Depictions of Women in Media

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)



1. Introduction

2. The Portrayal of Women in the Media
2.1 The Image of Women in Television Advertisements
2.1 The Image of Women in Magazines

3. Low Self-esteem Caused by the Depiction of Women in Media?
3.1 Eating Disorders
3.2 Cosmetic Plastic Surgeries

4. Conclusion

5. Resources

1. Introduction

According to Webster’s Dictionary, media is “a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression”1. It contains newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the internet, video games, and much more. Undoubtedly, not only men but also women appear in media. Along with it, women are bombarded by lots of media pictures every day, nowadays. Those pictures present women who are beautiful only if they are slim, pretty, and culturally accepted.

In the opinion of the viewers, television is supposed to be the medium that is most “real”. In that case, one has to question the correctness of the images of women on television and how this affects the attitudes of the viewers. Advertisements are probably the most influential products on television. Here, women are mainly pictured as a housewife who is married, with children, and who is obsessed with cleanliness or as a sex object who is tall, with long legs, wonderful teeth, hair, and skin. Similarly, the image of women as sex objects can be found in other media such as magazines, music clips, or video games. One can find many examples for each. Thus, Britany Spears hardly wears any clothes in her music videos and men who are shown in the background of music clips are fully clothed while women in the same position are close to be naked2. If you have look at computer games you won`t find many women in it but if so they are very much sexualized – “wearing tight revealing clothes and having unrealistically large breasts, and distorted small waists”3 - such as Lara Croft.

This paper will deal with those images of women and consequently the effects of them. Concerning the effects this work will concentrate on the increasing prevalence of plastic surgery, especially among teenagers, eating disorders, and low self-esteem nowadays.

2. The Portayal of Women in the Media

Today, we perceive most of the media by our eyes and every day one is flooded by visual impressions. One can go as far as to say that media such as films, advertisements in magazines and television, posters, or the internet belong to our life just like eating. We are even able to visualize things that are, in fact, not visual at all. One only has to think of the sound of music which can be transformed into waves with the help of special computer programs4.

Photographes and commercials only present a tiny part of the whole. We never get to see all of it. Therefore, those pictures do not tell the truth, they can be a vehicle for us to do so. However, they show us an ideal-reality. Media, importantly commercials and advertisements, are made to tell us what our desires are and what we are supposed to buy. Most people get fooled by those clips and pictures and buy the presented products. On the authority of this observation one can come to the point that media sets a guideline for our life. Furthermore, commercials and advertisements can be seen as a mirror of our society. It not only sets standards of our life it also presents a image of how we are supposed to be like. Above all, media tells women how they are expected to act and how they are meant to look like in order to be accepted by society.

2.1 The Image of Women in Television Advertisements

Just by watching television and by watching tv advertisements one hardly realizes how wrong women are portrayed in them. A reason for that phenomena is that we are very much used to a difference in the representation of gender in advertisements5. However, if one has a closer look at advertisements it becomes obvious, for example, how few women wear when they present a product like beer – a product which mainly appeals to men. Christine Schmerl holds the opinion that the wrapped up discrimination against women in advertisements only comes visual for us if we would switch the role of women in advertisements with minorities. It would be unimaginable if a foreigner, a disabled person, or a homosexual advertises for a product with obvious or stereotyped characteristics, just the way it is done with women6. One only has to think of the critics against United Colour of Benetton which advertised for their clothes with AIDS patients.

Generalization and reduction are important elements of advertisements. The human being is typified and finally reduced to just a small item – individualism does not exist. As a result, the human being is reduced to clichés and stereotypes7. A study of Kotelmann and Mikos in 1981 supported this thesis by checking 633 German advertisements. They found out that in those advertisements women only were reduced to two stereotypes: first, housewife and mother and, second, a woman that is young, attractive, and seductive. The housewife did not appear as attractive or well-dressed but with a pinafore, being married, over 35, and mother. The attractive and seductive woman, on the other hand, was presented as being cultivated, well-dressed, wealthy, independent, single, and under 358. A later study by Brigitte Spieß in 1991 brings out four stereotypes of women: the old lady, the wife and mother, the working woman, and the independent woman9.

Women have been a useful tool for advertisers to present their products just by being a dependent fashion doll, a moody animal, or a reduction of their body parts. Schmerl criticized six principles of how women are presented in advertisements in her work Frauenzoo der Werbung. First, she describes the way how female sexuality is used for a presentation of a product. Mainly this product is meant for men10. To state an example, one can take an advertisement of the beer brand named Miller. In that advertisement two women have an argument about the flavor of Miller Lite. Suddenly, they become very violent and rip off each other’s clothes11. This advertisement is a reflection of how advertisers use women as sex objects. They make derogatory comments about the women’s bodies and talk as if these models would want to have sex with all of them.


1 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1997), 10th edition. Springfield.

2 What’s the problem? Facts about girls, women and media, No name. No date. 3 pages. Online. Internet. April 25, 2004. Available: URL: p. 1-2.

3 Ibid., p.2.

4 Mirzoeff, Nicholas, An Introduction to visual cultures, (2001) London: Routledge, p.6-7.

5 Reader, Jenny, Altes neu verpackt? Frauen und Männer in Werbedarstellungen, in: FHBO- Journal Nr. 38, 2000.

6 Schmerl, Christine, Frauenzoo der Werbung, (1992) München: Verlag Frauenoffensive.

7 Velte, Jutta, „Die Darstellung der Frau in den Medien“, in: Fröhlich, Romy, Frauen und Medien:, eine Synopse der deutschen Forschung. (1995), Opladen, Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, p.207.

8 Ibid., p. 208-209.

9 Ibid., p. 211.

10 Schmerl, Frauenzoo der Werbung, p. 21.

11 McCarthy, Michae. Miller Lite’s `Catfight́ ad angers some viewers. June 04, 2003. Online. Internet. May 16, 2004. Available: URL: p.1.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Depictions of Women in Media
Martin Luther University  (Institute for Anglistics/ American Studies)
Twentieth-Century American Women's History
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
486 KB
Depictions, Women, Media, Twentieth-Century, American, Women, History
Quote paper
Linda Dittmann (Author), 2004, Depictions of Women in Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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