<The Gender ADs Project>

 

Normalization

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<Background: Philosopher Michel Foucault wrote of one of the major mechanisms in society—the categorization of people into “normal” and “abnormal.” Foucault's emphasis is particularly relevant in addressing gender and the body in popular culture. There are numerous critical works on the subject of normalization, especially as it is manifested in the advertising industry. Susan Bordo (1997b) offers a critique of the codes of slenderness in the fashion industry, picking up on her stellar Unbearable Weight (1993). Normalization establishes a pathology of the body—quite simply, some bodies are identified as normal (typically, in popular culture these are “slender” bodies) and others are labeled as abnormal, pathological bodies in need of repair. Various industries of normalization are created to allow women to transform their bodies into the correct type. As Joan Jacobs Brumberg makes clear, “girls today make the body into an all-consuming project in ways young women of the past did not” (1997:xvii). These industries include weight loss products, dieting drugs, cosmetic surgery and various types of clothing. As can be seen on the Male Normalization page, normalization impacts both women and men. More men, like women, are now feeling the pressure to conform to the socially-accepted images of males and masculinity. Popular television shows, like The Biggest Loser and Celebrity Fit Club, target men and women equally.

 

Common Themes of Normalization

 The body is pathological—it is diseased, sick, damaged, and in need of repair.

  The body is abnormal—certain bodies are considered in need of correction, such as overweight ones, non-white ones, wrongly proportioned ones.

 Certain bodies are normal—proportions, size, placements, and the like are deemed by society to be the models that all should replicate, follow, and mimic.

 The body is your enemy—people are told that their bodies are out of control and in need of punishment; the body is something that is to be feared.

 Technologies of correction are available—society provides people the appropriate means to correct their bodies, including cosmetics, surgery, dieting technologies, makeup, fashion, etc.

 Before and after—people are told "success" stories of how a person went from a wrong body to a right one; these stories are used to motivate people to act on their abnormal bodies.

 

 The Ads: The following ads represent a varied representation of normalization in popular culture. As you review them, be sure to focus on the commonalities of the ads. Questions: (1) In what specific ways are women placed into categories of the "normal" and the "abnormal"—what are the themes that are evident in the ads? (2) Are specific parts of the body targeted by the industries of normalization, which ones? (3) Do images of female normalization compare to those of male normalization, if so how?  >

 

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<presented by Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D.>