How sexual imagery in advertising distorts reality

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How sexual imagery in advertising distorts reality

Our children grow up surrounded by very graphic sexual messages everywhere; throughout the media, throughout the popular culture, but these sexual images, these sexual messages, aren't intended to sell them on sex. They're actually intended to sell them on shopping. They're intended to promote consumerism and to link shopping and sexuality in a way that will affect children forever. Because basically, whatever is eroticized in early childhood tends to stay with us for the rest of our lives. So when children get the message that word sexy is the right pair of jeans or the right cologne or something like that rather than something that's intrinsically a part of us, then that will lead them to make this association forever. They'll basically be hanging out at malls for the rest of their lives and they'll learn to objectify themselves and each other. So surrounding children with these kinds of sexual images has a lasting impact and a very harmful one. It's very positive for marketers, it certainly encourages sales of all kinds of products, but it does tremendous damage to children. One of the major ways that marketers link sexuality and shopping is by sexualizing products. So in advertising, people are objectified, turned into objects all the time. But we're also encouraged to feel passion for our products rather than our partners. We're encouraged to feel loyal to a brand, you know, rather than to each other. I use a car at one of my presentations that says you can love it without getting your heart broken. And, of course, you can't say this about a human being. We're so vulnerable in human relationships. But if your love affair is with a car, you're in some ways much safer. Of course, there's the huge problem which is that no matter how much you love things, they will never love you back.

See Jean Kilbourne, EdD's video on How sexual imagery in advertising distorts reality...


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Jean Kilbourne, EdD

Author & Social Theorist

Jean Kilbourne is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on the image of women in advertising and her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising. Her films, lectures, and television appearances have been seen by millions of people throughout the world. She was named by The New York Times Magazine as one of the three most popular speakers on college campuses...

She is the author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel and So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. The prize-winning films based on her lectures include Killing Us Softly, Spin the Bottle, and Slim Hopes. She is a frequent guest on radio and television programs, including “The Today Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She has served as an advisor to the Surgeon General and has testified for the U.S. Congress. She holds an honorary position as Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

According to Susan Faludi, “Jean Kilbourne’s work is pioneering and crucial to the dialogue of one of the most underexplored, yet most powerful, realms of American culture —advertising. We owe her a great debt.” A member of the Italian Parliament said, “Hearing Jean Kilbourne is a profound experience. Audiences leave her feeling that they have heard much more than another lecture, for she teaches them to see themselves and their world differently.”

She has received many awards, including the Lecturer of the Year award from the National Association for Campus Activities. A more unusual tribute was paid when an all-female rock group in Canada named itself Kilbourne in her honor.

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