Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The feminization of advertisement

[Here's a short paper I wrote for a critical theory class. I'm not sure if I love it, but I'm thinking of expanding it into a larger research paper for end of term]

Unconsciously, the great nebulous market of the world realized that there are young single urban professionals who are mostly single and most importantly are female. Once the market came to this realization, the single female with disposable income was seen as a new frontier to be ruthlessly colonized. In order to sell previously available products, advertising focused on the products as being tools or extensions of feminism. The word “feminism” became a tool to validate the people's desire to purchase the product. The feminist-angled advertising focuses on the benefits of the product as promoting feminism and individuality, using words such as “celebration” and “honour” in order to sell the product. The advertisements promote inclusion and sisterhood in order to sell a product that is paradoxically designed for the individual.

Feminist critics argue that advertising focuses on an ideal female body shape, one that is entirely unrealistic. Models used by companies such as American Apparel or The Gap are skinny and in The Gap's case, are branded as “Always Skinny” in order to sell skinny jeans. The logic of the advertisement is that if one purchases the product, one cannot appear like the model, but can become the model. The clothes accent the assets of the body, in order for the owner of the clothes to present the best version of themselves that they can “sell themselves”, to “have the female body circulate as part of the strategy of employability” (Power 15). The logic in advertising is similar to the assertion that “there is nothing subjective, nothing left, hidden behind the appearance.... You are your breasts” (24). The advertisements capitalize on the blurring of the interior and the exterior.

However, there are ad campaigns that seek to ruthlessly colonize the criticisms of the ads themselves. These are the ads and slogans that seek to capitalize on the young single female urban professional, a media savvy individual who realizes that models have unrealistic body types. These are the young females who have been raised in an image-saturated world, a world where feminism has been expanded and elasticized to include everything that refers to a female. The women with disposable income are also educated and are bombarded by moral hand-wringing by lobbyist and political groups such as Parents Television Council, who are announcing that women are being objectified. It is commonly accepted in the media that women are being objectified through sexualized portraits or magazine covers. It is the genius of the market to realize this and begin to advertise an oppositional view, one in which women are to be celebrated for their individuality – as long as they purchase the products being sold to them.

Dove, a skin-care company, created a series of advertisements called the Dove Real Beauty Campaign. The television commercials explicitly pointed to the inequality of female body types in the media, and explicitly called the viewer's attention to the unfairness of the lack of representation of “curvy” women in the public sphere. The campaign hired plus-sized models and women with cellulite in order to sell a series of products designed for “real women” with “real beauty”. The use of the word “real” implies that Dove's is the only product that is made and suited for the realistic woman who is not a model, but rather a young urban professional. Also, employing “real” serves to separate the product from other beauty products, implying that the competition is complicit in promoting unrealistic body shapes.

However, what Dove does not admit in its advertising is that despite the superficial altruism of promoting a wide spectrum of body shapes, they are still advertising a product. What is being promoted implicitly in the advertising is that by purchasing the Dove Real Beauty products, the consumer is entering into a sisterhood of equality and celebration, whereby each individual with specially tailored products (dry skin, oily skin, blotchy skin) is rejecting the unrealistic beauty standards demanded by the media. The rejection of the overly thin model body shape is the success of feminism. By purchasing these products, the consumer is celebrating the success of feminism. In this instance, feminism is being manipulated in order to promote the emancipation of young women from the hegemony of specific body shapes. As Power writes, it is the “remarkable similarity between liberating feminism and liberating capitalism, and the way in which the desire for emancipation starts to look like something wholly changeable with the desire simply to buy more things” (27-8).

This specific strategy of pointing out the flaws of advertising has been copied variously in the years that the Dove Real Beauty Campaign has been established. Many companies selling products such as jeans will use the congratulating language of self-actualization to sell their products. Levis currently has a line of jeans called Curve ID. These are skinny jeans designed for different types of body shapes. The advertisement uses phrases such as “celebrating slight curves” in order to sell the “Slight Curve” jeans or “honors real curves” to sell the “Bold Curve” jeans.

The success in these advertisements is two-fold. Firstly, there are different body shapes out there, which translates to different markets to be colonized. The fact that there is a spectrum of body shapes for females means that there are simply more types of products to be sold. The need (curvy, slightly curvy, thin, plus-sized) is there, and the market moves to exploit that diversity of body types.

Secondly, and most importantly, by using the “self-help” style language of celebration, the products are asking the consumer to reject the notion that there is a body shape to attain. Their promotion of inclusion – that all women are beautiful no matter their shape – is indicative of the manipulation of feminism in order to sell the product. Through the celebration of inclusion, all woman should purchase this product in order to become part of a sisterhood that rejects traditional beauty products and clothes. The consumers feel good about purchasing a more altruistic and feminist product but that is the exact point of the advertising used by Dove and Levis.

The panoply of products to purchase feed into the mentality not knowing which product is right for the individual, so therefore purchase them all. By offering a wide spectrum of beauty products or different sub-styles of skinny jeans, the advertisements create the “right kind of anxiety appropriate to a form of shopping frenzy that will buy as many and as varied kinds of shoes etc.” (31). The advertisements play into the confusion of not knowing which trend to follow or which fashion to emulate. The Dove Real Beauty products offer the illusion that each product is tailored for that individual's skin, but the vagueness of “oily skin” or “blotchy skin” feeds into that confusion, so that the consumer is meant is purchase a variety of products, both to enforce the “success of feminism” by buying anti-objectification products and to figure out which fits the individual best.

In conclusion, feminism has been manipulated by advertisement, changing the word from a political ideology with specific goals into a meme relating to self-actualization and self-improvement, asking each consumer to buy into a sisterhood of inclusion and celebration on a large scale. The “success” of feminism is ensured when the consumer purchases the products that reject the patriarchal objectification of females.

Works Cited
Power, Nina. One Dimensional Woman. Winchester: O Books, 2009. Print.

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