Sex May Sell Products but Body Shaming Loses Consumers

by TobyT on April 21, 2017 - 12:11pm

Nowadays, ad agencies understand that sex sells; the problem with the concept of “sex sells” is that they are so concentrated on selling the product or service the ad may be causing body dissatisfaction to their audience. Many advertisements use body image to attract consumer, but in the end many ads have completely failed due to the agency not realizing that the message they are portraying seems more like body shaming. Many do not realize but the concept of creating an unattainable body image is targeted towards both genders.  Advertisement with body images are creating a moral dilemma in the media, they push unattainable body goals for the greatest amount of people, which does not lead to the greatest amount of good for the world. In the media, there are many examples of body shaming ads, such as the “Fat Girl Costume” from Walmart, Kazam’s “World’s Slimmest Smartphone”, Victoria’s Secrets “The Perfect Body” and every Calvin Klein ad. 

Back in October 2014 Walmart made a huge mistake on their website. In the Halloween costume section, there was the presence of a “fat girl costume” category which should have been called “plus-size costume” (Ahmed, CNN, 2014). The category created a lot of controversy, Walmart of course apologized for the situation, where they explained that the category should have never been there in the first place. The Walmart incident may have been a mistake, however, the whole situation reminds people that plus-size girls get body shamed all the time. 

Another ad that body shamed women from a more subtle way was banned by the UK ad regulator. The company Kazam created an ad where they had the intentions of showing how slim their newest smartphone was, but instead the company simply sexually objectified the  woman in the commercial. The Guardian explains the commercial perfectly : “She then ran her finger down her cleavage, bit her lip and moved her hand over her hip and thigh. After she pulled on her jeans, there was a close-up of her bottom, followed by shots of her ironing her shirt in her bra and then putting it on. As her phone rang, she searched her pockets before finding it in her shirt” (Baird, The Guardian, 2015). The entire commercial shows nothing about the product, but it seemed as if the point of the ad was to show off a slim girl, proving that slim is so much better in every context. 


A campaign that got a lot of bad publicity was also in October 2014, which was the Victoria’s Secrets ad campaign “The Perfect Body”. Every viewer that reads the lingerie company’s slogan has a different interpretation of the “perfect body”, however, when one see’s the ad campaign, they understand that the Victoria Secret models are the ones with the “perfect” body. A huge amount of people were furious about the campaign, especially parents who discussed on social media how brands like Victoria’s Secrets are creating unattainable standards for girls nowadays. Many studies have proven that the body image advertising greatly affects how people perceive themselves. A recent study explain, that models on social media can influence body dissatisfaction and eating disorders (Turner, 2014). The “Perfect Body” slogan is a perfect example of why social media causes body dissatisfaction. 


Body shaming is not just towards women, men get their dose as well. The media provides plenty of messages about masculinity. The concept of body shaming in the media for men is done a bit differently, ad agencies take under consideration the theory of the “Man Box” when producing their ads.  The box is filled with a list of roles and expectations that a boy should have to be a “real” man, such as strong, intimidating, respected, athletic, muscular, highly sexual, etc. Each one of those roles or expectations are portrayed in advertisement. If a man wants to be part of the “Man box”, they cannot admit that these ads affect their insecurities, because the box reminds them not to be sensitive nor show weakness. The best example of advertisement that always portrays a man from the “Man Box” is the company Calvin Klein. In every ad campaign with a male character, the man needs to have rock solid abs, be perfectly tan, and be perfectly groomed (Robl, Mulgrew, 2016). This “perfect” male body creates unattainable body images for men. The company Calvin Klein did not created an campaign with the slogan “the Perfect Body”, however, every advertisement they create practically portrays that idea. However, Calvin Klein also body shames women many times. A moment when they failed miserably was during the release of their plus-size collection which consisted of a model who was maximum a size two, everybody on the planet knows that plus-size starts at size twelve but the company made it seem like every size over zero is a plus-size because it is not the “perfect” body (Peterson, Business Insider, 2014).  


From a utilitarian perspective, these advertisements that shame body types are very unethical because the bigger amount of people do not have a size double-zero body nor a rock solid six pack. When evaluating these advertisement from Mills’ framework, the best solution would be to end these ads because they create a lot of insecurities and damages for the greatest amount of people. 


As discussed before, these body image campaigns cause people to be extremely influenced and want to have that “perfect body” concept. From a deontology perspective, people should be able to think for themselves and understand that this perfect body is not necessarily the ideal body for them. For example, if people simply read the Victoria’s Secrets slogan “The Perfect Body”, depending on the person they will have a different image pop up in their head. A girl that has a “h” form body type which is a very simple figure with no curves, may believe the perfect body is a girl with big hips; but a girl with big hips could believe the ideal body is a “h” form body type. Deontology shows that people should just ignore these body image ads and not be offended because they know what is right and wrong. 


To conclude, advertisement with body images are creating a ethical dilemma in the media due to them pushing unattainable body types that are not realistic for the greatest amount of people. Evaluating the situation from a deontology perspective, they should know not to be offended by ad agencies, because the only thing advertisers care about is selling their product. However, many of these ad agencies have gotten to far and make it harder for how much a person can ignore and not be offended especially with the Calvin Klein models, the “World’s Slimmest Smartphone” and the Victoria’s Secrets “The Perfect Body”. 








Admed, Saeed. 2014. Walmart apologizes for ‘fat girl’ costumes. Retrieved on Thursday, April 20th :


Baird, Dugald. 2015. TV ad for ‘world’s slimmest phone’ banned for objectifying women. The Guardian. Retrieved on Thursday, April 20th :


Peterson, Hayley. 2014. People Are Outraged That This Is Calvin Klein’s Idea of A Plus-Size Model. Business Insider. Retrieved on Thursday, April 20th :



Robl, Kristie E. and Kate E. Mulgrew. "The Effects of Concentrated and Realistic Viewing Patterns of Music Video Clips on Men's Body Satisfaction and Mood." International Journal of Men's Health, vol. 15, no. 3, Winter 2016, pp. 259-266. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3149/jmh.1503.259.,ip,url&db=aph&AN=120655786&site=ehost-live


Turner, Jacob. "Negotiating a Media Effects Model: Addendums and Adjustments to  Perloff's Framework for Social Media's Impact on Body Image Concerns." Sex  Roles, vol. 71, no. 11-12, Dec. 2014, pp. 393-406. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/  s11199-014-0431-3.,ip,url&db=ssf&AN=99711797&site=ehost-live