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Putting On Appearances

Putting On Appearances: Gender and Advertising

Diane Barthel
Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Putting On Appearances
    Book Description:

    In this lively critical analysis, Diane Barthel reveals the previously overlooked and underestimated depth of cultural meaning behind contemporary American advertising. Focusing mainly on ads for beauty products directed at women, she demonstrates how stereotypical gender identities are emphasized and how advertising itself creates a gendered relationship with the consumer. She explores psychological, sociological, and cultural messages in advertising to show howPutting on Appearancesis anything but a purely personal matter, and how the social realities in which we are forced to live are conditioned by the personal appearances we choose to create.

    Most advertisements are not sexually obvious, but rely instead on sexual story-telling in which seduction, deception, and passion are portrayed as acceptable means for achieving selfhood. Advertisements that proclaim, "Now is the time to paint your knees" speak with one form of authority: those that present the voice of the all-knowing scientist or the nurturing mother rely on others. Celebrities figure as professional beauties and wise older sisters, sharing their secrets with the consumer. "The Gentle Treatment Great Model Search Made Me a Star. Now it's your turn."

    Inseparable from the clothes we wear and the products we use are our ideas and fantasies about our bodies. Beauty products present beauty rituals as transcendent occasions, and diet products call up religious imagery of guilt and salvation. The body itself is to be anxiously manipulated and systematically worked over until the consumer "turns her body advertisement for herself, a complicated sign to be read and admired."

    In the seriesWomen in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0401-5
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-xii)
  3. ONE Introduction (pp. 1-14)

    Advertising is about appearances. It is also about information, but what interests us, what excites us in and about advertising is how objects, or products, become ideas, how they become gifted with appearances: how they make appearances and helpusmake appearances. This does not happen through magic. It happens through the advertiser’s skill at positioning the product, creating an image, “finding a place for it to live in our minds.”¹ Information becomes part of appearance. When Joy perfume advertised that it was the costliest perfume in the world, that was information of a sort. But it also created an...

  4. TWO Madison Avenue: Method and Madness (pp. 15-38)

    To speak of advertising is to speak of consumer society, that plentiful world of goods and services we call our own. The history of its development, like that of the advertising industry, has recently attracted the attention of historians and cultural analysts. The reader interested in a fuller version than can presented here is directed to their texts.¹ My purpose in this chapter is, first, to present an overview, emphasizing the arguments that have been made pro and con, and, second, to outline how advertising images are created, and how they will be analyzed in the following chapters.

    Though it...

  5. THREE The Voices of Authority (pp. 39-56)

    Consumers are constantly being told what to do. They are praised for their efforts, reinforced for their interest in beauty, and encouraged to further striving toward their beauty ideal. They are scolded for their failings, for their ignorance and their sloth, for not keeping up with the latest wisdom or for not carrying out to the full the expectations of the beauty role. They are, in brief, kept in the position of the child. The voices of authority hold them in line.

    Beauty speaks with several voices. The first, perhaps the most common, is anonymous. “This is the summer to...

  6. FOUR The Self Observed (pp. 57-70)

    Roland Barthes accurately identified one of the fundamental contradictions in the female role: namely, that a woman is supposed to make finding a man a major goal, if notthemajor goal of her life, and yet she is not supposed to act as though she is actively pursuing him.¹ If she does, she loses her innocence, her charm. She seems all too accessible, needy, and unappealing.

    A woman must maintain her dignity and her mystery. She must avoid making too great a show of her ideas, interests, and emotions. Courting, the man is bold; the woman, coy. InHands...

  7. FIVE Sex and Romance (pp. 71-86)

    It would be wrong to read these advertisements simply as an adventure in passivity. As suggested in the preceding chapter, many of these static images have a narrative feel to them. In their own way they offer what Roland Barthes has defined as the “pleasure of the text.” They evoke images and inspire the imagination of consumers. As with the psychologists’ TAT tests, where intriguing pictures are used as the basis of subjects’ stories, here the advertisement inspires the woman to dream her own story. Paralleling Barthes’ discussion, there are two forms this story making can take.

    The first has...

  8. SIX Beauty Status / Social Status (pp. 87-102)

    For women, beauty has traditionally been one route to achieving social status. By “marrying up,” the beauty can wave good-bye to her humble origins and gain recognition, and security, among her “betters.” This once achieved, she then needs to reflect the social status of her husband. Through the purchase and use of expensive luxury goods, including fashion and beauty products, she communicates to one and all his wealth and earning power. She becomes a luxury object herself as through her shopping, fashion display, and evident leisure she performs what Thorstein Veblen called “vicarious consumption” for her husband.¹ It is obvious:...

  9. SEVEN The Geography of Beauty (pp. 103-120)

    The geography of beauty has its own time and space. It occurs in a world far different from the mundane one in which we live. It provides a suitable setting for beauty; it is both backdrop and reward for the successful performance of the beauty role. One cannot, for example, be glamorous in a sandpit. It is hard enough in Des Moines.¹

    When beauty redraws the map of the world, it enlarges some countries, leaving many others out altogether. If there is a hub to its universe, it is France, especially Paris, fashion capital. The names Chanel, Yves St. Laurent,...

  10. EIGHT Woman in a Man’s World (pp. 121-138)

    Many advertisements refer to symbols and imagery associated with what Jessie Bernard called the “female world,” but others bridge the gap between it and what has been traditionally recognized as the man’s world: wider participation in society, economics, and politics. They accomplish this bridging through the clever use of puns.

    Puns are not unique to women’s advertisements; rather, as suggested earlier, they form an essential part of advertising rhetoric. Their bridging motion from one sphere of activity to another often incongruent one is, as suggested in Chapter Two on Madison Avenue’s methods, a classic example of Koestler’s description of the...

  11. NINE The Accursed Portion (pp. 139-150)

    Georges Bataille believed that society containsla part maudite, an “accursed portion,” that portion which exists above and beyond the merely necessary.¹ I use it somewhat differently here to examine the attention advertisers focus on all those parts of the female body that they consider “accursed,” useless, not necessary, and not attractive. Even the most casual peruser of women’s magazines can hardly help being struck by how much critical attention is devoted to women’s bodies, how much self-hatred is encouraged in advertisements that ask “Dark Eye Circles? Age Spots? Blemishes? Freckles?,” that demand to know “Do You Shine Where You...

  12. TEN Beauty Rituals (pp. 151-168)

    Rituals provide drama in culture, stylized moments apart from the everyday affairs of society. They reveal the values that we share, that hold us together as a people. A society without rituals denies itself not only opportunities for reaffirming and reenacting values, but also for inspiring further social action and cultural creativity.

    In the advertisements rituals take on several forms. Among the most common are what we might call “private rituals.” Putting on and taking off makeup, even bathing, assume a ritualistic pattern. Like rituals, they mark moments of change, as from day to night, or work to leisure, public...

  13. ELEVEN A Gentleman and a Consumer (pp. 169-184)

    There are no men’s beauty and glamour magazines with circulations even approaching those of the women’s magazines we have been examining here. The very idea of men’s beauty magazines may strike one as odd. In our society men traditionally were supposed to make the right appearance, to be well groomed and neatly tailored. What they werenotsupposed to do was to be overly concerned with their appearance, much less vain about their beauty. That was to be effeminate, and not a “real man.” Male beauty was associated with homosexuals, and “real men” had to show how red-blooded they were...

  14. TWELVE Conclusion (pp. 185-192)

    Putting on appearances is no simple matter. Becoming an object is not simply turning oneself into the “other” for another person, or for oneself. The beauty role is neither neat nor simple. Rather, it entails complex forms of cultural participation replete with psychological, social, and ritualistic significance. This is much of its appeal. This is why, in some measure, we will continue to be “inauthentic,” why we will continue to live amid culture’s complexities and contradictions, and not in some hypothetical state of nature where we can “just be ourselves.” This is why we will continue to put on appearances....

  15. Appendix (pp. 193-196)
  16. Notes (pp. 197-212)
  17. Index (pp. 213-219)