Corpse women in advertising

It’s been around since I was a child: images of dead women in advertisements for women’s products. Echidne of the Snakes has an article about the latest round of these ads:

The less extreme fashion pictures often borrow similar imagery. The models lie on the floor, staring up with empty eyes and swollen lips. Their legs and arms never look comfortable, but like those of a broken doll or of someone who just got driven over by a car. If the models are upright, they often totter about as if ready to fall over any minute, revealing those same empty eyes and swollen lips. Nothing can be written on those faces, nothing. They just are.

Read the whole article. She discusses how we’re always told these images are edgy and artistic, but asks what’s new and ground-breaking about dead women? Indeed. What’s new or edgy about dead, brutalized women, left to rot alongside the road? What’s edgy about something we see several times a week on fiction shows like Criminal Minds and non-fiction shows about serial killers?

Death isn’t edgy. If it was, we’d see dead men in advertisements too. Maybe we’d even see non-modelesque dead women in ads. In fact, it’s not even murder that’s the edgy factor here.

No, it’s specifically the image of the murdered beauty queen that is some kind of cultural icon to – I think specifically – the United States. I don’t quite understand why. Maybe it’s just the perfect realization of the feminine passivity this macho culture feels entitled to expect from us. Maybe it embodies the hopelessness women sometimes feel, the bone weariness that sinks in as we realize all our putting up with privileged male bullshit hasn’t gotten us anywhere and never will. I don’t get it.


  1. The Other Patrick says

    Also, the “dead woman lying in the grass” also implies a post-rape scene, to me.

    But you nailed it. Where are all the dead men? How about unsexy death?

  2. SarahSyna says

    I personally like the ‘corpse girl’ thing to a certain extent, though I prefer it when it’s subtle, a sort of ‘she was dead all along argh argh argh’.

    The shock of ‘hey, she’s pretty, though kind of listless… AGH! She’s dead! *flail* Help help, dead person in vicinity, murderer close by!’ can be used to great effect.

    That said, I like it best when the dead girl is still moving, be it a possessed corpse or undead, or in a story with a ‘puppeter killer’, places where we are more likely to get some backstory on the actual girl herself, instead of just this nameless corpse. Just having it in random images is kind of baffling to me, since it loses all value there.

    I especially hate it in advertisements, like that ‘Beautifully Executed’ Hitman campaign.

    • SunlessNick says

      That’s roughly where I fall as well.

      I wish we’d get a “badass” series of photos like this. I know sexy-danger is also a cliche, but it would make a refreshing change from sexy-endangered or dexy-dead.

  3. Lika says

    Reminds me of the people who think bleakness and pain equals depth and meaning. For some reason, it seems those people think somehow it’s more deep and meaningful if a woman goes through it (and inevitably dies at the end). Looking at those picture gave me the same sick feeling watching a Lars Von Trier movie gives me.

  4. Casey says

    I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten more comments. Dead/Sickly/Vacant-Eyed/Bent-Up/Doll-Like women used in high-fashion advertising seems like a pretty big deal…but I don’t have anything of substance to really contribute to the thread, so…bump?

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