There are many subtle ways women are manipulated through marketing, which are often masked behind the promise of empowerment.
An example of this is the rise of “real beauty” campaigns.
It’s likely you’ll not only have encountered a campaign like this, but also praised it, supported it, and even shared it with your friends.
“Real beauty” campaigns strategically have a plus size woman, a woman of ethnic minority, a woman with a disability, or a woman with a skin condition fronting them.
Just like any advert that has ever been created in the history of the planet, all of these ads have one common objective: to sell us stuff.
And by veiling this under the “body positive” image we’re presented with, they’re able to have a wider reach and impact. Because loving your body happens to be fashionable right now. So they manipulate us into buying more products that we don’t really need.
Do these corporations genuinely care about real beauty?
Do they care about our self-esteem, and self-confidence?
And do they operate their businesses in a way that is wholly empowering to women and the earth?
I’d argue no.
All they’re really saying is, our product is for every woman, even the women who look like this. So don’t feel like you’re being excluded; even though we’ve excluded you and exploited your insecurities for decades.
But just so we’re clear, don’t expect to come into our store and find something in your size, even though we had a plus size woman fronting our latest campaign.
Don’t expect to be able to find make-up that accurately suits your South Asian skin tone, just because there’s a brown woman on our billboard.
And don’t expect to look like the un-airbrushed celebrities do in our commercial because, well, they’re celebrities. And you can’t afford the personal trainer, chef, make up artist or expert dermatologist they have on tap.
What’s revolutionary or empowering about that?
These businesses have been selling us insecurity for years. They show us a few slightly more “real” images of ordinary women, and we’re supposed to trust that they’re finally championing us as women?
Seeing more images like this on a daily basis is better than what we were presented with previously. And this makes it easy to feel like we’re making real progress as a society. But the step forward is marginal at best.
It’s a more positive message than being sold new boobs at 2pm on a Tuesday while watching re-runs of your favourite soaps, but it’s nothing to get up off the sofa for and do a happy dance in celebration.
These companies believe that simply by showing us some different pictures and labelling it a “real beauty” campaign, that all our self-esteem issues and body hang-ups will magically be cured. They think it’s enough to tell us we should know better than to judge ourselves.
The message is, these real women love their bodies as they are, so why don’t you?
All of a sudden, we are the ones who feel shame and guilt for the way we feel about ourselves; absolving all of the external messages and forces that directly effect our relationship with our female body, of responsibility.
Once again as a woman, the blame falls firmly at your feet, and you’re made to feel like a raving lunatic. It’s all in your head, can’t you see?
Not one of the corporations behind these ads has attempted to actually solve any of the real problems that harm our self-esteem and self-worth as women. They mistakenly believe that identifying the problem is good enough, while consistently failing to attempt to offer a solution. But that doesn’t stop them from patting themselves on the back, and taking a tonne of credit for making a surface-level change in their marketing strategy; and thinking they’re now awoke.
Those of us who have unconventional bodies are asked to simply change how we feel about ourselves overnight. As if seeing one plus size model with a few dimples on her thighs is all we need to reverse lifetimes of war against the female body.
No one is required to shed light on how or why our body stigma and hatred was collectively learned by us as a gender in the first place. Responsibility is shifted to us as women, and nothing in our society changes.
All these real beauty campaigns succeed in doing is covering over the truth of why women don’t feel happy and at peace with their body. And we already know why.
We know that we’re not born with our insecurities.
We know they are the result of centuries of social conditioning that we still struggle to escape from every day.