A New Tumblr Calls Attention to “Headless Women” in Film & TV Marketing

“It’s a truly amazing time to be a headless female body part in Hollywood!” proclaims the Tumblr project Headless Women of Hollywood. The Tumblr’s simple purpose is to showcase the way movie posters tend to market films using women’s bodies—minus that crucial bit with the brain and face. This is a strange marketing trend film-goers might not notice until someone points it out, which is why New York comedian Marcia Belsky created the project last month. So far, she has accrued more than 100 “headless women” TV and film posters so far, with more being added daily.

Perhaps, the skeptics among us might propose, posters that objectify women are both unsurprising and infrequent, that such straightforward sexualization should be expected. What did we really expect from Booty Call and Bachelor Party? These are low-brow flicks looking to entice the kind of person who, frankly, is excited to see a sexy, anonymous female body on a poster. But the persuasiveness of Belsky’s ever-growing archive is, in addition to its sheer size, that such dregs of cinema make shameful company for shows and movies whose posters we either forgot were problematic or never noticed as such in the first place. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Beauty, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Minions all have used headless women in their ad campaigns.  

Seeing artwork for kids’ movies and Oscar winners lumped in with bro-bait makes Belsky’s point all the more powerful. “The trope of decapitating women and fragmenting them into sexual parts is systematic,” she told me, in an interview. “Women's bodies are made equivalent in the consumer's mind to other desired objects: boats, cars, gadgets.”

Focusing on how women are represented in movie posters might seem trivial to some. Belsky says some criticism of her project has come from women who insist that there are more important problems to focus on in the world. “There are much worse things that oppress women around the world,” agrees Belsky. “But my point is that this specific dehumanization of women in our own mainstream ‘progressive’ culture hides in plain sight. It still informs young women about themselves before they have learned to think critically about who they are and what they want.” At its core, showcasing these headless movie posters makes a point about the film and TV industries. “This is a surface-level problem within a much larger issue of consumer capitalism and how it exploits women,” explains Belsky. “When you pull them all together and look at marketing as the powerful industry it is, it starts to get really spooky. People have told me that looking through all of these images together is like looking at a car accident. That's what I wanted. I wanted people to be disturbed.”

There’s one last thing that’s great about this project: it’s hilarious. Leave it to a comedian to season a depressing male-gaze buffet with hyperbolic, sarcasm-dripping rage. “AMAZING SHOOTING SKILLS 4 A WOMAN W/ NO EYES LOL WOW WHAT A SHOW OFF,” Belsky captioned the Resident Evil poster that had neatly trimmed off the eyes of its protagonist. “NEW SHOW 2 WATCH STARRING 2 FULLY DRESSED MEN & ONE FACELESS PHOTOSHOPPED GIRL’S ASS,” she quipped about Sundance’s decision to, indeed, market their new TV show by dehumanizing co-star Christina Hendricks.

Belsky’s infusion of humor makes the project accessible in a way that other feminist analyses struggle with at times. “I wanted to put these images on a public platform for women to laugh about together, and for men to see and also laugh about,” she explains. “My goals are to continue to make public the things women talk about, oftentimes when men aren't around.”

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by Natalie Baker
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Natalie Baker is a marketing strategist and freelance writer based in New York City. Sometimes she checks her Twitter, especially if you mention her: @nataliebakerrr

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