Chapter 22 - 'Belle' Perfume - The Male Gaze - Uni 3rd Year 2017/18
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
'Before talking about the male gaze, it is first important to introduce its parent concept: the gaze. According to Wikipedia the gaze is a concept used for “analysing visual culture… that deals with how an audience views the people presented.” The types of gaze are primarily categorized by who is doing the looking.
While the ideas behind the concept were present in earlier uses of the gaze, the introduction of the term “the male gaze” can be traced back to Laura Mulvey and her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” which was published in 1975. In it, Mulvey states that in film women are typically the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze because the control of the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the as the assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres. While this was more true in the time it was written, when Hollywood protagonists were overwhelmingly male, the base concept of men as watchers and women as watched still applies today, despite the growing number of movies targeted toward women and that feature female protagonists.
Though it was introduced as part of film theory, the term can and is often applied to other kinds of media. It is often used in critiques of advertisements, television, and the fine arts. For instance, John Berger (1972) studied the European nude (both past and present) and found that the female model is often put on display directly to the spectator/painter or indirectly through a mirror, thus viewing herself as the painter views her.
For Berger these images record the inequality of gender relations and a sexualization of the female image that remains culturally central today. They reassure men of their sexual power and at the same moment deny any sexuality of women other than the male construction. They are evidence of gendered difference… because any effort to replace the woman in these images with a man violates ‘the assumptions of the likely viewer’ (Berger, 1972: 64). That is, it does not fit with expectations but transgresses them and so seems wrong. [Wykes and Barrie Gunter (pp. 38-39)]
The male gaze in advertising is actually a fairly well-studied topic, and it — rather than film — is often what comes to mind when the term is invoked. This is because, more than just being an object of a gaze, the woman in the advertisement becomes what’s being bought and sold: “The message though was always the same: buy the product, get the girl; or buy the product to get to be like the girl so you can get your man” in other words, “‘Buy’ the image, ‘get’ the woman” (Wykes, p. 41). In this way, the male gaze enables women to be a commodity that helps the products to get sold (the “sex sells” adage that comes up whenever we talk about modern marketing). Even advertising aimed at women is not exempt: it engages in the mirror effect described above, wherein women are encouraged to view themselves as the photographer views the model, therefore buying the product in order to become more like the model advertising it.
If you look at the image at the top right of this post, you can see that the image being sold to men is that of an attractive woman (they are encouraged to look at her in the same way the men on the curb are) while the image being sold to women is that if they buy the product that they, too, can be the recipients of male attention. Thus the image being sold, for both men and women, quite literally becomes that of the male gaze.'
'There is a secret "underlife" poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, its is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of losing control.
It is no accident that so many potentially powerful women feel this way. We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses of female beauty as a political weapon against women's advancement: the beauty myth. It is the modern version of social reflex that has been in force since the Industrial Revolution. As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it waned to carry on its social control.'
Wolf,N., (1991). The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. Google [ONLINE]. Available at
Looking back through my research in my sketchbook of perfume adverts, it could be said that all of the women are traditionally beautiful. Looking into the 'male gaze' gives the advertising world a whole lot more weight as to why the women have to be 'beautiful' in advertising. The women buying the product would feel as though they can be just as 'beautiful' and desired as the one in the advert, and the advert appeals to men so they buy the product and get a their girlfriend/wife to be like the 'beautiful' girls in the adverts. This does work the other way around, there are male celebrities who model the perfume and a similar narrative is told: men would see the advert and feel like they need to buy the product to get female attention, and women would want a man who smells good because they have seen how desirable the celeb male is in the advert. While taking into consideration the 'beauty myth' discussed by Naomi Wolf, advertising really is a big contributor to enforcing this current idea that women must be slim and glamorous to be success.
In terms of my current project, I have picked a female celebrity who is not only within the age bracket of the target market, but is also beautiful and therefore meets the expectation of the modern woman in advertising. Although I am not using Lili Reinhart's character of Betty Cooper, I am tapping into the association that Lili would have with Betty to help present the advertisement. Betty is an intelligent, beautiful, generally good character so those who know her for portraying Betty would make that link subconsciously.
Lili as herself is not shy about talking about body image, her views on her own body image and the way that female bodies in general are portrayed in the media. The image above shows an example of how she has experienced editing in the media so her body conforms to the medias image of the 'ideal' body type. In an instagram post where she reveals the before and after editing which she was unaware was happening, she applauded Cosmopolitan U.S. for "keeping our waists as they are in their magazines." She also asked other celebrities to help put an end to the promotion of "unrealistic body image" through Photoshop. "Also would like to encourage celebrities and public figures to stop photoshopping their waists/noses/arms/legs in their photos," she wrote. "It's only encouraging an unrealistic body image. It's adding to the problem." Lili is the average size for a woman, even then, her body has been so distorted that if she realistically had that body shape seen on the right, she would have to remove some ribs to get that shape. It is this open discussion that Lili has with media about body image that adds to why she would be the perfect modern woman to be the face of the brand - she is strong, young, beautiful and aware of the world she is living in and isn't afraid to voice that things need to change in order for beauty standards to be more realistic.