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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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Many movies with headless women in their posters simply do it to attract male audiences. They are supposed to be eye-catching for people to come and enter the cinema to watch the film. However, this has turned into a whole genre of film posters that objectify women to use them as a selling point to gain ratings.


The sheer number of posters that do this is so jarring to look at :o thank you for bringing this to our attention!

We also talked about something similar in class today with reference to cartoons like PowerPuff Girls and Tom & Jerry, both of which have women whose heads are never shown throughout the show. It’s actually kind of scary how early this objectification starts, considering the cartoons mentioned above are directed towards children and can very easily let them get the wrong idea. Especially in the case of Tom & Jerry, where it’s always the black woman whose head is cut off. This also links back to the concept of intersectionality which we discussed, where these women ar…

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I think it's also important to note which kinds of bodies are being represented in the poster, and what message that sends. All of them are photoshopped and airbrushed to mask any possible imperfection, all of them have a trim waist and very proportionate breasts and hips. Besides sexualising women, the posters also seem to affirm the idea that there is a certain type of body that can be used an an aesthetic selling point. We can see this translating onto film and TV too, where fat representation is desperately lacking (or if a fat person is casted its as comedic relief or the villain).


Khadija Nasir
Khadija Nasir
Jun 10, 2023

Amazing blog post! This is something I'd seen so often but had never noticed it to be a pattern. The face is often considered to be the "organ of emotion and identity."The complete removal of a woman's face takes away from any uniqueness and individuality in her identity. They limit females to interchangeable objects of desire. Even if the movies do end up having strong female characters, these posters for promotion only use narrow focuses on physical appearance. I looked into similar portrayals of women in my presentation on Pakistani cinema posters, but this approach has somehow taken that a step ahead. Taking away the face, the source of her identity, her words, and her opinions makes them all seem…

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Honestly, I was a teenager when I initially read about Marcia Belsky's work and at that moment I thought what she was saying was total BS (even though proof of the trope was right there in front of me). Still, I thought she was reading too much into things and giving things a deeper meaning than needed. I think after many years of learning how the media affects us in ways we don't even realize (and the concept of representation, which has been a massive help in critically analysing media) I was able to see how Belsky was able to reach this conclusion and understand that even subtle forms of misogyny serve to passively reinforce certain ideas in our head.


Such an interesting read! I think the most significant idea that this "headless women" poster puts forward is the fact that women in media are just reduced to their bodies. Even if it's a celebrity, her body might still have more weightage than her face, unlike most male characters that simply have a floating head on posters. It's interesting how that is enough for men but for women their bodies are put on showcase. And then it's important to see what young girls and men learn from this. What kind of a message are such posters giving and endorsing. And it also says a lot about the kind of audience a particular film is targeting. I think even if we…

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