a really important thing to do, even though it’s hard.

    What I mean when I say the ads seem geared toward me is that I can see a pattern of that nervous feeling leading to urges to order something stupid in hopes it’ll make me feel good. It might not directly relate to a particular ad, but a few days later, seemingly out of the blue I’ll find myself thinking I really need some new lingerie, etc.

  11. Emily responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Lovely post, Kate! I’m totally, completely in agreement with you on this. (Especially as a mom of two young daughters myself.) Jean Kilbourne popped into my head as I read this–she has been observing/writing/speaking about these issues for years–especially the “disembodied” images–a butt on a building, legs on a bus, etc. It’s really just insanity at this point.

    On a more positive note–ahhh! Six months old! That age is the height of utterly delicious baby chub. It IS perfect. My daughters looked like the Michelin Man at that stage, and oh, I loved it so, so much. :-) Enjoy!

  12. skye responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    @Emily, it’s not about confidence. If ads portraying thin, young, white women are the only examples of glamour and sexiness people see, they’ll start to believe that glamour and sexiness are defined by being thin, young and white. They have nothing else to go by. It reminds me of how young men who grew up with easy access to porn have absolutely no idea what real sex is supposed to be like.

  13. San D responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    oh, just wait. I am more offended by the sexualization of little girls through dance classes with skimpy outfits, and suggestive moves in cheerleading. And since the girls and their parents are innocents at that time, they actually buy into those outfits and movements as being “cute”, and I see them as a prelude to what you see on tv and billboards today. Call me crazy….

  14. Ashley responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    I feel that these advertisements are the sole reason why girls have eating disorders and body image issues. I’m convinced of it, actually. And I wish it weren’t that way, so we could all live in a world where we accept that we don’t all look like a hairless skeleton with a baboon butt.

  15. Annie responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    Though lonely, you’re not alone. It’s like you took the words right out of my mouth! To your point about seeing the same bodies, maybe you read this recently, too?

  16. morgaine responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    “I feel that these advertisements are the sole reason why girls have eating disorders and body image issues. I’m convinced of it, actually.”

    @Ashley, please don’t try to speak for all eating disorder sufferers. EDs are complex mental illnesses with a variety of causes, and most patients also experience other conditions. Mine, for example, was an extension of my OCD: obsessions and compulsions turned into binging and purging. Please remember that while the physical aspects of the condition are the most obvious, there’s a lot going on under the surface that often has little to do with body image.

  17. Call Me Jo responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    I hate to admit it, but since I am a social psychologist and monitor my own responses to just this kind of thing, I noticed myself noticing these things more when I like my own body less. Like when I was huge and pregnant. Sexy women seemed to be plastered to everything. Insecurity sells.
    It also makes sense that you’d notice it more now that you have a baby, who is also female. I know that since my son was born my outlook on my environment has certainly shifted. When I see things like these ads, my imagined future scenario involves me talking about objectifying women and how that hurts all of us (mom is going to be SO lame).

  18. olivia responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    ugh I know exactly where you’re coming from but I wish I didn’t. I feel like I’m always the only person that is bothered by this kind of stuff, I’ll bring up this stuff with my other female friends and they just shrug it off. I don’t mean to be defeatist, but I don’t think stuff like this will ever really change because it’s biological, we’re all attracted to beauty, especially female beauty for biological reasons .. yes society’s idea of beauty has been taken to the extreme, but youth and certain features are what we’re hardwired to be attracted to. Yes we’re more than our biology, but what we’re biologically attracted to is not going to change. And yes it’s hideously unfair that everyone focuses so much on women’s appearance over everything else – but I don’t see how it’s ever going to really change, throughout history we’ve always been obsessed with female beauty.

    I think we just have to try and ignore it and have our values, although it’s hard when this imagery is so pervasive. You can’t change other people’s perspective but you can control your own to some extent. I struggle with this all the time too, because I wish more than anything that I didn’t care what I looked like.

  19. Maya responded on 29 Jan 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    It bothers me. I’m lucky enough to be just absent-minded enough that I often don’t see it- but I do see it sometimes, and it bothers me.

    At the same time, when men complain about the over-abundance of scantily-clad women or images of near-naked women (from a religious “this isn’t fair to men who are trying to be restrained” sort of angle), it also sometimes bothers me, because I want them to be self-restrained, not to force their needs on me and my body (or equivalent images thereof).

    It puts me in a bit of a funny bind- I don’t want naked women in advertising, but when men complain, that also makes me uncomfortable.

  20. Alpana Trivedi responded on 30 Jan 2014 at 3:19 am #

    Kate, I can’t tell you how happy I am that I’m not the only one who feels this way about seeing scantily clad women (it’s always women, isn’t it?) everywhere. And I’m very liberal too. But I don’t like constantly being bombarded with this idea that to “be comfortable with your body” you have to put it all out there. And of course, when I try to talk to people about it, I always get the arguments. The practical (“well, sex sells”), the I’m-with-the-times-and-you’re-not (“Oh, you’re so old-fashioned”), the choice-oriented (“well, obviously she chose to wear that”). The last one isn’t always true. What if some women actually WANT to cover up more, but feel that they have to wear less to be popular?

    And the only comments I hear against this come from very preachy, moralistic people who usually cite religion (nothing necessarily wrong with it, but not everyone can identify with that argument) or the “nature of men” as the reason (i.e. the idea that we shouldn’t tempt men because they are visually oriented).

    I wish there were more progressive arguments against constantly selling the image of less clothing.

  21. juniper responded on 30 Jan 2014 at 4:22 am #

    I’m 55 and so far as I could see women have been judged by their appearance throughout time and culture. Does this make it right? No, it does not. Something to consider is everyone is judged on their appearance (old/young, male/female) and what is deemed attractive tends to be associated with health/fitness/wealth. So I’ve found the best way to reframe the onslaught of sexualized female images is to view the images as looking healthy/fit rather than purely sexual. And it is important to recognize sexual/sexy = healthy/fit.
    Basically I think you should tell your daughter as she is growing up that society values women through the prism of appearance and you can opt in or opt out, but it is a good thing to be healthy and fit nonetheless.

  22. Emma responded on 30 Jan 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Uggghh so frustrating, and why the photo of a basically naked women IN the box – the product has already been purchased. No need. On any level.

  23. Holly responded on 30 Jan 2014 at 11:30 am #

    You can always participate in the #notbuyingit campaign from Miss Representation! Social media has power in large numbers.

  24. Caitlin responded on 30 Jan 2014 at 11:46 am #

    The naked-women-as-design-feature is so ubiquitous that sometimes I find myself not even noticing because it’s like wallpaper or the sky or something, but then I’ll have a moment where I step back and realize the absurdity of it, how a naked woman’s body is used as shorthand for so much more than just “naked female body” and how it is just expected that everyone is going to project their desires and dreams onto that body, with seemingly no actual understanding that the body isn’t just a body but an actual living, breathing human being with desires and wishes of her own.

    Yeah, I’d say I find this all pretty damn depressing.

  25. Kate responded on 30 Jan 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    That was so well said. I’m going to read it a couple more times.

  26. Neeva responded on 31 Jan 2014 at 6:21 am #


    Healthy and fit is a good thing to be, but in my experience the kind of sexy portrayed in advertising often isn’t to fit or healthy.
    Some advertisements use features that look positively ill (think dark shadows around the eyes) to enhance the thinness of the images.

  27. Florence responded on 31 Jan 2014 at 10:40 am #

    consumerism sucks. it’s ridiculous because it isn’t trying to sell us underwear it’s selling a persona. we will be this type of PERSON if we wear these underwear, not we will own this type of UNDERWEAR. it’s so difficult to get past the media’s seductive ways. good for you for not falling victim. i think the best thing you can do is educate your daughter and keep writing about it, it’s so great to connect with people who also don’t want to be a victim of advertising.

  28. Indigo Jo responded on 01 Feb 2014 at 6:00 am #

    @Alpana Trivedi – I think the issue of how this ubiquity of nakedness affects the models in the industry is really something worth considering as a lot of young models are pressured to reveal more than they are comfortable with. For example, on the channel 4 documentary Dirty Sexy Things which was about a group of young models there was one girl, Ariella, who constantly clashed with photographers due to her not wanting to be naked, and it was obviously making her career more difficult.

  29. Lisa responded on 02 Feb 2014 at 5:43 am #

    Don’t buy the lingerie! That’s the only way to get rid of this advertising. Don’t buy it!! The consumers have all power. Take it.

  30. Melinda responded on 02 Feb 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    I agree with Morgaine in her response to Ashley…for most people, eating disorders aren’t about trying to look like models, although anorexia/bulimia can definitely result from this. Blaming the media seems a bit too simplistic. EDs can stem from so many things. Like with Karen Carpenter, it is now believed that she was raised by a controlling mother who expected her to be “perfect” and this, combined with the pressures of fame, was too much to handle. Maybe this was her way of exerting control over something in her life…her body and the intake (or denial) of food.

    In my case, I knew I could never be a model because I was too short but I also didn’t want to be “fat” because I was already a victim of bullying and well…being fat would have only added to the cruelty people inflicted on me. So at an early age, I was afraid to eat in front of other people. My aunt and cousins ridiculed me for it but they weren’t the most sensitive folks anyway. They didn’t understand that I had learned to hate myself and my body due to unkind comments, made by them and others. And I was a premature baby of low birth weight, who later became a tiny underweight child.

    When my thin body started showing a few hints of puberty, the hateful comments started. Restricting food (at least in the presence of others) felt “safe” because no one could say I ate too much. My cousin was much larger than me and I was afraid of becoming her. People thought she was prettier than me, but hey, I was thin and petite…no one could take that away from me. No matter what else people said to/about me, at least I could stop myself from being fat and that would be one less reason to pick on me.

    As to the sexual images anywhere, it’s funny…I saw a commercial this afternoon advertising lipstick. There was a close-up of shiny, glossy red lips with a woman moaning in a very sexually explicit way. I literally wondered if I was seeing a porno. I mean, I love drawing attention to my mouth with lipstick, but this was over the top. Was it supposed to make women run out and buy it in the hopes of attracting men so they could have mind-blowing orgasms? If I had kids, especially girls, I would have to explain how ridiculous this is.

  31. Melinda responded on 02 Feb 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    @Alpana Trivedi…so much food for thought in your post! To me, it is so funny how nudity and certain body parts are viewed in various cultural spheres. I agree with most of your points.

    You also asked a good question: “What if some women actually WANT to cover up more, but feel that they have to wear less to be popular?” I think this might be true of some celebrities as well as average women. I will say that I was in very good shape in college and although my clothes weren’t extremely revealing or skimpy, they showed enough skin to turn male heads. There was some fleeting power in seeing guys openly admire my behind in tight jeans or my midriff in a top that displayed my tiny, almost-hourglass shape. It was one of the few times that I felt comfortable with my body and for a very short while, I tried to enjoy some of the attention/faux-popularity that came with that, despite the degrading comments that came my way no matter what I wore. My ultimate goal was to be one of the “hottest” girls on campus because for so long, I’d been made to feel ugly and inferior and ashamed.

    At an early age, I knew that high heels were painful and sometimes I was self-conscious about my clothes revealing too much, but I also came to understand that this was how some girls/women achieved popularity and compliments and admiration from others…through appearance, not intelligence or kindness or caring about other people. I saw my cousin, who was a year older, flaunt her large breasts in skimpy halter tops and tight dresses and I noticed how people (especially males) responded to her. She was visible to everyone. And I believe this was one of the things that damaged my self-image growing up. I felt like no one would like me unless I showed a bit more skin, acted more “sexy” and flirty. So I tried to become more like that, and lost myself somewhere down the line.

    Another poster (I think it was Florence) made a comment that also resonated with me…I don’t blame the media entirely for body image issues, but I agree that in some ways it conveys problematic notions. It is essentially a marketing tool. If you drive this type of car, you will be viewed as successful and able to afford luxury. If you wear Victoria’s Secret lingerie after seeing a thin Brazilian model on TV, you’ve been influenced in some way. After all, as women, this is the look we are “supposed” to strive for. I love Victoria’s Secret but I have no illusions that their underwear or beauty products will turn me into one of the Angels. But I guess not everyone sees it that way. Some people are very susceptible to media influences. I never had that problem, but I was more affected by damaging comments people said to me in real life.

    I’ve never heard my husband comment on billboards or anything, but I think to some extent he is influenced by mainstream media. He disagrees because he married an “unconventional” woman like me, but honestly, I’ve seen the type of women he has been trained to see as sexy and beautiful…they are white, thin, blonde (sometimes brunette), long straight hair, pretty in a very generic way. His father also tends to comment on the looks of women like this in a very admiring way (because there is an obsession with “Nordic” beauty) so I guess it also stems from socialization.

    Sorry if my comments offended anyone or if I’m all over the place…just thinking out loud.

  32. Rae responded on 05 Feb 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Hi Kate,
    I really liked this post & wanted to link on Facebook but can’t seem to find the share button. Am I missing it? I’m reading you on my IPad.

  33. Allison responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Great post, Kate. I am in market research, have worked for ad agencies, and have been a focus group moderator for more than 20 years. In all that time, I have never worked on an ad campaign that featured naked women, not even when I worked on intimate apparel accounts. Actually, I do not think that the companies that advertise with naked women in their ads do any market research. They (usually men) just decide that that’s what they want. That said, when I’m in Europe and I see ads and billboards with naked/mostly naked women, I don’t have the same negative reaction that I have when I see the ads in the US. I’m not sure why. Maybe they’re used in a more fun, wholesome way for a truly related product like body lotion/lingerie etc or maybe just because I’m on vacation.

  34. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Really interesting! It’s cool to hear that you haven’t worked on these ad campaigns and that maybe they’re not as ubiquitous as it seems? Good to know the research is not in fact supporting it to the extent that it’s been suggested it is! I’d believe that, since it’s always sounded weird to me that market research supports this trend.

    And love the analysis European ads! Makes me curious to see some and see if I feel differently. But maybe I have to take a European vacation to do it properly? :p

  35. John responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    When our first daughter was a baby in Brooklyn, I noticed this ubiquitous presence of “sexy women” in advertising everywhere as well…and I noticed how at her eye level in the stroller, she got to see the porn videos in the window of the news stand next to the subway entrance. All of this is part of the world, not to be avoided to be sure…but we shouldn’t have to live with it shoved in our face. We left NY when she was 1, because one is always surrounded by advertising images, everywhere you go. At the end of the day, NY is just the capital of capitalism. – 15 years later and happier in the Bay Area

  36. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    My husband is from the Bay Area– I LOVE it out there. NYC is amazing, too, but yes. Good for you!

  37. Eden responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    @ Kate the author:

    Haha, I read your blog for the first time, and it makes me smile that your daughter’s name is Eden. I don’t meet very many who share my name, but I’ve always liked it.

    But to the point, I loved this article. Have you heard of a group called Beauty Redefined? It’s an organization dedicated to combating the sexualization and objectification of women through education. They are doing a lot of good. I definitely recommend checking them out!

  38. Alicia responded on 07 Feb 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    My children are exactly at the tipping point. My son is nearly 15. My daughter is 10.5. My son has his first girlfriend. My daughter is getting boobs. And I’m not really worried about either of them. Much.

    The boy simply can’t see himself being interested in a girl who is shallow and has bad taste in music. No matter what she looks like. He expects girls to be smart, and funny, and geeky, and talented, and capable. He has little time for those who aren’t.

    He thinks ads are stupid. He noted today that the two biggest motivators for men are sex and money. And that the first is animalistic, and the second a human construct. He said he’d like to make a movie about a town where everyone is identical except for one guy who has slightly longer thumbs and is therefore an outcast.

    The girl is smarter than she is pretty and prettier than is good for any of us. She doesn’t much like people looking at her, but she still goes onstage and plays music. She glares while she does it, which kinda works. Since she was a toddler strangers have given her things because she is pretty. She thinks it is weird. She thinks boys are useless and unteachable, and she is cruel to her brother. He feels pity for her future boyfriends, but seems secretly proud of her for it. He doesn’t worry about her. He worries about them.

    I know these things because I talk to them. Like they are people. People that I like. It works for me.

    But then, I live in San Francisco.

  39. Fatema responded on 08 Feb 2014 at 2:53 am #

    My friends are always accusing me of being conservative because of my views of media and advertisements objectifying women. I am quite liberal about most things, but they make it seem like I’m odd to have such old-fashioned views. If my thinking is not accepted as another point of view, and considered abnormal, then that scares me regarding the kind of future for our kids. I am really pleased to read your article, to know I’m not the only one that cringes at nudity being so common and in place of everything.

  40. Sabrina responded on 09 Feb 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    I totally agree with you regarding the ads. And you shouldn’t have to feel like your crossing lines mentioning their absurdity. They are absurd. They’re insane. You’re not. You’re healthy.

  41. Sabrina responded on 09 Feb 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Excuse me, I meant “you’re”. Being my own grammar nazi here.

  42. Welcome to Monday ~ 10 February 2014 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism responded on 09 Feb 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    [...] A great post from Eat The Damn Cake on how sexy, naked women seem to be everywhere. [...]

  43. Kate responded on 10 Feb 2014 at 9:33 am #

    YOUR NAME IS EDEN!!!! I’m so excited and surprised!!! I suddenly want to know everything about you and am refraining from asking you to send me a picture of yourself and tell me your life story :-) But how cool. Thanks for commenting.

  44. Kate responded on 10 Feb 2014 at 9:35 am #

    And thanks for the link– checking it out now (I hadn’t seen it before)

  45. Kate responded on 10 Feb 2014 at 9:38 am #

    You describe your kids like an author lovingly describing characters in a novel. Loved reading about them and went back to your blog for more.

  46. Kate responded on 10 Feb 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Didn’t even notice, but I understand that urge completely.
    And thank you for the succinct support!

  47. Craig responded on 16 Feb 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    Hi Kate,

    I don’t think you are abnormal. And I do think that the rubber band has stretched close to its snap back point. My wife is amazing, she is also very modest. And we have a 16 year old daughter. So this topic gets discussed frequently at our place.
    My feeling is that the advertising industry aims for just that little bit of frisson when it sets an add. They want to attract the eye but they do not want to offend – too much. The competition means that this is a constantly erosion of societal modesty norms. But, as a species we are fairly modest on the whole.
    I take this from research into domestication of wild animals. One of the key characteristics of a domestication program is that the animal must be willing to mate in public. Some animals; cows, horses, dogs etc are quite willing. Other animals equally suitable from a utility perspective will not allow interference in their breeding or are too modest to do it in public. If an animal species can have an instinctive level of modesty then it is natural to assume that humans may as well.
    I think your unease is an indication that current advertising is encroaching on your modesty instinct. And, while there is undoubtedly a spectrum within the community, you are by no means alone. I just hope that the correction will recover some cultural modesty standards without destroying the valuable freedoms that have been won so far. I fear that if the correction is delivered by a male led push (a’la Taliban) then it will be worse than the current problem. Maybe the sisterhood needs to get together and find a way to curtail wanton behaviour without killing basic freedoms.

    Good luck!

  48. Naked Women and Stuff « Qed responded on 16 Feb 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    [...] I should put a picture of a naked woman on my blog, Kate says it’s just normal advertising that works…so [...]

  49. CUA responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 12:03 am #

    When you discussed how the literature seems to say that everyone responds to naked women, whether men or women and no matter their sexuality, I couldn’t help but remember similar advice from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert:

    For Men:
    1. Buy this product because it will get you dates with supermodels; or
    2. Buy this product because it will save you time and money, which you will need to date supermodels.

    For Women:
    1. Buy this product so you can be just like this supermodel.

    I wonder what can be done about it?

  50. Sarah responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 12:11 am #

    Thank you! You explained, in a much more articulate and less-ranty way than I could, why I have an issue with this:
    Its all just so old… Tits sell stuff..yawn… can’t we move on, be more creative, evolve or something?!?

  51. John responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 2:47 am #

    I’m waiting for the day when I have actual naked women in the office as the natural evolution of what I have around me now. i.e. half naked women.
    I sometimes get the feeling that women just don’t like wearing much clothing. Our office is fairly conservative. The men wear shirts, pants and dress shoes.
    Women on the other hand seem not to have a dress code, that would be sexist to ask women not to flash their tits and camel toes around the office. But if a man came into the office wearing lycra pants and a tank-top, call the sexual harassment police!
    Even then, the competition between the women to see who can dress most like a prostitute is not a display for the men in the office, it is a fierce type of female combat/pecking order behaviour. Attention from the men is just how they keep score.

  52. Kevin Brown responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 11:02 am #

    What is most outrageous is why women like you keep marrying the Bears of the world and thoughtlessly bypassing those of us who are every bit as annoyed and depressed at this constant sexualisation of females.

  53. Kate responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 11:25 am #

    @Kevin Brown
    What an unexpected reaction!

    Hmm…I’m trying to think how to respond to this. I guess my quick response is that personally, what’s important to me in dealing with any situation like this in a relationship is that my partner listen to me, even if we don’t start out (or end up) on the exact same page. I’m really fine with Bear not having the same perspective as me, and actually, I like that about us in general. I find his unflustered, “it’s probably OK” attitude refreshing and reassuring. I also expect him to be respectful of my concerns, especially if they are big ones.

    The stuff I described in this post maybe didn’t come across as a huge concern at the time, as I was noticing the naked women in the ads. But when he read this piece, Bear said he realized it was a bigger deal and asked if I wanted to have a serious conversation about raising our daughter in this cultural environment.

    As a writer, I can’t possibly capture my entire life in essays, and I don’t want to. So the picture is always incomplete, and the people are always sort of characters instead of being fully explained or described (I’m definitely not skilled enough to fully represent anyone, even myself, in writing). You can continue to be outraged, but I know I hate that feeling (it makes me feel like the world is totally backwards and everything is helplessly wrong), so hopefully this helps?

  54. Carlos responded on 17 Feb 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    As a guy, despite admitting to a subtle “admiration” of these images in ads, I rather wish they weren’t so ubiquitous and ‘in your face’. The potentially detrimental effects on the psyche of both males and females (especially the young) is sad to contemplate. I think of how any of my future children could react to this sexualisation. Not only how my daughter could feel she should act (or even what she is for), but also how my son may think of women and how they can be treated. Unfortunately, as we know “sex sells” and therefore there is only incentive to continue or increase this kind of advertising. It is up to each of us to instill a level of awareness that reflects an understanding of the psychology of this type of advertising.

  55. Sexism in the skies – Air New Zealand’s skimpy safety video | paperbagprincess responded on 19 Feb 2014 at 9:59 pm #

    [...] Whilst criticism has appeared on social media and in a few reports, nothing too major has been published about it. Sure this video is not the worst we have seen but since when is it OK to use women’s bodies as tools to attract attention? We have become desensitised to sexist images because they are EVERYWHERE. Sexualised pictures of women are on billboards, bus stops, magazine covers and even in headphone cases as author of ‘eat the damn cake’ points out. [...]

  56. thatguy responded on 21 Feb 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    Discounting the “Sex Sells” argument so readily by so many commentators to me misses the point. The ad campaign is designed to be simplistic and mis-attributing moral arguments, pro and con, or accusing these ads of causing this and that disorder is overthinking it by a large measure. Lets say instead of having a sexy picture, we replace it with an ugly one, or something horrific or something totally irrelevant like a picture of a tree. Do you think the graphic attention getting requirement of pictoral advertising would be successful? The ads arent designed to please its non target demographic, they are designed to attract the attention of a particular audience. An ad isnt a political statement, its not trying to win your approval or even the argument, its merely trying to draw attention to the product after all.

  57. Kate responded on 21 Feb 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Yup. For sure. You’re explaining why it is that way, and you’re probably right. There’s usually a pretty good reason why things are the way they are, and it usually has something to do with money. The point I was making is: it’s still lame.

    But beyond that, I’d like to believe that we aren’t always totally helpless in the face of money and ad campaigns and the rationale of the systems that are currently in place. Things change, after all, and become more or less normal. Pointing out what sucks about the way things are might not cause them to magically become different, but hopefully if we keep talking about what is messed up in our world we can draw attention to it and eventually change it. I don’t know– just a thought

    Oh, and also, things can be statements about the current cultural or political climate, even if that’s not their exclusive intent!

  58. Laura responded on 22 Feb 2014 at 5:05 am #

    I totally agree with you and I’m not a mom and I am young.
    I always say imagine if the women who fought for equal rights would see what we did with that? From models who participate in these ads to strippers, porn stars, etc — Is this what we want for women as a whole? Is this what we should be doing with freedoms?
    And let me tell you as a young person myself surrounded by other young females – advertising ABSOLUTELY has a negative impact on women. I observe it in myself as well as my peers. Actively “just ignoring” it won’t help.

  59. Melinda responded on 24 Feb 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    @Laura…I agree with you and you’ve made some valid points. However, if I can offer another perspective, it can also be said that feminism is about accepting that different women can live different lifestyles and make different choices. Some women find it empowering to be models, beauty queens, strippers, sex workers, etc.

    Many people might find that to be degrading but women aren’t a monolith and some women have reasons for what they do. Just wanted to throw that possibility out there, no disrespect intended.

  60. Melinda responded on 24 Feb 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    @John…interesting comment. Some of what you say does make sense, because certain women are in that mindset of seeking attention instead of actually wearing more professional attire to work.

    I’m sure there is most likely a dress code at your job since you work in a pretty conservative environment. I’m sure that it applies to BOTH men and women. But it sounds like maybe the women don’t adhere to it and they can get away with more.

    What you should realize is that for a lot of women, we observe how straight men treat females they find attractive. To some women, beauty is power…it helps to be both smart and pretty, but sometimes looking/dressing a certain way can give a woman some advantages. Beauty opens doors. Looking sexy can go a long way. That might be why some of the women in your office seem to be competitive about who can wear the most revealing outfits. It’s about male attention AND perhaps even about who can be the most successful in landing a promotion or receiving better pay, if your boss is a heterosexual male.

    It can also be that some of your female coworkers don’t understand what is appropriate vs. what isn’t in terms of professional attire. Some people truly don’t realize that you can’t be taken seriously if you have your boobs on display and wear 6-inch stilettos with a miniskirt in a conservative workplace. I love sexy outfits as much as the next girl, but there’s a time and place for that. Maybe they haven’t been pulled aside by HR or talked to by another female in a position of authority.

    And you are correct…there would be accusations of sexism if a man said something about the way his female coworkers dress. I’m not into slut-shaming and policing others, but I do believe that it is a distraction when people have their body parts hanging out at work. Some women say that it is impossible for them to cover up because their breasts are too large, but I’m not sure about that.

    LOL, I think the only “workplace” where women can be fully naked with no problem is strip clubs so you might be waiting a long time.

  61. Geejay responded on 02 Mar 2014 at 6:42 am #

    Hey Kate,
    Thanks for writing this. As someone who works on the fridges of TV, I find myself watching lot of programs I wouldn’t choose to watch and am very tired of the constant female nudity. I wouldn’t mind so much if there was a matching degree of male nudity, but there just isn’t, and most of the males who shed their clothing aren’t as trim, taut and terrific as their female counterparts.

  62. Simon responded on 09 Mar 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Kevin’s reaction paints him as possibly one of those creepy bitter dudes who think that their right-on feminist stance should be rewarded with declarations of love and admiration from women far and wide.

    However, to be fair to Kevin, “the most gorgeous man in the world” does come across as a bit of a thicko in this blog post.