August 19, 2010

Designer Death (Trigger Warning)

Ain’t nothin’ hotter than a dead girl. -Jennifer L. Pozner, Director of WIMN’s Voices

Vogue Italia’s recent oil spill shoot and Rachel Zoe‘s “I Die” fashion spread join Lindsay Lohan’s set of “artistic” photos shot (no pun intended) with Tyler Shields earlier this year.

Like a lot of other people, I don’t find violence against women funny, glamorous, inspiring or particularly artistic unless  there’s a critical examination of violence spelled out in the artist’s statement.   As I stated in an earlier post:

Our media landscape is populated with endless streams of images and messages glorifying, eroticizing and diminishing the serious nature of violence against women, an issue that some have called a hidden pandemic and others have labeled an epidemic of global proportions.

As Gwen Sharp at Sociological Images asked in a  post when Lohan’s photos hit the internet:

Lohan and the photographer have angrily responded that the images are just art and people shouldn’t get so upset.  That, of course, isn’t the point. The bigger question is why photographers, artists, fashion editors, and others continue to find images of sexualized violence toward women compelling.

What is important to remember when photographs like these are released is that they are part of a spectrum. They do not stand alone as just one photograph or just one photo shoot. These images are part of a larger trend of images  that feature domination, aggression, violence against women, and “dead”  women (or as Jennifer Pozner dubs them, “beautiful corpses“). Through the use of body language, make-up and clothing victimization is implied and violence becomes commonplace. This gory stream of images, featuring mangled women with mouths agape and eyes glazed, is practically unremarkable in the pop culture landscape, especially in advertising. These 3 sets of  images follow close on the heels of my recent posts critically examining the rampant misogyny and striking resemblance between Marc Jacobs ad campaigns and images of actual crime scenes of murdered women.


  1. Aside from the obvious offensiveness of misogony and desensitizaion, I fail to understand how this type of marketing would make potential female customers want to buy product from these labels. ?

    Comment by Melissa Wardy — August 19, 2010 @ 9:54 pm

  2. What strikes me is that beyond the gruesome violence and victimization portrayed in these images is the fact that the real women in these photos work in industries where they are routinely stripped of their power, where the employment and exploitation of underage models/actresses is par for the course, where substance abuse, sexual harassment, depression, and eating disorders run rampant. The physical violence in these photos is also a reflection of the psychic violence these women are often subjected to in reality.

    Comment by Claire — August 25, 2010 @ 9:21 am

  3. I have a problem with people who think this is perfectly okay! I seriously don’t understand why fashion designers, photoshoot coordinators, and makeup artists think it is okay to display women in a lifeless manner. What really upsets me is the eroticization of domestic violence. Domestic violence is anything but sexy and cute. I remember a hair salon placed an ad with a woman with nicely done hair, dress, and high heels sitting on a couch with a black eye. A man stood behind her holding a necklace (probably to strangle her with, I don’t know). The caption said “Look good in all you do”. When people became outraged, the salon owners told people to “lighten up”. I think the attitude the salon owners had to the outcry is the same attitude many people have with domestic violence. This is a serious situation and it needs to be talked about more.

    Comment by Skye G. — January 31, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

  4. Most humans’ ultimate fear is death, and it is really sad that models and photographers are degrading women to enter that realm. People must realize the message it sends across, the one must look “seductive” during death. It is really a sad joke, and most people have become so numb to it. One can not call something like this art, because it is so fake, and has no real purpose or a true message behind the photo.

    Comment by Yasmin M — January 31, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

  5. I find this type of advertising and so called art very offensive! It is degrading for women and helps desensitize us toward violence. Acts of violence against women are not funny and should not be made light of. If these images were to promote awareness of violence issues it may be more acceptable but any other use of these types of images should be censored or banned as far as I’m concerned.

    Comment by Tina Brenner — April 24, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Besides the problem that the women are dead, even more serious is the fact that they are sexualized by wearing lingerie and posed seductively. We also rarely see ads of men dead or in any dangerous situations, it is all women who are vulnerable. When our society constantly reproduces these images, it normalizes violence against women. Women are sexualized enough, but when they are shown dead, it portrays that a woman doesn’t even have to be alive to have sexually feelings towards or to even commit the act. The excuse of it is “just one image” or it is “artistic” is a lame way to discount this issue as important. These images contribute to the larger view of society and with the perpetuation of the similar images, it is not “just one,” but a bunch of violent images. I find it really disturbing that people think its okay to participate in and use the images to sell a product. I don’t even want to know what the company is when they have an ad campaign centered on dead women. It is also scares me that kids flip through magazines and they are already bombarded with tons of violent things in our society, but seeing dead women in fashion magazines normalizes it even more. When ads and crime scenes are indistinguishable, you know there is an issue.

    Comment by Samantha H — April 28, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

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