Nowadays, media sources are used to shape people’s opinions about life values and differences between attractive and unattractive things. Advertisements in popular magazines often represent gender stereotypes, and this tendency is manifested in various visual means, including models’ body postures. The extent to which models in popular magazines, including Vanity Fair, Maxim, and Esquire, use stereotypically masculine and feminine postures depends on the target audience.
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The “Softer” Version of Traditional Relationships
In magazines targeted at women, relationships between the sexes tend to be depicted with special attention to their romantic component, which is reflected in the choice of body postures. According to Devon, femininity and masculinity are, to some degree, regarded as “the mirror images of one another,” and the latter is associated with “dominance and aggression,” whereas the former – with “passivity and submission” (672). The tendency to depict this dichotomy can be observed in magazines typically read by women, and it is often represented with the help of postures.
In Vanity Fair, a popular magazine with advertisements oriented at adult women, the extent to which models’ postures meet the stereotypical views of men and women depends on the depicted situation. As for the photos that show romantic relationships, almost all of them depict female models as creatures that need support and protection, but men are shown as caring rather than aggressive (Jones et al. 17).
It aligns with the opinion that “women’s view of masculinity… differs markedly from that produced for the masculine audience” (Craig 183). To attract the female audience, men in advertisements do not need to be explicitly aggressive and egoistic.
In the discussed magazine, the advertisements of jewelry and watches do not present relationships between women and men as a hierarchy. Instead, the models seem to look like equal partners – they can be holding each other’s hands, hugging, or standing in identical poses (Jones et al. 17). Therefore, it is possible to conclude that modern magazines targeted at women make use of gender roles in advertisements but present a more caring version of a man.
Exaggerated Masculinity in Magazines for Men
Unlike sources targeted at the female or mixed audience, many magazines for men profit from gender stereotypes and female objectification. This trend can be studied with reference to popular sources, including Maxim and Esquire. Both of them are subject to criticism since the visual materials that they use are believed to support a “male-subject versus female-object heterosexual norm” (Wright and Tokunaga 957). These accusations are based on the analysis of advertisements targeted at adult men.
Both Maxim and Esquire use drastically different approaches to depicting people depending on their biological sex. These journals make use of images that support traditional or even toxic masculinity and erase gender non-conforming people (Petter).
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This inequality and women’s inferior role can be manifested due to a variety of visual means. Devor claims that body postures and the styles of dress can be used to exaggerate differences between the sexes and show men’s superior status (676). In men’s journals, advertisements that depict both sexes typically show women as a kind of a status symbol, which is manifested in their body postures (Wright and Tokunaga 957). For instance, they can be standing behind men and touching their partners’ shoulders, whereas male models often sit with their legs wide apart to occupy more space and look more aggressive.
In magazines for men, natural differences between men and women tend to be overemphasized to prevent the former from having any signs of femininity. According to Craig, gendered advertising actively exploits “anxieties connected to gender identity” (184). The fear of sexual rejection and looking similar to a woman seems to inform the selection of visual means in magazines for men (Wright et al. 1). In such magazines, even skinny male models usually pose in a way that maximizes masculinity, enhances muscles, and helps them look bigger, whereas women are expected to look fragile and thin.
The Attempts to Fight Stereotypes
The extent to which models’ postures align with the popular perceptions of masculine and feminine behaviors depends on the magazine’s target audience. In magazines for women, although the impact of gender stereotypes related to appearance is quite obvious, there are attempts to balance traditional gender roles and women’s independence (Jones et al. 19). To some degree, advertisements for the female audience seem to be targeted at different types of women.
Masculinity is usually associated with access to resources and authority, but nowadays, women also focus on career development. In magazines targeted at high-income women, it is possible to find advertisements that depict men and women in a similar way, using typically masculine body postures for both of them to highlight women’s financial independence (Jones et al. 19). It shows that women’s journals offer more diverse representations of womanhood despite the impact of beauty standards.
At the same time, magazines for men continue to exploit gender stereotypes. Femininity, Devor argues, is typically associated with being a “born loser” (676). In men’s magazines (except for those targeted at homosexual men), it is almost impossible to find an advertisement that would depict men just like women. For instance, men are not shown as people who use their physical attractiveness to reach some goals and wait for women’s approval.
To sum it up, the use of stereotypically feminine and masculine body postures in advertisements varies depending on the target audience. Women’s magazines are more flexible in this regard – they depict a softer version of masculinity and equal partnership relations between the sexes. Magazines for men utilize a stricter approach to gender roles. It results in the artificial exaggeration of gender differences manifested in models’ body postures.
Craig, Steve. “Men’s Men and Women’s Women.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. 7th ed., edited by Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, Bedford/St. Martins, 2011, pp. 182-193.
Devor, Aaron. “Gender Role Behaviors and Attitudes”. Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. 7th ed., edited by Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, Bedford/St. Martins, 2011, pp. 672-678.
Jones, Radhika, et al., editors. Vanity Fair. Vol. 703, Conde Nast International, 2019. Web.
Petter, Olivia. “This is Why We no Longer Need Gendered Magazines.” Independent, 2018. Web.
Wright, Paul J., and Robert S. Tokunaga. “Men’s Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 45, no. 4, 2016, pp. 955-964.
Wright, Paul J., et al. “An Experimental Analysis of Young Women’s Attitude Toward the Male Gaze Following Exposure to Centerfold Images of Varying Explicitness.” Communication Reports, vol. 28, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-11.