I chose  this ad because I saw elements within in it  reflecting an intersection of racism and sexism echoed in the film, particularly the sexist expectation that women should submit themselves to the expectations of men (consistent orders from male characters to female characters on how they should behave; sexual assault of Anita) and suggestions that a women’s influence is derived from superficial aspects of her existence  (the lyrics of  “I Feel Pretty”). Many of the ads I saw directed towards women, catered to skin care with promises for a more beautiful and radiant appearance which is consistent with most skincare ads but the looming man over the woman’s shoulder pictured in this ad was a bit unsettling as it supplemented the idea of female existence for the approval of men even on a subject like skincare/hygiene which should fall more under personal motivations. Additionally, subliminal racism was sprinkled in this ad along with all  saw pictured fairly light skinned women simultaneously glorifying their complexion and skin color as the standard of beauty. I think it is quite notable in this ad as well that the man is in the shadows while the woman seems to be under a light, whitening her complexion even further.

Publication: Unknown – “Palmolive Company’s Palmolive Soap – Doctors Prove Palmolive Soap Can Bring You A Lovelier Complexion in 14 Days”

5 Replies to “Female Objectification and Racism West Side Story + Vintage Beauty Ad”

  1. I see a woman with fair skin and a man looking over her shoulder, in this advertisement for Palmolive Soap. The ad seems to be using these images, as well as, “proof” from doctors that the soap will bring a “lovelier complexion in 14 days.” The improvements are relatively consistent with the selling points of skincare products today, and they claim to work for women “of all ages, with all types of skin.” Yet, the only women shown are those with light skin (and makeup?). There is also a slight sexualization with the man looming over, as well as, the naked woman taking a bath. This ad very much resembles an ad that could be found today, but portrays the sexism and racism at the time, through its images and their symbolism. As mentioned in the post, the man looming in the back reflects submitting to the expectations of men. Only featuring light skinned women shows what the ad truly means by getting a “better complexion”. These themes are reflected in WSS as well, through the expectations and limitations on the women, and also being summed up in Maria’s song “I feel pretty,” which provokes mixed feelings about the confidence of being in her own skin, but only attributing it her quality of being “pretty.”

  2. I see an image of a woman that represents society’s definition of beauty (and of course, this perception is still prevalent). The emphasis on a “lovelier complexion” really emphasizes the importance of a woman’s face (and her smile), and I immediately connected this to the use of dark makeup in the portrayal of Puerto Ricans in WSS. If using “Palmolive soap” and makeup produces a pale, bright, and beautiful face, what does applying darker makeup imply for Puerto Ricans – for both males and females? The fact that Puerto Ricans needed to be even darker than what they were naturally (in the case of Rita Moreno) shows that they were perceived as distinctly dark, different, and inferior.
    Lastly, the image of the man behind the woman was also a bit disturbing to me – perhaps as a suggestion that a woman’s beauty primarily serves to be enjoyed by men.

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