Beyond the `Sexualization of Culture' Thesis: An Intersectional Analysis of `Sixpacks',`Midriffs' and `Hot Lesbians' in Advertising

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207 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that the notion of the `sexualization of culture' is too general to be a useful conceptual tool. The article has two main objectives. First, it seeks to interrogate the notion of `sexualization' as a way of understanding the proliferation of sexually explicit imagery within contemporary advertising. Rather than taking up a position `for' or `against' `sexualization' (in the familiar way), it seeks to open up the notion in order to explore the diverse practices that are commonly grouped together under this heading. Using advertising as an example, it argues that `sexualization' is far from being a singular or homogenous process, that different people are `sexualized' in different ways and with different meanings — and indeed that many remain excluded from what has been called the `democratization of desire' operating in visual culture. Secondly, the article develops a feminist intersectional analysis to critically read some of the different ways in which advertising might be said to be sexualized. It looks at three different and contrasting, but easily recognizable `figures' within contemporary advertising: the good-looking male `sixpack', the sexually agentic heterosexual `midriff' and the `hot lesbian', usually intertwined with her beautiful double or Other. The aim is to highlight the point that sexualization does not operate outside of processes of gendering, radicalization and classing, and works within a visual economy that remains profoundly ageist and heteronormative. The article argues that an attention to differences is crucial to understanding the phenomena, practices and scopic regimes that are often lumped together under the heading `equalization of culture'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-160
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2009


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