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Army Colonel Wants Unattractive Women in Ads; Here's Why

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"Be All That You Can Be"— unless you are beautiful, that is. A high-level strategist working to shape the Army's PR message about women in combat has recommended that their publicity photos and pamphlets feature "ugly" or "average looking" women.

Related: Army Finally Unveils Female-Cut Combat Uniform

In a leaked email obtained by Politico, Col. Lynette Arnhart, who has served in the military since 1989, wrote, "In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead." She added that the Army typically selects publicity shots with attractive-looking women and attached an article with an example. "Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty)." Instead, she suggested, a photo of a woman with a mud-streaked face, for example,"sends a much different message—one of women willing to do the dirty work necessary in order to get the job done."

The email was originally sent to two recipients, including Col. Christian Kubik, chief of public affairs for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), who forwarded it to the other public affairs officers in his division, along with the note, "A valuable reminder from the TRADOC experts who are studying gender integration—when [public affairs officers] choose photos that glamorize women (such as in the attached article), we undermine our own efforts. Please use 'real' photos that are typical, not exceptional."


Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, jumped on Twitter to denounce the email:

Read on for more.

An unnamed Army spokesperson told Politico,"It scares me to think that these are people involved in gender integration."

Meanwhile, the Army distanced itself from Arnhart's statement on Twitter:

While analyzing the perceptions of ugly versus pretty women and comments about breaking a nail may seem offensive, Arnhart's assessment is as much about the reality of a cultural phenomenon as it is about defining a strategy. "There is a growing body of empirical research that indicates that focusing on women's physical appearance has a negative impact in how women are perceived," Nathan Heflick, PhD, a research associate at the University of Kent's School of Psychology, tells Yahoo Shine. "This includes the reduced belief that [pretty] women are intelligent, kind, moral, and, on a more basic level, have thoughts, feelings, and intentions." He adds that when a woman is perceived as being sexually attractive she is more likely to be blamed for being raped or sexually harassed.

Heflick wonders why the Army previously used only attractive women in its PR materials. "Why aren't they concerned that 'ugly' men are used? The reason probably has to do with women's physical appearance, on a broad cultural level, being more important in people's mind(s) than men's physical appearance," he says.

It's important to point out that Arnhart wasn't commenting on women's capability to serve. The attractive woman in the article she referenced is Army Cpl. Kristine Tejada, who did two tours of duty in Iraq. Interestingly, over the last couple of years, Tejada has become somewhat of a poster child for women in combat and her photo has been featured dozens of times as a "representative female soldier" by news outlets from USA Today to Mother Jones to Public Radio International. While Arnhart maybe be pushing, however clumsily, for the Army to feature grittier images of "average looking" women, it's doubtful that the mainstream media—where the objectification of female beauty pays the bills—will follow suit any time soon.

—Sarah B. Weir

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