How the Male Gaze Dominated Fashion Photography During the Late 20th Century

Fashion photography is a genre of photography that has long been associated with the male gaze. During the late 20th century, the male gaze dominated fashion photography, creating a particular aesthetic that was centered on the female body as an object of male desire. This article will explore the historical context, the impact, and the evolution of the male gaze in fashion photography during the late 20th century.

The Male Gaze. Photographed by Aron Hosie

Photograph by Aron Hosie

Historical Context

The concept of the male gaze was first introduced by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her seminal essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in 1975. Mulvey argued that mainstream cinema is structured around a patriarchal system that objectifies women for male pleasure. She noted that the camera’s gaze is inherently male, and that the images we see on screen reflect this perspective.

Fashion photography during the late 20th century was heavily influenced by this same patriarchal system. The industry was dominated by men who often viewed women as objects of desire rather than individuals with their own agency. Fashion magazines were created primarily for a male audience, and the images featured within them catered to male fantasies.


The male gaze had a significant impact on the way that women were portrayed in fashion photography during the late 20th century. The images often featured women in submissive positions, with their bodies contorted and their gaze directed towards the viewer. The focus was on the female form rather than the clothes themselves, with the models serving as little more than decorative objects.

This objectification of women in fashion photography had a profound impact on the way that women were perceived in society. It perpetuated the notion that women were passive objects for male consumption, rather than active participants in their own lives. It also created an idealized image of beauty that was unattainable for most women, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.


Over time, there has been a gradual shift away from the male gaze in fashion photography. This has been driven by a number of factors, including the rise of feminist consciousness and the increasing presence of women in the fashion industry.

Many female photographers and models have pushed back against the male gaze, creating images that challenge traditional notions of beauty and femininity. There has also been a growing awareness of the harmful effects of objectification, and a recognition of the importance of representing women in a more diverse and inclusive way.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of women working in the fashion industry, from designers and editors to models and photographers. This has led to a greater emphasis on female empowerment and representation, and a rejection of the narrow and limiting standards of beauty that were once so prevalent.


The male gaze dominated fashion photography during the late 20th century, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and creating a narrow and limiting ideal of female beauty. However, there has been a gradual shift away from this perspective in recent years, as more women have entered the industry and challenged traditional notions of gender and beauty. Today, fashion photography is more diverse and inclusive than ever before, reflecting a broader range of perspectives and celebrating the many different forms of beauty that exist in the world.

You can see how I try to balance the male gaze with strong female sexuality that is empowering, not objectifying here.