“Everywhere we look, women’s bodies are turned into things and parts of things,” said Jean Kilbourne, the renown author and academic.

She was speaking at a 2010 edition of her well-known lecture series “Killing Us Softly” which drew upon 40 years of research on advertisements’ effects on society, particularly women, in the United States.

But her presentation slides could have easily been shot on the streets of Beirut, as seen in the billboard below, which hangs above a busy intersection in a posh part of the capital.

The ad was produced by Aishti, a local high-end department store carrying brands similar to Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S.

In Aishti’s ad, the woman is turned into a gift box, bearing the store’s logo in the bottom left corner.

“Women’s bodies are dismembered in ads, hacked apart, which is the most dehumanizing thing you can do to someone,” Kilbourne said.

Throughout her talk, she gave examples of women’s bodies turned into beer cans, video games and sports cars.

Similarly, another Aisthi ad at the ABC Mall north of Beirut shows women’s bodies used as canvas for text or as wallpaper:

Kilbourne argues: “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

The pretext of terrorism, homophobia and racism were among her examples of this violence justification process, as well as physical abuse of women in society and the influence of ad imagery on the health of young girls, who are increasingly experiencing potentially fatal diet disorders.

I was first introduced to Kilbourne’s work as an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, in course titled “Beyond Visual Literacy” taught by Professor Rick Williams. 
Advertisements no longer sell products, he often told us– they sell lifestyles, ideas and ideals. Looking critically at the complicated process of producing such billboards, which often involves a large crew and cost tens of thousands of dollars, makes us more aware of the powerful, yet subtle effects they can have on our lives.
Watch Kilbourne’s entire lecture here, posted recently on Mamamia

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