Has a brand made you feel beautiful lately?
Currently trending is the corporate branding of feminism whereby brands big and small capitalise on empowering women to sell products that often disempower (#notalways) (#notallproducts) women.
Powerhouse brands like Dove and Pantene have got the nod to go forth with advertising that blatantly focuses on female appearance as a pioneering notion of worth.
‘Real’ women are paraded around, told to accept their flaws as beautiful, or that their flaws are not flaws, or to simply rage against gendered labelling in the workplace by having endlessly bouncy and shiny hair.
While the Pantene advertisement is strident in pointing out the contradictions of the sexes in the workplace, (boss versus bossy etc.) the alignment of this message with Pantene as a brand is a vapid and desperate one. Girls, unleash the power that deconstructs entrenched misogyny in one shampoo bottle! Or something.
Meanwhile, in consumerism, feminism is keeping busy selling magazines, selling clicks, selling t-shirts, lots of t-shirts, selling politics, selling soap bars, moisturizers, underwear, shampoo and celebrities.
This copy of Elle Magazine for example, plasters Emma Watson on the cover and declares it ‘The Feminism Issue’. Adjacently, the cover screams ‘Make-up special: 92 Brilliant products every woman should use.’
Problematic in more ways than one, this is a prime example of a magazine using the ‘hot new brand’ of feminism to peddle glossy covers while profiting from telling women what to do and how to look.
Print magazines, as a dying industry, will always have the conundrum of pandering to advertiser’s requests to stay in business while still capitalising from the trends of the day.
This is where a marketing of feminism with beauty products collide. To survive in an industry predicated on outward appearance, the advertisers must critique the industry in which they are both selling, and profiting from.
In other words, you look good girls, but not good enough to stop buying our products. They need to promote our autonomy from beauty pressures, while making sure enough self-doubt exists to keep them in business. And it works because they did such a good job of convincing us we needed them in the first place.
Kind of like how Dove are on a high after the success of their award winning ‘Real Beauty’ ads (Dove: Patches and Dove Real Beauty Sketches) while at the same time, their parent brand Unilever was busy selling Slimfast to weight-conscious consumers. Genius marketing I guess, strategising one arm of the company to tell women they should parade their dimpled bodies proudly while another arm encouraged women to lose weight, covering themselves on both ends in case this whole feminism thing gets old and telling women to be skinny becomes the norm again.
Really though, shouting from the rooftops that all women are naturally beautiful while promoting anti-ageing cream at the same time is akin to a dentist giving you a sugar coated sweet at the end of a sterile clean.
Recently, a local feminist magazine posted a link to this video of children at it again, telling those silly adults to not take body issues so seriously. This point is achieved when adults don’t tell the camera they want a mermaid tail over a smaller forehead when asked what they would change about themselves.
Cue the cringe inducing instrumental and some cute little scripted children and hearts swoon across the lands. When the climatic revelations conclude and everyone is beautiful again, a face appears and kindly asks us to thank the sponsors of this video, a skincare brand, and to maybe please go and check out their page and buy stuff? No one cares though, that the advertisement, I mean video, was constructed to make you buy more beauty products and not to really challenge archaic prototypes of beauty.
Yes, this is consumerism and advertisements make money and women make up the biggest portion of consumers and so on and so forth, I know, but it needs to be stressed that the corporate branding of feminism is not as unifying and heart warming as it appears.
Constantly reinforcing women by telling them they are beautiful in a culture that largely construes the vast majority as not, hypocritically places guilt on women for not embracing their body even though they were told not to in the first place. It tells us that beauty is still of complete importance, with dictated standards at the discretion of advertisers.
It also serves as an additional platform for society to discuss, analyse and view women’s bodies as a subject deserving of ongoing attention, featuring varying degrees of ridicule and praise as the norm.
I should not have to tell anyone reading this how much women, men, and people who identify outside of these restrictive binaries, suffer at the hands of forceful and unattainable beauty standards perpetuated for tireless decades by advertisers and media. Advocating against these values should not be hijacked by brands that only want to stay in control of your wallet and your worth.
As Lauren Rankin discusses the oxymoron of corporate feminism, she points out ‘Feminism cannot hope to be a real movement for social change if it is pandering to the same structures it is meant to be critiquing.’
‘Social justice movements are meant to challenge and dismantle oppressive power structures, not silently profit from them.’
There has of course, been instances of change and success with the popularising of feminism in mainstream media. Social change is an arduous process but there has been a notable shift in dialogue, even if sometimes ill intentioned. Issues like the gender pay gap, sexist stereotyping, female genital mutilation and domestic violence are now accessible in a digestible format.
However, as long as the discussion is about beauty and appearance – which undercuts worth and intensifies objectification – how can the selling of feminism as a brand ever be wholly convincing or positively advancing for the movement?