The story of Headless women of Hollywood is now making headlines all over the world. Although the name reminds people of a good old Hollywood horror movie, this is a story of real life, a story of women appeared in Hollywood posters.

It is undeniable that the United States is one of the world’s superpowers regarding various aspects including the entertainment industry, especially Hollywood. Hollywood is defined as “global industry geographically concentrated”[1], with its entities physically located in Southern California with a truly global reach. The global brand, Hollywood movies top the world box office, watched and loved by massive worldwide audience. As a result, these American movies have a powerful influential impact on viewers in shaping their perspectives. In building great success of any movies, the poster plays an integral, determining and prime role. More than a marketing material, a poster is the heart and soul of the movie in one frame, created to intrigue person’s interest through visual elements. A poster can bear out the theme and the message of a movie plot and delicately convey them to the general public.

But the question is “What if the poster sends a negative message to the audience and what if not only one but hundreds of posters are delivering the same message?”

A Tumblr account “Headless Women of Hollywood” launched by Marcia Belsky, an Oklahoma stand-up comedian has made headlines in the film industry and caught the attention of the global public. This project is built “to bring attention to the still standard practice of fragmenting, fetishizing and dehumanizing the images of women we see in film, TV, book covers, and advertisement.”[2]. After publishing the account, she has gained thousands of followers on social media and created a viral trend globally.

In the big pile of movie posters collected by Marcia, the obvious common trace is a woman body with head or face cropped out whereas the focus point mainly lies in her centralized body parts such as boobs and butts. Rather than a face with emotions and inner complexity of a human being, women image in the posters is portrayed through sexual intriguing features, revealing clothes and sensual poses. In some cases, the women in these posters are the passive objects to sexual gazes by the main male characters.

The visual element of women is used as the attention grabber aiming at male audience. Image of women is being sexualized and decontextualized for the male purpose. Marcia added “The question of her consent is removed completely alongside her head, and her purpose becomes solely that of being looked at by men obediently. Her value is that only of her sexual appeal to men, and not of her personhood”. The face, the head, and the mind are the most important features of a person. The head, the brain builds a human thinking, feelings, and personality, which make each individual unique. The face is where emotions are expressed and the foremost recognizable part of a human. Without the head and face, women from all these posters are the same, no distinctive reorganization, no emotions, feeling and no thoughts. They are used as an object and blurry background for the male characters to stand out. Women are no longer seen as a completely rational human being but rather a dehumanized item that is sexually available for men purpose. Through the posters, Hollywood is sending a misleading negative message on sexism where women are the background and the sexy figures for male attention. “The overwhelming presence of these headless women in the images we see both perpetuate and is symptomatic of the overall idea that women exist primarily for the sexual pleasure and purpose of men”[3].

The headless posters spread through all genres of Hollywood. More than the sexist male-oriented comedies such as Hall Pass, Dirty Grandpa or Hot Tub Machine, it is easy to find posters of this kind in all movies genres from horror even to animation.


The posters are the reflection of real-life sexism in Hollywood. The shocking figures ring the warning bell of sexism in Hollywood not only in movies’ storylines but also in the industry operation.[4]

  • Females comprised 24% of sole protagonists, 37% of major characters, and 34% of all speaking characters.
  • Female characters have far less representation than males and less than half the amount of dialogue. men had more than 37,000 dialogues of the dataset in the study. Women, on the other hand, had just over 15,000
  • Women accounted for 16% of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers.

In short, it is no longer the problem of putting together a poster to promote a movie, it is a matter of sexism and gender equality. Voice is raised and now comprehensive actions need to be taken to give the women their heads back.

[1] “Hollywood, The American Image and The Global Film Industry” by Andrew Ali Ibbi.






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