Damaging the things I hold dear
Yesterday, Sydney man David Ould wrote to Australian underwear company Lovable. He’d read my post on Lovable’s contradictory behaviour and felt he had to do something. It’s good to know there are men who care about the impact of unrealistic sexualised representations of women on the women they love. This is what David wrote:
I’m a married man (almost 10 years) and father of 3 children (including a 6 year old girl who takes in everything she sees around her). I wanted to write to you today about your current advertising campaign featuring Jennifer Hawkins which, I would strongly suggest to you, runs entirely contrary to your stated claim on your website that you are “dedicated to changing the culture surrounding eating disorders and body image … by using happy, healthy models in our campaigns and promotional activities and by continuing to design intimates that are not created to objectify women’s bodies…”
I’ve got to be honest with you. I perceive a complete disconnect between those stated claims and the images of Hawkins that you are using. Specifically you should be aware that use of such images, which portray an almost impossibly “perfect” paradigm of the female body, do damage to three things that I, and I think many other men, hold very dear.
They communicate to my wife that her body is not good enough. By plastering Jennifer’s (no-doubt airbrushed) figure in front of her you’re not giving her something to aspire to but, rather, are telling her with almost sledgehammer subtlety that her body is not what it should be. Let’s be honest, she’s never going to look like Jennifer (which is ok in my book) but does terrible damage to her self-esteem and to that of countless women like her. The irony, of course, is that my wife is actually a beautiful women – its just that the brand values embedded in your images communicate the exact opposite. They hardly “support … the emotional needs of women” – quite the contrary.
They communicate to my daughter the very same message. But more than that, they are very overt in sexualising the issue of underwear. Now, I appreciate that some lingerie is intended for exactly this purpose but that’s not what you yourselves claim for this product line, is it? Rather, you state that you do not intend to “objectify women’s bodies”. Frankly, I have to ask, how does a picture of Jennifer with ice-cream or watermelon juice dripping down her (airbrushed) torso do anything but objectify her? And yet this is the message that you are sending to my daughter and countless other girls growing up in our culture: underwear = sex.
You are communicating to me, and so many other men like me, a completely unrealistic view of women. The images that you use set up a completely false expectation for us and, as a result, do great damage not only to ourselves but also to the women that we love. Sexual intimacy in such relationships is, all the psychologists will tell you, a key component of health and stability and is grounded, not least, in acceptance of one another as we are. But your images drive a wedge right in the middle of such relationships. They make women doubt themselves and, even worse, make men expect something that looks more like Barbie than any real woman. How can this possibly be a positive step towards good body image and related mental wellbeing for either party?
I trust you will take these comments on board as you review your current campaign. I look forward to your response to my specific points.
With kind regards
“We strive to represent happy, healthy and realistic body images”: Lovable responds
Dear David and Jacquie [the letter was copied to David’s wife]
Thank you for contacting us at Lovable.
In regards to your specific points, 1 and 2:
We take a serious view of the way women are portrayed in the media and in particular in our campaigns. We are very aware of the impact the type of images and messages can have on people. We strive to represent happy, healthy and realistic body images that capture the essence of Lovable’s brand values of being confident and comfortable. We do not deny that the image has been slightly retouched for colour correction purposes, as is done by most advertisers.
We believe that a healthy body on the inside is the most important priority for all women. That includes your wife and daughter’s happiness, their comfort and the pride they take in who they are. We have put this into practice by ensuring that our Lovable range is available in a size range from 8 – 18 and it remains affordable for all Australian women. We have also purposefully chosen a range of women of different sizes to reflect this on our website, including our maternity models (size 14) and DD cup model (size 12). We will take on board your comments to reflect more body shapes in forthcoming online store activities.
The creative was not developed to offend or to “objectify women’s bodies”, but use Lovable’s cheeky tone of voice to demonstrate the new Colour names for our advertised product via fun Props that remind the viewer of Summer, Lemon sorbet, Blueberry milkshake etc.
This was the intention of the creative agency, the Lovable team and our brand ambassador. Lovable sells products to Women only and hence the advertisement has been placed in shows and Magazines targeting women.
The Campaign has been received well in general by our consumers, but we understand that lingerie advertising does indeed cause issues, whether viewed on Billboards or Television. The Rating that Lovable was given by Commercials Advice Pty Ltd (CAD) commonly used for rating Television commercials was a G Rating.
Lovable are proud of The Butterfly Foundation‘s fantastic work in eating disorder research, awareness and prevention programs.
During September, 25% of profits from our online store will be donated directly to The Butterfly Foundation.
MARKETING & PR MANAGER – WHOLESALE BRANDS
David cuts through the PR Spin
Many thanks for taking the time to respond. I wonder if I might point out to you, however, the worrying nature of what you wrote.
You write that you “strive to represent happy, healthy and realistic body images”. Can I ask you, do you honestly think that Jennifer’s body is a realistic image for most women?
You write that “[t]he creative was not developed to offend or to “objectify women’s bodies”, but use Lovable’s cheeky tone of voice to demonstrate the new Colour names for our advertised product via fun Props…” Can I ask you a serious question – do you actually think I’m stupid? I don’t mean this in a confrontational way but I had to ask. I ask because the images, (here they are again), are so blatantly sexualised (particularly the first 2, although Jennifer’s “come hither” eyes in the 3rd panel leave little to the imagination either) that only a few possible conclusions are open to me:
1. You honestly don’t think they are. Now, I seriously doubt this. You work in the field of marketing and public relations. You know very well what these images communicate. Do you need me, for example, to explain the blatant fellatial imagery of the first panel? Surely neither of us is going to continue that pretense? I don’t think you can be that bad at your job that you don’t get it. On the contrary, we both know that the images were chosen exactly for this reason.
2. You think I’m stupid, or at least terribly naïve. I look at the images. I see that they’re highly sexualised. I communicate that to you. But, nevertheless you write your stock answer which only serves to tell me that either you didn’t take what I wrote seriously or you ignored it anyway. Either way, your response is communicating to me that you think I’m stupid. Surely you would not treat someone this way?
3. (and I truly hope this is the case) You actually agree with what I’m writing but you’re in a terribly difficult position because you realise the obvious fact: there is a gross discongruity between the images and the stated aim of Lovable to “[change] the culture surrounding eating disorders and body image” and the donations made to the Butterfly Foundation. Again, in coming to this preferred conclusion I’m assuming that you’re intelligent and, furthermore, you have integrity – both intellectual and moral. If that is the case then can I make a suggestion to you? Resign. A principled resignation by someone responsible for communication at Lovable would be a noble thing to do. After all, they’re asking you to massively compromise your integrity by writing these sorts of emails to people like me. You don’t want to pretend that you can’t see these images for what they are. You surely don’t want to treat me as though I’m stupid. So, Justine, I’m left urging you to resign.
Since Lovable clearly doesn’t want to listen to those from the outside, perhaps they’ll listen to those on the inside? Seriously, Justine and Dianne – do you look at those images and think “realistic” and “not objectifying”? These people aren’t just insulting their customers. They’re insulting and demeaning you by making you write this nonsense to me.
Please, for the sake of my wife, my daughter, me, your customers and, not least, yourselves, will you please stop the nonsense and actually do something about this? And please, please, please, don’t send me another stock answer. Actually engage with the issues that I and so many others are raising with you.
Yours in all genuine sincerity,