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The Hollywood Headless

sWe all know that movie posters follow certain tropes, but there’s one that might just have slipped your gaze completely.

Behold the headless woman donning movie posters across the genres. Whether it’s a sci-fi film like “Matrix Reloaded”, a raunchy teen flick like “Hall Pass”, or even a superhero show like “She-Hulk”, this image has managed to become a favourite amongst poster designers across the board.

Now, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about since at least we have a woman on the poster. Before calling out Marcia Belsky (the founder of the “Headless Women of Hollywood” Tumblr page) for worrying about inane and petty issues, just hear her out.

In 2016, comedian Belsky conceptualized the “headless woman” trope. And ever since then, she’s dutifully tried to compile every single movie, advertisement, and even television show poster on her Tumblr blog that has a woman as the main subject… just, well, without her head.

Why the uproar over headless women? Belsky’s about page says it all. The comedian launched her site because she wanted to bring people’s attention to an issue that was bothersome as much as ridiculous – the “still standard practice of fragmenting, fetishizing, and dehumanizing images of women.” Through documenting these instances, Belsky showcases that women are objectified at an alarmingly high rate in Hollywood.

Now, Belsky’s stance is undoubtedly bold in its assertions. So how is it that one can claim that a woman’s body displayed on a poster, removed from its head, is responsible for perpetuating the objectification of women?

The first clue is that these posters are missing a vital part of one’s personhood- their face. What’s in a face? Well, just your identifying features and your brain. It has pretty much everything to do with your thought processes and decision-making. Plus, it’s easier to empathize with a face rather than a fragmented body. Thus, removing one's head from the equation entirely makes it easier for the women to become dumbed down, consumer objects. =

Sex is indeed a selling point, but has sexuality reached an end in the media where it is best produced and consumed through women’s faceless, cookie-cutter bodies? Because let’s be honest, there’s little to distinguish these headless ladies with their perfect proportions and barely there bikini tops.

It gets a bit more sinister when you think about the fact that the basic messaging underlying these posters is that all these womens’ bodies essentially become interchangeable when it comes to media consumption.

Even though there is a sort of outrageous humour to what Belsky has to say about the blatant reduction of women as “passive objects” meant to be consumed, the issue becomes seethingly relevant in the post Me Too era.

Amidst the aftermath of high-profile male celebrities being outed as sexual predators and the revelation of Hollywood as a generally unsafe environment for young women, the entire industry has now become a curious case study for what happens when rampant misogyny is left totally unchecked in a booming empire. Sexist industry workers have long been creating stereotypical images of gender performativity, which are then consumed by the public, creating structural inequalities and ideals that are hard to break free from.

So, comedians like Belsky (or literally anyone who has looked at a piece of media and resisted the kind of gendered messaging it is trying to push upon individuals) take part in a small act of resistance every time they do so. But there is time yet before we say Times Up to sexist imagery.

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