Baby Soft’s and the Hypersexualization of Young Girls
The hypersexualization of young girls is apparent in too many ads throughout advertising’s history. In almost all cases, these objectified girls, or women, are portrayed as such precisely in order to appeal to the male spectator. As a result, girls develop unrealistic beauty standards for themselves and are expected to be “sexual” at a young age. This hypersexualization can be seen on social media platforms, such as Instagram, where young girls pose seductively in selfies, pouting their lips while emanating a sultry look. These girls think they’re supposed to be sexy because that’s what society, or more specifically the patriarchy, tells them. One particular ad, made in 1975, from a company called Baby Soft emphasizes hypersexualization in girls while simultaneously fetishizing their innocence. They marketed their product to girls, who were obviously not yet women. By conflating adolescence and sexuality, the company takes full advantage of our appearance-obsessed generation of people and manipulates young girls into thinking that they must mature. This ad preys on the minds of young girls, by reinforcing a hypersexualized beauty standard and perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards that appeal to the male gaze.
The ad appeals to a pre-adolescent audience and perpetuates the notion that a young girl’s innocence is sexy, which seems incredibly problematic. Since the cover girl has youthful features, it’s evident that this ad is meant to appeal to young girls. It is likely targeting pre-adolescents, urging younger generations to incorporate more mature and sultry components into their appearances. The ad purports to define what beauty is – being delicate, youthful, innocent, and sexy. It sets up a paradox by emphasizing that sexiness is not attained through reaching womanhood, but rather through being a girl and a woman all at once, which is impossible. This idea that sexiness correlates to one’s innocence becomes incredibly destructive because young girls should not have to look sexy. Relating innocence to sexiness is an age-old construct created by the patriarchy. The idea of “sacred virginity” being equated to a woman’s self-worth is echoed throughout the ad – an idea men have emphasized throughout history. The white teddy bear, white dress, and childish features in the girl’s face stress how in order to be attainable, you must be pure. In Ways of Seeing, Berger states that, “she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman” (Berger 46). A woman must constantly watch herself because her self-worth is weighted by how she appeals to men. She must be innocent, yet sexy, womanly, yet girlish. These paradoxical standards are unrealistic and promote an unhealthy image of how a girl should look and act in the world.
This ad depicts unethical consumerism through embodying the stratagem of “sex sells” towards a pre-teen audience. This image shows how companies will do anything to sell a product, even if that means putting out an incredibly disturbing ad. Young girls aren’t supposed to think about being sexy in any way, shape or form, and this ad forces young girls to think about their sexiness and how they should appeal to the rest of the world so that Baby Soft can sell their product. John Berger states that, “[Publicity] recognizes nothing except the power to acquire” (153). Thus, Baby Soft doesn’t care about anything else other than profiting off of young girls’ malleable minds and paradoxically taking away their innocence by asserting the idea that their “innocence is sexy.” The image promotes dire consequences because it associates innocence with sex, which links an emotion to a physical appearance. Therefore, the image is rooted in misogynistic fantasy and is unrealistic. Additionally, by looking closer, you can see that the shape of the deodorant bottle resembles male genitalia, further emphasizing how if young girls buy the deodorant, men will be more interested in them. Once again, this ad is profiting off of young girls’ sexuality through objectifying them and reinforcing the idea that girls must look a certain way to appeal to the desires of men. Baby Soft is unethical because they are preying on a pre-teen audience and degrading reality by asserting that young girls must be sexy in order to be attainable.
This ad negatively impacts the female sex by attempting to define what femininity is and creating a narrow definition of beauty. Although this ad is likely targeted towards a younger audience, it is clearly sending out the message that women who are not “innocent” are dirty and should therefore buy Baby Soft deodorant to purify themselves. The ad portrays an incredibly unhealthy relationship between a woman’s age and the way she should look through perpetuating society’s obsession with being young forever. The ad does this because, “The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself” (134). Thus, the ad tells women that they are not enough as they are and that in order to be attainable in the eyes of others, they must mask their true age, and essentially their “womanhood,” by being innocent. The ad forces women to think that they should feel tainted if they don’t look like the girl in the ad, so that they will buy the product.
Overall, Baby Soft’s ad is unethical and promotes unrealistic beauty standards. The entire ad is paradoxical. It emphasizes that young girls must be sexy and also asserts that older women must be innocent in order to be attainable. The ad forces young girls to grow up fast, while telling older woman that they must stop aging. All in all, the message of this ad is that through buying their deodorant, any woman can be cleansed and purified so that they can be sexy and worthy in the eyes of men. Although it is more subtle, this idea that “innocence is sexy” continues to remain prevalent in today’s society. There are countless images of women posed with a sultry pout and styled to look younger that plague magazines and the media. Unfortunately, our society is still obsessed with masking women’s true age. Hopefully, in time, advertisers will defy ageism and promote realistic depictions of womanhood and equate sexiness to maturity.