Sexual Objectification: A Natural Process

Last week Ashley Judd wrote an article for The Daily Beast that received tons of attention. Titled Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her ‘Puffy’ Appearance, at the time of this writing it has been shared on Facebook over 383 thousand times.

In her article, Ms. Judd slams the media for instigating misogyny by focusing more attention on aesthetics of women than on the merits of women’s work. In this instance, she would like to shift the focus to her work done off of the big screen such as publishing op-eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.”  – Ashley Judd

Hot Ashley Judd

Now, I’m not here to disagree with anything that she said, but it got me thinking about our desire to look good, and to hold those that do, in high esteem. After all, I partially make my living by helping people achieve transformations in the way that they look. Of course, there are other aspects to what I do. Having a fit body contributes to having a healthy mind. Being fit allows a person to live an active and engaging lifestyle. I should also mention that being healthy, and thus avoiding the preventable conditions associated with obesity, keeps healthcare costs lower for everyone (in theory).

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So, while I’m trying to wrap my mind around helping people become better versions of themselves vs. perpetuating the degradation of women, I can’t help but form some conclusions.

It’s not the media’s fault

People like to blame “the media” for the way the world is. The media is simply a reflection of us. Long before the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, there were images of scantily clad bodies to be oogled and even criticized. For as long as humanity has been creating images, whether through photograph, video, or on the walls of caves, beautiful people have been the focus of attention.

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Blaming the media is not dissimilar to blaming “the government” for a nation’s problems. It’s too broad of a term to accept all of the blame. Sure, the system is broken and corrupt, but blaming the government for unemployment, high gas prices, and high school drop out rates simply pushes the responsibility off to someone else.

If we did blame the media for the sexual objectification of women, the list of culprits would become too long to manage. Hmm, where would we begin? Cable TV, network TV, movies, books, magazines, bloggers, radio, photographers, journalists, anyone with a website who has ever posted a picture of an attractive person… all would be guilty.

I just don’t think that blaming the media makes sense. We’re the ones that click on the ads, look at the photos, and do Google image searches (with the Safe Search turned off). We the People are the ones who tune into the Kardashians, waste our time with American Idol, and give a damn about Perez Hilton’s opinion (or mine for that matter).

The media simply exists to provide us with the things that we want: stories, images, news, information, and entertainment.

Indeed, looking at the analytics for this website show that a couple of my most popular articles that people find through Google search are The Fit Girl Look and Inspiration: Shredded Fitness Models. These are also some of the posts that most often get shared on social networks like Facebook and Pinterest. Are the social networks “the media,” or are they us?

As someone who aspires to have a busy, highly visited website, I have to fight the temptation not to write a bunch of those types of articles. My more informative topics like When To Get A Heavier Kettlebell simply don’t receive the same kind of traffic.

It’s just easier to blame someone else – like the media – and be the victim, as opposed to accepting some general truths about how society works.

It’s nature’s fault

It’s that damn perpetuation of the species thing. As soon as we can switch to laboratory reproduction, I suppose that we’ll be able to once and for all overcome attraction to beauty as a fundamental component of human behavior.

Hot Ashley Judd

In this day and age everyone is capable of broadcasting an opinion. We have to realize that although everyone is entitled to an opinion, not everyone has a meaningful opinion.

As such, I think that we just have to accept that we are attracted to sexiness more than…non-sexiness. We have to accept that a system of government will never be perfect; that people feel better when they look fit; that for most of us, the sky is blue; that the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year; the world is getting warmer; and that many people found Ashley Judd more attractive during the peak of her child bearing years when she was using her sex appeal to objectify herself and make a ton of money.

  • Laurel

    Hey. So, there is a lot I want to say about this particular piece, and I could link to several studies regarding objectification, and the media. But I am not going to do that, because people can, and I believe should, do their own research. However I am going to comment on two items which fall under the same category: humans are biologically attracted to beauty and sexiness. Yes there is a biological imperative to reproduce, however both “beauty” and “sexiness” are subjective. These are individually and culturally defined ideas. And while individuals support “the media” the fact is that even those women (and men) who disagree with the rampant objectification of women seen all over the place today cannot simply turn off their eyes or their brains. We are affected. Sometimes it is directly: we are unable to avoid these images because they are everywhere (unless we are literally blind or walk around with our eyes constantly shut) and things you see repeatedly *do* affect your thinking process, like it or not. Sometimes it is indirect: women are judged solely on their appearance by those who have been conditioned to believe that this is all they are worth, that unattractive (by someone’s definition) equals less-than as a person. So women who might not contribute to their own objectification, or to “the media” are still subjected to these negative effects.
    Yes, it might be wrong to say “it is all the government’s fault” and take no personal responsibility for change (organize, vote, protest, launch petitions, etc.) but it is just as wrong to say it is “nature’s fault” as if this is not a subjective process but an unalterable biological one.

    I said I would not post links, and I am not, but I highly recommend the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls.

    I think your point that the populace supports the media is an excellent one, and should be followed up with action, not blind or complacent acceptance.

  • JohnnyFit

    Hi Laurel, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I think that a larger theme that I was trying to tap into is the idea that “the media” is not just an institution that we can point a finger at. With the inclusion of social media, the outlets that disseminate information reflect who we are.

    Even having this conversation on a blog, on the internet, blurs the lines of consumer and creator.

    Sure, many outlets are warped by the money that is involved in marketing certain ideas and products as truths and necessities, but even before we are conditioned to such things there is a fascination to explore unfamiliar and restricted images and ideas.

    I think that would be the case no matter the subjective nature of any images or ideas.

    I will read the report on the Sexualization of Girls that you suggested. Here is a link to the PDF of that report:

  • Drew

    Beauty and sexiness are not nearly as subjective as a lot of people think. There are physical cues that both men and women look out for, on a sub conscious level. Symmetry is a predominant theme for example, because it implies genetic wealth.