Sex Sells: Cliché Or Is It?

Calvin Klein Jeans. Photograph. Calvin Klein, New York City.

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Teen Identity: VISION. Perf. Tasra Dawson. Teen Identity, 2008. Youtube.

Sex sells sounds cliché but there is a tremendous amount of truth to it. It works well on teens because it’s a direct and intentional exploitation of a population that is vulnerable to a heavy amount of manipulation. This is true mostly because of the developmental phase of the age group. The major task of adolescence, according to Erik Erikson, is to create a stable identity (Child development Institute 2001-2010). This is a time when they are trying to figure out who they are and where they stand in the world. This task involves a peer group that teens can compare themselves to. Of course, to add to this already difficult task is the issue of puberty. Teens are developing at different rates and comparing themselves to each other, whether they’re conscious of it or not. This comparison of oneself to others has an impact their self-esteem and determines where they stand socially through these difficult years. The constant “bombardment” of print advertising affect these teens in the United States (Berman). Quite simply, if one feels complete, satisfied, and already secure in the world, then how will companies sell products that aren’t necessarily needed? They won’t. Most of them need to develop a need. How do they do this? By creating needs that don’t necessarily exist. And to create a need, they need to create an insecurity of one form or another. Addressing one’s most intimate vulnerabilities seems like the best way to create an insecurity and a need. One’s sexual identity, as defined by one’s body image and attractiveness to others. Victoria’s Secret is a great example of this. Young, naturally proportioned girls are sold the notion that ‘bigger’ up top is better. This is achieved by the portrayal of Barbie doll proportioned models who are usually surgically enhanced. The product is lingerie, that promises the same look which will undoubtedly result in greater popularity among the opposite sex. This standard is set by media images.