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The ‘Headless women of Hollywood’ movement

BySarah Shaw

Mar 30, 2018
The objectification of women is a serious problem in Hollywood.

When looking at film or television posters, it’s sad how often these involve a man looking strong and powerful, next to a woman whose face is hidden or turned away.

The prevalence of this trend may have declined with modern movies but it is still common enough to show that it won’t be ending for a while. This trend of posters with faceless women inspired the Headless Women of Hollywood movement.

The Headless Women of Hollywood is a movement started by Marcia Belsky in 2016. On her website, www.marciabelsky.com, Belsky wrote that “the Headless Women project seeks to bring attention to the still standard practice of fragmenting, objectifying, and dehumanizing the images of women we see in film, television, and advertisement.” Her Tumblr page, Instagram, and Twitter all show examples of the Headless Women found on movie posters or adverts. It is really quite shocking how many examples Belsky managed to find, and how many of these are modern movies or considered to be popular classics.

One of the examples shown was the movie posters for Kingsman: The Secret Service. Five examples of these were given, each including various male main characters and one even being dedicated to a dog.

What none of these posters include are either of the main women of the movie, or at least not their faces. The legs of one woman were used as a form of frame for the men shown on the poster. This is an impacting example for the Headless Women movement, as it is a recent example of the dehumanising of a female character, using her as merely an object.

This trend is shown in advertising as well as in films. One example illustrated by Belsky is a Hydro Silk razor advert showing a woman’s body as a razor handle. Another is for BMW and shows a man and woman in bed while a BMW magazine covers the woman’s face, these adverts are using women’s headless bodies to entice men into buying their products. The Headless Women trend is harmful for women and society as a whole.However, most of the examples used by Belsky are from old films, few are genuinely modern. Does this mean that the trend is declining? On the surface I would agree that it is: increasingly feminist and equal films have strong women as the lead, and this is reflected in their advertising.

Ladybird and Hidden Figures are two of the modern movies that revolve around central female characters, and even the recent James Bond films show changes as Eve Moneypenny replaces the typical, objectified Bond Girl.Despite strong female leads this progress can easily be negated by advertising. The recent Wonder Woman, with Gal Gadot dominating the screen, was given a poster showing only her mouth, neck and chest. Belsky posted this example with the caption “When you are a hero, but also still just lips”: seen as one of the most progressive films for women in recent years, and yet Wonder Woman conforms to the trend of the Headless Women.

The Headless Women of Hollywood movement shows just how unhealthy this objectifying and oppressive society can be. Women are shown as objects rather than people, bodies rather than intelligent equals.

Advertising for films and goods alike are sexualised and women’s bodies are being used to sell their products.  With the rise of Times Up and Me Too throughout Hollywood there is a need to address this issue alongside that of harassment, as society can’t be truly equal if women can still be seen as a commodity.

Modern movie culture allows young people to see these posters and adverts without having any real understanding of what they mean: they are normalised. This is extremely harmful to young girls, who are being shown the expected role of women in society as well as an idealised, unrealistic body type. The Headless Women of Hollywood movement draws attention to this dangerous trend which will hopefully become more widely recognised and condemned in the near future.

 Image: Johan Ooman Via Flickr

By Sarah Shaw

Features Writer

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