A few nights ago I realized I was in desperate need of a pair of shorts to help me deal with the oncoming humidity of Northeastern summers. So, I rushed to my local H&M right before they closed. I had about ten minutes to search for cute shorts, find them in my size, and try them on before the store closed (which is quite a feat if you’re familiar with H&M’s mysterious sizing sorcery). Though I was literally running for the register while clutching my cute new floral patterned high-waisted shorts, I managed to snap these pictures of some ridiculous graphic tees I found in the “Men’s” section.
There were more of these “graphic tees” featuring close-ups and odd angles that cut off women’s heads and focus solely on sexualized parts of their bodies. As I expected, a quick look around confirmed that there were no analogous women’s (or men’s) tees featuring men in spandex or close-ups of their sinewy muscles. Driving home, these shirts occupied my thoughts. I was trying to figure out what bothered me about them. There was the obvious implicit male gaze of the photographs, the objectification of a woman’s body, and the slicing up of that body into only its desirable parts. But there was something else that was bugging me about the photographs. It was their voyeuristic quality–the idea that they were literally taken without the knowledge of their subject from a vantage point of behind or below her. It reminded me of the “Creepshot” community on the popular website, Reddit, which featured “upskirt” photos and pictures of women taken without their consent. I wondered whether the model whose body was on display knew she would be reduced to her butt covered in a patriotic bikini on a tee-shirt for men? With the retail clothing industry’s history of stealing images without the knowledge of their rightful owner, this didn’t seem like a far reach. I also wondered who this tee-shirt was being marketed to–who was the man that would see this disembodied female body on a tee-shirt and think it would look really cool in their summer wardrobe?
H&M was recently celebrated in some zones of feminist media for their advertisement for “normal” clothing featuring a “plus-size” model. Though I was far from cheering at that excuse for progress, it reinforced for me the vigilance we must have as feminist consumers. Companies are not in the business of making a feminist revolution (obviously,) they are in the business of making profits (capitalism, people). So, get on Twitter and tell H&M you are #NotBuyingIt!
I have tackled Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaigns before, challenging their appropriation of body positivity and the assumption that their brand is somehow better at tackling body image issues than other brands, like Victoria’s Secret. This week, Dove came out with a new video as a part of their “Real Beauty” Campaign. It shows an FBI sketch artist drawing women as they describe themselves and then again as a “new friend” describes them. The video’s purpose is to demonstrate what most people already know: women have low self-esteem and think they are uglier than they actually are. Alexandra Brodsky over at Feministing has covered some really important points about Dove’s new marketing campaign–mainly the fact that it reinforces standard Western beauty standards and prescribes to the “One Direction” formula for beauty: “You don’t know you’re beautiful…that’s what makes you beautiful.”
Dove is one brand that is owned by the massive multinational corporation, Unilever, whose dozens of brands make everything from soap to ice-cream to cleaning products to teabags. Unilever owns brands like TRESemme, Vaseline, Suave, Noxzema and most noxiously, Axe. Each brand owned by Unilever markets itself individually– of course, this is why we see such faux body-positivity when Dove is advertising soap and such blatant teenage-boy level sexism when Axe is marketing its shower gel.
Dove launched their “Real Beauty” Campaign in 2004 and consumers are still buying it, despite numerous criticisms of the brand’s methods and messages. They are buying it because it is good marketing. It is targeting the people it aims to target–everyday, “average,” (mostly white) women who feel like they do not live up to society’s beauty standards. While we’re on the subject, let’s return back to Alexandra Brodsky’s point that Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign reinforces Western beauty ideals like thinness, whiteness, and small features (to name a few). Dove’s campaign also targets mostly white, middle-class women. “Real beauty” only applies to a specific kind of beauty–and we can bolster that argument with the fact that Unilever also owns the brand Fair and Lovely, which makes skin-lightening creams that are popular in India because of the globalization of Western beauty ideals.
The solution to the problems and contradictions of Dove’s ad campaign is not to stop buying soap, to protest all Unilever products, or even to reform marketing, as I’ve previously suggested. I’m pretty sure I am drinking tea made by Unilever as I write this. The problems with Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign are created by monolithic issues like capitalist ideologies, market monopolies, racism, sexism, and the like. But as consumers, we must challenge Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign by pointing out the contradictions in Unilever’s marketing strategies and telling them that we are #NotBuyingIt!
A really interesting infographic compiling statistics and information about sex education, courtesy of Complaince and Safety.