is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on the image of women in advertising and for her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising. In the late 1960s she began her exploration of the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women, eating disorders, and addiction, and launched a movement to promote media literacy as a way to prevent these problems. A radical and original idea at the time, this approach is now mainstream and an integral part of most prevention programs. According to Susan Faludi, “Jean Kilbourne’s work is pioneering and crucial to the dialogue of one of the most underexplored, yet most powerful, realms of American culture—advertising. We owe her a great debt.” Mary Pipher has called Kilbourne “our best, most compassionate teacher.”
Her films, lectures and television appearances have been seen by millions of people throughout the world. She is the creator of the renowned
Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women film series and the author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel and So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids (with Diane E. Levin).
As the creator of the critically acclaimed documentary film series, “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women,” Kilbourne exposed the pervasiveness of negative images of women in popular culture and the exploitative nature of the advertising industry. As an advocate for public health, Kilbourne has created documentaries that highlight the social impact of how the media glamorizes alcohol and tobacco use to consumers.
In addition to her film work, Kilbourne is the author of several books including Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel in which Kilbourne discusses advertising’s effects on gender roles, alcohol, substance addiction, relationships and the objectification of women and men. This book won the 1999 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association of Women in Psychology.
Kilbourne has received numerous awards, including one of Boston University’s highest alumni awards in 2009, the National Eating Disorder Association’s Profiles in Living Award in 2010, and in 2012 the Common Sense Media Award for her landmark work advocating for women and girls in the media. In 1995 Kilbourne received the WIN (Women’s Image Now) Award from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), whose previous recipients include Barbara Walters and Betty Furness.
Kilbourne has served as an advisor to two Surgeons General and in 1993 was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Kilbourne holds the honorary position of Senior Scholar at the Wellesley College Centers for Women.
Kilbourne was recently featured, along with several well-known feminists, in the 2011 film, Miss Representation, a film described as a “crash course in media literacy for the Internet generation.” She was also highlighted in the PBS series Makers: Women Who Make America that interviewed 100 women “pioneers who have shaped the world in which we live.”
An avid lecturer on college campuses, Kilbourne has twice received the award for “Lecturer of the Year” by the National Association for Campus Activities and The New York Times Magazine has recognized her as one of the three most popular speakers on college campuses.