Jean Kilbourne

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Jean Kilbourne
Born (1943-01-04) January 4, 1943 (age 72)
Alma mater Wellesley College

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. (born January 4, 1943) is an author, speaker, and filmmaker who is internationally recognized for her work on the image of women in advertising and her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising.[1] She is also credited with introducing the idea of educating about media literacy as a way to prevent problems she viewed as originating from mass media advertising campaigns. She also lectures about the topic,[2] and her documentaries (such as the Killing Us Softly series) based on these lectures are viewed around the world.[3]

She is a graduate of Wellesley College and holds a doctorate in education from Boston University, as well as an honorary doctorate from Westfield State College, for her “research [and] insights [that] lead us from consumerism to consciousness.”[4]

History and academics[edit]

In the late 1960s, Jean Kilbourne began her exploration of the connection between advertising and several public health issues,[5] including violence against women, eating disorders,[6] and addiction,[7] 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.[8]

Kilbourne has spoken at about half of the colleges and universities in the U.S. She is frequently a keynote speaker at a wide range of conferences,[9] including those focusing on addictions and public health, violence against women, and media literacy.[10]

In 1993, Jean Kilbourne was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. She has been interviewed by many major news sources such as Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, and has been featured on hundreds of television and radio programs including The Today Show, 20/20, All Things Considered, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.[11]


Kilbourne’s work links the power of images in the media with current public health problems, such as eating disorders, violence, and drug and alcohol addiction.[12] Through her lectures, films, and articles, many of her original ideas and concepts have become mainstream. These include the concepts of the tyranny of the beauty ideal, the connection between the objectification of women and violence, the themes of liberation and weight control exploited in tobacco advertising aimed at women, the targeting of alcoholics by the alcohol industry, addiction as a love affair, and many others.

Kilbourne has served as an advisor to two Surgeons General.[citation needed] Kilbourne holds an honorary position as Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women.[13] She has served as an advisor or board member to many organizations, including ACME (Action Coalition for Media Education), the Media Education Foundation, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NEDA (the National Eating Disorders Association), and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.


Complete filmography:

  • Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women (2010)
  • Deadly Persuasion: Advertising & Addiction (2004)
  • Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies, & Alcohol (2004)
  • Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women (2000)
  • The End of Education (with Neil Postman, 1996)
  • Slim Hopes: Advertising & the Obsession with Thinness (1995)
  • Sexual Harassment: Building Awareness on Campus (1995)
  • The Killing Screens: Media and the Culture of Violence (with George Gerbner, hosted by Jean Kilbourne) (1994)
  • Pack of Lies: The Advertising of Tobacco (1992)
  • Advertising Alcohol: Calling the Shots (2nd Edition) (1991) (Red Ribbon, American Film and Video Festival)
  • Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women (1987) (National Council on Family Relations Film Festival, First Place; National Educational Film and Video Festival, Winner; Chicagoland Educational Film Festival, First Prize, Consumer Education)
  • Calling the Shots: Advertising Alcohol (1982)
  • Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women (1979) (North American Consumer Film Festival, Winner)

[14] [15] [16]


  • Kilbourne, J.; Levin, D.E. (2008). So sexy so soon : the new sexualized childhood, and what parents can do to protect their kids. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345505071. 
  • Kilbourne, J. (2000). Can't buy my love : how advertising changes the way we think and feel. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780684866000. 

Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (originally published as Deadly Persuasion by Simon & Schuster in 1999) won the Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology.[17] She has written many articles, including editorials in The New York Times, USA Today and The Journal of the American Medical Women's Association, and has contributed chapters to many books.

Awards and honors[edit]

She has twice received the Lecturer of the Year award from the National Association for Campus Activities and was once named one of the three most popular speakers on campuses by The New York Times Magazine. She was profiled in Feminists Who Changed America 1963–1975 and was one of twenty-one journalists, media activists, and educators included in Reclaim the Media's "Media Heroes" pack of trading cards. She received a most unusual tribute in 2004 when an all-female rock band in Canada named itself Kilbourne in her honor. While awarding Kilbourne the WIN (Women's Image Now) Award, the representative from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) said, “No one in the world has done more to improve the image of women in the media than Jean Kilbourne.” Mary Pipher, the author of Reviving Ophelia, has called Kilbourne “our best, most compassionate teacher.”[18]

  • Academy for Eating Disorders, Special Recognition Award, 2000
  • ACME (Action Coalition for Media Education) Media Activist National Award, 2006
  • AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), WIN (Women's Image Now) Award, 1995
  • Association for Women in Psychology, Distinguished Publication Award, 2000 (For Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel)
  • Boston University School of Education, Ida M. Johnston Award, 2009
  • Educational Foundation of America (Grant for a study of gender stereotypes in television commercials), 1980
  • Entertainment Industries Council, Special Commendation, 1990
  • Feminists Who Changed America 1963–1975 (Profiled in the book)
  • Germaine Lawrence, Inc., Woman of Excellence award, 2005 Kansas City, Kansas (Given keys to the city by Mayor Kay Barnes), 2004
  • MEDA (Multiservice Eating Disorders Association), Annual Award, 2007
  • Miss Hall’s School, Woman of Distinction Award, 2007
  • Myra Sadker Equity Award, 2005
  • National Association for Campus Activities, Lecturer of the Year Award (1988 and 1989)
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Marty Mann Founder’s Award, 1998
  • National Organization for Women, Boston chapter, Woman of the Year, 1982
  • Non-Smokers' Rights Association, Canada, Award of Merit, 1993
  • PCAR (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape)/NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center), Lifetime Television's Times Square Project award, 2003
  • Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, Hilda Crosby Standish Leadership Award, 2005
  • Reclaim the Media (Included as one of twenty-one journalists, media activists, and educators in their "Media Heroes" deck of trading cards), 2008
  • Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco (STAT), Annual Award
  • Westfield State College, Honorary Doctorate, 2004
  • Womanspace, Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award, 2008
  • Women's Action Alliance, Leadership in Action Award, 1995



  1. ^ Dee, J., “Jean Kilbourne.” in Signorielli, N. (ed.) (1996). Women in communication : a biographical sourcebook. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. pp. 236–242. ISBN 9780313291647. 
  2. ^ Jean Kilbourne Official Site.
  3. ^ Media Education Foundation.
  4. ^ Jean Kilbourne Official Site.
  5. ^ Kilbourne, Jean. “Media Education and Public Health.” Telemedium, The Journal of Media Literacy Vol. 44, no. 2. Fall 1998: 3–4.
  6. ^ Fallon, P.; Katzman, M.A.; Wooley, S. (1994). Feminist perspectives on eating disorders. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 0898621801. 
  7. ^ Kilbourne, J., "The Spirit of the Czar: Selling Addictions to Women." in Roth, P. (ed.) (1991). Alcohol and drugs are women's issues. Metuchen, N.J: Women's Action Alliance Scarecrow Press. pp. 10–22. ISBN 9780810823600. 
  8. ^ Dee, J., “Jean Kilbourne.” in Signorielli, N. (ed.) (1996). Women in communication : a biographical sourcebook. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. pp. 236–242. ISBN 9780313291647. 
  9. ^ "tgif + a (s)hero giveaway!" Dr. Brene Brown.
  10. ^ Jean Kilbourne Official Site.
  11. ^ Jean Kilbourne Official Site.
  12. ^ "Tribute to Jean Kilbourne." Life After Cigarettes.
  13. ^ "Jean Kilbourne, Senior Scholar." Wellesley Centers for Women.
  14. ^ Jean Kilbourne Official Site.
  15. ^ Media Education Foundation.
  16. ^ Cambridge Documentary Films.
  17. ^ Women in Psychology's Distinguished Publication Award.
  18. ^ "Foreword by Mary Pipher" (pp. 13) in Kilbourne, J. (2000). Can't buy my love : how advertising changes the way we think and feel. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 11–16. ISBN 9780684866000. 
  19. ^ Jean Kilbourne Official Site.

External links[edit]