This article belongs to Sex sells theme.

Three decades after the beginning of the women's movement, fashion magazines, which are aimed at women, female sexuality is used to sell almost every product. The advertisements placed in fashion magazines communicate to women that they exist only for male gratification. As an article in Ms. Magazine puts it, "With each image, you're hit with a simple, subliminal message: Girls' and women's bodies are objects for others to visually consume." In other words women's bodies are sex objects to be critiqued by the female gaze and "consumed by the male gaze."

The focus of the sexual gaze is still the woman, even when the audience is women and the sex is presumed to be heterosexual.
A study titled Boxing Helena and Corseting Eunice: Sexual Rhetoric in Cosmopolitan and Playboy Magazines analyzed the fashion magazine Cosmopolitan and Playboy to see how "sexuality is constructed in similar ways" in both magazines. In the beginning of the study the authors note that although Cosmopolitan is a women's magazine and Playboy a men's magazine, "the visual rhetorics of both magazines reflect the male gaze and promote the idea that women should primarily concern themselves with attracting and sexually satisfying men."

After looking at advertisements in both magazines, the authors concluded that they "reflected the male gaze - the focus of the sexual gaze is still the woman, even when the audience is women and the sex is presumed to be heterosexual." The two magazines have a "single construction of sexuality for women." The poses of both men and women, note the authors, in the two magazines are "quite similar." Both pose male models using objects, but female models "decoratively" touch objects. Almost half of the female models touch themselves in ads, but almost none of the male models do.

Both Cosmopolitan and Playboy, one a women's fashion magazine, the other a soft-pornographic magazine for men, pose female models "in a manner that communicates dependency, submissiveness, and sexual availability. Each magazine most commonly depicts women as sexual objects, whereas men are most commonly spouses or partners."

A New Zealand graduate student's thesis titled, Sex in Women's Magazine Advertising, found similar results. The student looked at 12 women's magazines, including the fashion magazines Cosmopolitan, Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, Marie Claire, Glamour, and Vanity Fair. She concluded that "advertisers use sexuality as an innovative tool to advertise their products," and the "images in some advertisements were strikingly similar to pornography."

An article titled "Cosmo-politics: An Essay on Hidden Sexual Meanings in Magazine Ads" on Associated Content noted the "common images of women" in fashion magazines:

  • Relative size: Men are shown with greater girth and height.
  • Feminine touching: A tracing, cradling, or caressing of an object as opposed to strongly grasping, manipulating, or holding it.
  • Ritualization or subordination: Picturing...women on floors and beds more than men; bashful knee bends, whining or begging postures, and unserious clowning.

    Ritualization and subordination in advertisements is often associated with the woman's role as a "sex object", giving her "childlike, submissive, and sexual" mannerisms.

    A blog writer observed that ads in fashion magazines present women as "half-naked, ready and willing sexual objects," but the men in the ads "look strong and powerful, whether they are fully dressed in a business suit or more exposed (but never as exposed as the women)."

    How do women respond to the overtly sexual ads in fashion magazines?
    The study of Cosmopolitan and Playboy pointed out that in Cosmopolitan women looking at the advertisements are "encouraged to look upon the bodies of female models as a man would, to evaluate her own body by those standards, and in turn, to remake herself."

    How do women respond to the overtly sexual ads in fashion magazines? Two years ago, researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville conducted a study concerning the responses women to female models in magazine ads. Over 100 college-aged women participated in the study. The researchers found that the more seductive the model looked the more the participants were uninterested.

    One of the co-authors of the study commented, "It seems they missed the mark here...Indeed, this study seems to show the fallacy in the age-old adage that 'sex sells.'"