By Katie Hoeger
There has been an increase in the number of companies producing ad campaigns to promote body positivity, but one of the biggest problems with most of these ads is that they are trying to sell you something. Although it is wonderful that these companies are starting to recognize the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty norms in advertising, even when these ads include body positive messages they tend to associate particular products with the ability to feel beautiful and confident.
Over 10 years ago, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty became one of the first body positive advertising campaigns to go viral.
Many people were very happy to see body types presented in this campaign that differed from the supermodel norm utilized by companies like Victoria’s Secret, who celebrate the “Perfect Body.” When Dove found that only 2 percent of women consider themselves to be beautiful, they created this campaign that included print and televisions ads. However, even with the contributions they made by starting a conversation about female beauty, some of their ads still had questionable messages. For example, they utilized this campaign to sell a firming cream, and one of the ads read, “Let’s face it, firming the thighs of a size 8 supermodel wouldn’t have been much of a challenge”
There are many problems with this ad, but one of the biggest issues is that Dove is exploiting the insecurity that many women have regarding cellulite, while simultaneously claiming to promote body positivity. They are attempting to be body positive by including the image of a woman with curves, but are doing so to sell a product that plays into unrealistic beauty standards by eliminating something perceived as a ‘flaw’ by traditional norms. The body positive messaging they are trying to promote contradicts the product they are promoting.
Another issue, which is specific to Dove, is that their parent company, Ulilever, also owns Axe (whose ads consistently objectify women) and Fair & Lovely skin whitening cream. Therefore, it seems that whatever positive messages they are sending out are, at best, not influencing other companies associated with the brand, and, at worst, hypocritical.
These types of ads suggest to women that they should choose to feel beautiful, and when they make that choice they need a particular product to do so. Kayla Prins wrote an article titled “3 Reasons Why Body-Positive Ad Campaigns Are Less Empowering Than You Think,” which includes this quote about campaigns claiming to be body positive:
“The tearful acceptance that happens at the end of a Dove ad (for both the women on the screen and the ones who view it) is meant to empower women to feel beautiful exactly as they are right now. Which is all well and good – except what happens on the days when you don’t “feel beautiful,” even though you’ve been told you’re supposed to feel that way? In that moment, the moment when you feel “less-than” and feel like the feeling of beauty is just out of reach, you are exactly where marketers and advertisers want you.”
This article discusses how advertisers market themselves as our “saviors,” and can actually make us feel disempowered so that we will associate the possibility of empowerment with their product.
We are not assuming that all of these companies are using body positivity solely because they see profit in this strategy, or that they have a malicious intent, but these issues must be considered. The choice to create these ads may have come from body positive feminists who wanted to affect change, but because they also come from a company looking to make money and sell products, unhealthy associations between beauty products and empowerment come along with them.
So, what are we to do about this? The most important thing is to create awareness about this issue, so that women aren’t simply purchasing products that companies tell them are required to feel confident and beautiful. Media literacy, being critical of the messages and images presented to you, can be an effective intervention. We can’t stop companies from using successful strategies to market their products, but we can inform ourselves about the potential motives behind these body positive ad campaigns. By becoming informed we can make our own choices, and create our own methods for empowerment.
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