headless women posters

New Favorite Tumblr: Headless Women of Hollywood

A new Tumblr is compiling TV and movie posters — more than 100 and counting at this point — featuring one of the most common characters in the entertainment biz: the Headless Women of Hollywood

Californication posterFeminist commentary on this phenomenon is nothing new, of course. It’s a basic women and gender studies 101 truism that the ubiquity of headless women in media and advertising reflects and re-enforces the objectification of women. With their faces — and especially their eyes, the “windows to the soul” — cut off, women become a collection of (often sexualized) body parts, a commodity to be consumed, instead of a human being with thoughts, emotions, and individuality.

“By decapitating the woman, she becomes an unquestionably passive object to the male gaze,” the Tumblr’s creator, comedian Marcia Belsky, explains, “The overwhelming presence of these headless women in the images we see both perpetuate and is symptomatic of the overall idea that women exist primarily for the sexual pleasure and purpose of men.” And the Tumblr is a powerful way of visually showing just how overwhelming that presence is; headless women sell everything from Booty Call to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

As compelling as it is to view all these headless women in one place, I’d also love to see someone do a gender swap à la the memes of dude superheroes posing in the absurd poses of female superheroes. Since headless women are so pervasive, their presence is normalized to the point where it’s difficult to even step back and remember just how bizarre it is. But just try to imagine these posters featured headless men — you’d probably seriously wonder if there was a mistake at the printer.

As Belsky says, “DAMNIT, HOLLYWOOD!!! WE WANT HEADS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Header image credit: Bitch magazine

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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