Aaron Widmar
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What’s the Problem with Having Female Models at Car Shows?

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Female model posing with Alfa Romeo car on display at auto show

We’ve already looked at how the presence of female models at car shows began and how sex has been used to sell vehicles just like any other product. Beginning in the early days of automobile advertisements aimed at a largely male demographic and continuing through the societal revolution against modesty, female models at car shows have had many things in common with “pinup girl” images.

Where Are We Now?

Woman model posing beside Jeep Compass at Auto Show

Some models now speak about the cars and gather feedback

With the increased societal push for gender equality and against the objectification of women, the presence of female models at auto shows has largely declined. In fact, some places where there used to be bikini-clad models in droves–like in China–are now banning the use of “booth babes.”

The presence of female car models has not been eliminated completely, and there are several reasons. Some automakers do still use “look pretty and smile” models in their displays because they’ve seen it work in the past and they don’t see a need to change that.

As women have the right to choose their careers, some women simply enjoy working as models. Modelling is still a profession that people choose to enter, knowing what’s involved (i.e. yes, modelling will always be concerned with physical appearance). Advertising and modelling agencies employ women who are glad to work around cars and get paid well for a live gig (and auto shows do pay well).

Some models who do still work at car shows have undergone a makeover–not necessarily a physical one, but in their role. No longer a silent object to draw attention, their job as “hostess” is to draw spectators, spread information, and gather reactions.

That’s why many female models these days have undergone training to talk about the car, pitching it to viewers. Many automakers have relied on the models to gather customer reactions to new vehicles, getting much-needed public feedback that gets discreetly jotted down on tablets by the models who are asking questions.

Generally (though not completely), car show models are dressing better and being treated in better taste. But do we need more changes?

Scrutinizing Our Culture Is sexism in advertising still a thing?

What Happens Next?

Everyone has their opinion on if it’s acceptable to have models showcase cars.

Instead of finding ways to better include and utilize women’s intelligence and presence, some argue that social progress would result from excluding models altogether. But, human presence and interaction is crucial to creating interest; cars simply sitting alone and idle will not sell themselves.vintage auto garage pinup girl model sexism

Other people claim the only way to rectify this is to simply offer “man candy” in equal measure–making an effort to equally objectify men in hopes that it will lessen the objectification of women.

Many critics point out that the industry has changed; half of car buyers are, obviously, women. But it’s men that are more likely to buy the hot new sports cars and luxury coupes being promoted–women are more likely to stick to practical, family-oriented, utilitarian models that sell well year after year.

So what’s the solution?

The issue people take with female modelling is the subconscious message being sent that beautiful women are merely desirable objects (just like cars) and that using looks is the only way young girls will achieve success. So the best way to alleviate that is to 1) have women dress less provocatively but still professionally, 2) emphasize their intelligence and personality by bringing them off the stage to interact with the audience, and 3) have equal presence of male and female workers.

The next time you’re at a car show, see if you notice any booths following this new approach. The more that do, the more respect we’ll see for women at car shows.

References: The Guardian, NPR, The Globe & MailThe Wall Street Journal

Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a Hyundai Veloster Turbo (which recently replaced his 1995 Saturn SC-2). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.