Does it matter if a sexualized model being used to sell a product is actually real or not? That is, if she’s in fact a living, breathing human being?
As someone who keeps an eye on how women are portrayed in advertisements, I don’t know how I missed the fact that Sports Illustrated and their swimsuit issue for 2012, one of the most pumped-up magazine issues of every year, had placed a Ford ad with an image of their latest Mustang and half of the body if a bikini-clad model.
There was a lot of speculation as to whether or not the model is “real.”
It’s unclear whether she is a completely fabricated image, a job done by Ford’s marketing team, or an actual woman who is given the name Dalena Henriques and has no internet history aside from a site trumpeting the woman but really just a series of pictures of her and the Mustangs.
All are in the traditional sexualized positions with pictures of a headless and cropped body.
Of course, the headless model thing isn’t anything new.
The purpose of many companies arranging scantily-clad women who have nothing at all to do with the product itself is to draw in male viewers who will then feel compelled to purchase the product in the hopes that their life will suddenly be supplanted by this attractive supporting cast of characters.
The price we pay for this delusion is of course the continued subjugation of women as nothing more than decoration in the lives of those men with purchasing power, or the perception that women need to be hypersexualized in every aspect of their lives – riding in cars, drinking beer, or simply working their day job.
But this Ford ad really does take it a step further.
We already know how extensively Photoshopped most advertisements are, snipping and cutting away areas on models that are deemed undesirable or imperfect, and reshaping any contours that don’t conform to a set standard.
But completely eliminating the model so as to not have to deal with any real bodies and their perceived “imperfections”—either by creating the image graphically, or not giving her a real identity so the few perfected images are the only pictures one would associate with the model and therefore the car—sends the message:
“Why bother with real live women, and accept and love their individual bodies, when we can just draw the most perfect woman there is who only exists in the way we want her?”
It’s only serving to underscore unachievable standards and let girls know that their real bodies clearly aren’t good enough, so a fake one must be made.
I don’t really buy the Adweek claim that this was a clever move on the part of Ford, supposedly making fun of the job of real models by saying: “A model who’s completely fake and whose sole purpose is to sell things? Dalena Henriques may not technically exist, but she’s doing a great imitation of her fellow models.”
To me this is another misogynistic statement, calling out all models (who do not design their photo shoots or marketing strategies, we should all remember, nor do they photo-shop themselves) for being fake, and whose existence is merely to hawk goods, when let’s be honest—that’s the sum of advertising in general, not merely models.
Ford could have made a statement by not including a sexualized woman in their car ad. Instead, they played the same game as everyone else and added insult to injury by saying that the women in most of these ads are fake and without purpose, and even their meager and narrow participation of isn’t necessary.
Larkin Callaghan is an epidemiology and health communication fellow at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, where she also received her doctorate in Health Behavior and Education. She blogs regularly at her own site, I’m Not Tired Yet, about women’s and adolescent health issues.