Thanks to our friends at ‘The Illusionist’ for this blog post on Dove. With the deluge of lovey-dovey isn’t Dove wonderful guff all over the social media stratosphere, it was refreshing to read this piece which sums up all that is wrong with the so-called ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. So what if they make cool videos? Does that justify everything else the company does? Collective Shout has had Dove in its sights since our inception four years ago, and its parent company Unilever continues to appear on our annual ‘Cross ‘em off your XMAS list’
This week my inbox was flooded with emails from friends and acquaintances – who had forwarded me the link to the latest Dove “Real Beauty” video, highlighting the disconnect between women’s perceptions of their own attractiveness and how outsiders see them. The point of the video is to show that women are often too critical of their looks. I was glad to see how this video sparked important conversations in the blogosphere and social media. But there’s a dark side to Dove that many people are unaware of.
I had written a blog post about some problematic aspects of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign back in October 2008. Recently, while researching material for my feature-length documentary, I came across more evidence that supported my earlier points. Thing is – I’ve been reluctant to speak up about these issues for several reasons. The key ones:
Dove’s campaigns are the only ones that – at least on the surface – promote positive body image, in an ocean of toxic advertising set to make women feel insecure about their looks
I am acquainted with several people connected to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign – they’re good-intentioned people I deeply respect and admire.
I actually really like Dove’s videos
So, I considered these issues and thought about the latest email I received from my friend S. I wondered, would she feel that same way if she knew the other side of the story? My hunch: probably not. Staying quiet would be the easy thing to do. But is it the right thing to do?
So, without further ado, I am addressing the big elephant in the room. Below you will find my original post about Dove – with some tweaks and updates reflecting new evidence I recently discovered.
About three months ago, upon completing the first phase of research for my film, I held two slideshow presentations in front of an audience of friends, acquaintances, and a few people working in the TV/movie industry in Paris. Very much in the style of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
At the heart of the presentation is the assertion that the obsession over the pursuit of the perfect female body is one of the integral parts of the capitalist system. If women were suddenly content with their appearance – accepting their body size, skin tone, wrinkles, graying hair, and the size and shape of their breasts, amongst other things – entire industries would collapse. Indeed worldwide revenues for cosmetics, dieting products, and cosmetic surgery totaled almost 500 billion dollars in 2006. Thus the saturation of images in advertising and mass media promoting an idealized, surgically-enhanced beauty that is impossible to achieve.
Well, during my presentations I would invariably get asked about the company Dove and its campaign for “Real Beauty.” Wasn’t that refreshingly positive? People would ask. It is a question that comes up every time I talk about my project. The short answer? Yes and no.
The people at Dove have actually exploited a void in the marketplace. By introducing so-called women with “real” bodies, they distinguished themselves from their competitors. According to the New Yorker, after the introduction of their “Real Beauty” campaign, Dove’s sales shot up 700% in the U.K. Read more here.
And what about this, also brought to you by Unilever?
You know the one thing that’s more insulting than blatantly sexist/misogynistic advertising?
Advertising that touts pseudo-feminism but sends the exact same bigoted message, only cloaking it in women’s liberation to soften the blow.
Take the new ad from Triumph Lingerie Australia, for example. The ad’s tagline reads ‘Welcome to the Republic of Triumph’ and asks women to declare themselves. The associated image is rather epic – featuring lingerie-clad women marching and waving Mao-ish red flags while holding protest signs aloft. One of the signs reads “It’s my right to have a career and a baby” while another declares “It’s my right to smash the glass ceiling.”
Except the ad’s attempt at appealing to our feminist souls is an epic fail, because the women featured are not only perfectly perky and seriously skinny, they’re also airbrushed to the nth degree and look decidedly plastic and flawless. They are entirely, disturbingly unreal.
The Triumph ‘feminist’ message that sits alongside its contradictory content is awful, but by no means is it the first time a company has hidden misogynistic agendas behind pseudo-feminist armour.
Take the Dove real beauty campaign, for example. The toiletries company claims to be about advertising images of women with real bodies, of all ages who are ethnically diverse. An admirable effort.
But their ‘real beauty’ campaign is utterly hollow, when Dove is owned by Unilever who sell such patriarchal products like ‘Fair and Lovely’ skin-lightening cream (which is particularly popular in India where women are made to feel that the lighter their skin, the more beautiful they’ll be).
Or how about everyone’s favourite (insert sarcasm) athletic company, Nike? For a little while there they actually churned out some (surprisingly, begrudgingly) good and powerful ads that portrayed famous sportswomen not as sex symbols, but as the tough athletes they are in the feminist ‘Rock Victorious’ campaign of 2010.
But any ground Nike gained with women has been lost after their EPIC FAIL in releasing a Gold Digging t-shirt to ‘celebrate’ the fact that female athletes bought home 29 of Team USA’s 46 gold medals at the London Olympic Games.
If that t-shirt was Nike’s attempt at showing support for their female athletes, then we’d prefer they Just Not Do It.
But, back to the Triumph Australia ad and its ‘Declare Yourself’ feminist message alongside contradictory models. The height of irony is that one of the models is waving a sign that says “It’s my right to feel good about myself” – so we hope women looking at this ad take a moment to note the wrinkle-free, no-bulge-in-sight, big-breasted (airbrushed) models in their bras and undies and Declare themselves unimpressed with this faux-feminism marketing campaign.
‘How dare the elite media and privileged individuals who think themselves superior to the average mother, deride mothers and imply they’re not eligible for a view on how society should be improved?’
The articles last week in New Matilda (Trixie Wellington), Crikey (Helen Razer) and ABC Unleashed (Lauren Rosewarne) were so nasty and hurtful to mothers who are legitimately doing their best to make sure their daughters don’t come to any harm from men.
What about mothers who are survivors who might feel like they worry too much about child sexualisation stuff? (which I don’t think is possible). It’s just feeding into their self-doubt, and disempowering them from taking proper action to try and protect their kids better than they were protected.
I think there’s an implicit message in Wellington’s article that mothers are looking at their daughters sexually, which she should be called out on. This is an outrageous claim – Australian courts are currently chock full of, not women, but men who have decided to extend their violent pornography consumption to children. The statistics are huge and getting worse by the year.
Of course we would all love men to come to their senses and begin to lead decent lives like women have managed to for hundreds of years, but at this point in history there’s no indication they’re collectively deciding to do that. So, in the meantime, we have to let mothers feel as empowered as possible to protect their kids, without feeling like they’re weird or being told, (with no evidence) their agenda is puritanical: to ‘shame’ girls and put them in burqas?
How dare the elite media and privileged individuals who think themselves superior to the average mother, deride mothers and imply they’re not eligible for a view on how society should be improved? It smacks of classism. Why are mothers not eligible to speak on behalf of other women? Why can’t they lead the women’s movement (however that’s defined)?
Why can’t we have a women’s movement that’s influenced by our concern for children? Do we have to hide the fact we’re mothers if we want to speak out? And what’s with ‘feminists’ siding with corporations over an individual mother? How could that happen?
More than ever, we need to stand together across the class divide to protect children against trends like sexualisation. Disparaging and belittling mothers, who are most qualified to speak on behalf of children, is just a good way to let the corporations win.
The pornification of culture occurs because not enough of us have children’s rights foremost in our minds. On a daily basis mothers are going about their lives with children’s wellbeing and welfare as their top priority, so we could learn from their example.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global Urban and, Social Studies at RMIT University and a contributor to Big Porn Inc: exposing the harms of the global pornography industry.
Today’s post begins with an actual account of the meeting that took place when the Lynx ‘Clean your balls’ campaign was born.*
It’s late on a Friday afternoon. Lynx executives sit side-by-side with the most brilliant minds in the advertising industry. They’re ready to make history. Ready to win awards.
The brief is simple: sell Lynx men’s shower gel. Ties are loose at necks. Hands are running through product-filled fringes. One guy’s watching Bikini Car Wash III on his iPad.
‘All right, men,’ begins Lynx’s highest ranking officer. ‘What have we got?’
A young man in a tailored suit speaks up. University-educated, well travelled, crisp accent. ‘Balls,’ he says emphatically.
Some nods. Some looks of confusion. Some uncomfortable shifting in seats.
‘What’s wrong with breasts?’ the boss asks. ‘Breasts sell everything.’
‘We’ve done breasts before. We need something edgier. More creative. More tangible.’
‘Balls . . .’ the boss muses, warming to the idea. ‘Talk me through it.’
‘We use different sorts of balls, you know, like tennis balls and golf balls, as a metaphor for … well, balls.’
‘Bit opaque isn’t it? There must be some way we can get breasts in there?’
‘No, sir, not really. It would compromise the thematic premise.’
‘Hmm. A commercial without breasts.’ He sits back, squints his eyes and tries to imagine such a curious creature. ‘It’s a risk, but I’m going to back it. You know I love creative ideas!’
The campaign is offensive; it’s meant to be, as Lynx has more-or-less confessed (though they use the phrase ‘sharp and edgy’).
What Lynx hasn’t explained is why it has to be so unaccountably juvenile. It’s not clear from the campaign video whether the whole thing is for an actual product or is just a snigger-fest put together by a bunch of fourteen-year-olds with Final Cut Pro and too much time on their hands.
Call me a crazy, femo loving wowser, but why does Lynx have to use puerile double entendre to sell shower gel? Have all the good ideas really run out? They talk about being mavericks, but what’s maverick about objectifying women? Just about every ad agency on the planet is doing that.
Women? How could this be objectifying women? It’s all about balls.
No, it’s not. It’s about the premise that women exist primarily for men’s sexual gratification. No matter how much Lynx claims this is a ‘sharp and edgy’ campaign, it has the same misogynistic foundation as so much of the other tripe we’re served up by advertisers on a daily basis. All of them infusing our minds with the idea, explicit or not, that women are mindlessly stumbling from one opportunity to pleasure their menfolk to the next. That’s the sum total of their contribution to society. And here’s a tip, lads, if you use the right shower gel, they won’t be able to help themselves.
But Lynx wasn’t going to stop at one overproduced advertisement. Just to prove that the campaign team had more than one brilliant idea, they decided to knock off a picture of the Hockeyroos – you know, the incredibly dedicated sportswomen representing Australia at the next Olympics – and plaster it on Lynx’s corporate Facebook page with the blisteringly witty caption ‘These girls sure know how to handle balls.’ Seriously? Sharp and edgy? Or disrespectful and lame?
Has anyone actually said ‘edgy’ in conversation since 1996?
Two-faced Unilever is the parent company that owns Lynx. Unilever also owns Dove. Dove campaigns for real beauty. Lynx objectifies women. Enough said, I’d suggest, but Miles Mainwaring says it better than me anyway so check out his article highlighting Unilever’s hypocrisy.
Of course, the team at Lynx will be slapping their palms red from all the high-fiving at every negative word spoken; free publicity, campaign longevity! Well the joke’s on you Lynx, because no-one actually reads this blog.
But you know what, maybe I’ve been a bit harsh. At least the campaign was original.
The original Axe campaign, which Lynx ripped off and re-badged for an Australian audience
* Today’s post did not really begin with an actual account of the meeting that took place when the Lynx ‘Clean your balls’ campaign was born. But if advertisers want us to think they’re more than a group of adolescents in suits with way too much money, give us something clever, creative and maybe even funny. Please leave the smut and objectification behind.
Guy Sigley is a Melbourne-based writer who works in communications by day and blogs by night. A father of young children, Guy began his blog The WorldTells Me to oppose the profit-driven sexploitation and misogyny so widespread in popular culture.
“A woman will see this as a representative of herself and her self-worth”
Have come across some great blog posts on the stuff that matters here at MTR and I thought you should see them too. Opt 4 has perfectly captured the way objectification of women and girls is harful to them. And there’s some great action points at the end!
You’re flipping through your favorite magazine, newspaper, or just general rag that happens to be around. You’re focusing on 1-2 things per page, and if you asked most people they wouldn’t know half of what they saw while they were flipping the pages. You noticed a phone number here, a dress someone was wearing there, an interesting 100 word article that you skimmed, but nothing truly significant…and you put the mag down and (if you’re like most of us, like the majority of the people int he world) you’ll pick up another one and do something very similar.
What you don’t realize is that though you thought you were just flipping, your mind has allowed you to think that through the use of many many filters. If you consciously knew everything you saw, you’d go into brain overload.
SCARY PART – Your brain is imprinted with every single thing that crosses your eyes. It’s imprinted ont he main central control unit, or the CPU of your brain, the part of your brain that is in complete control of your thinking, your emotions, and how you live your life – your subconscious.
So in your 10 minutes of flipping, your brain was imprinted with every picture you saw.
Now, a lot of research has been done (by marketing and advertising agencies…this is no coincidence) as to what will catch your eye, what colors will entice and shock you, and what images and shapes will cause your eye to imprint onto your subconscious. The breadth of research is phenomenal…and it’s where a lot of our optical illusions come from. So everything that crosses your eyes’ path, is immediately imprinted on your main central influence section of your brain.
To begin this series we’ll start with Print media consumption.
So what are we looking at on a daily basis…here’s a group of print ads:
This blog has spoken about the problems of print media for years:
These are a very very very small example of ads that are seen throughout the fashion magazine, glamour magazines, and women magazine industries. Ads depicting women in brutal, abusive, object-like ways are churned out by the millions.
Most magazines are on average 60% advertising. Many of the fashion magazines ramp it up to 80-90% advertising if you add the captions that tell you the price and make of the things the models are wearing.
So let’s quickly do the numbers and see how far-reaching these images can be – Each magazine has about 800,000 subscribers (this is a very low number). There are 7 ads in each of our hypothetical magazines (the pictures above), that means these images were imprinted on 800,000 people. in a year, these people have each been imprinted with 84 images….that means 800,000 people have been accustomed and trained that images of violence against women are merely advertising and entertainment.
Now add this 800,000 to 10 different magazines for a total of 8,000,000 people! That is a country. That is a large cross-section of our Untied States. The sad part is that this is a low number.
With what we know of brain imprinting we know that these images were imprinted on the subconscious and then created into a thought and opinion. A woman will see this as a representative of herself and her self-worth. A man will see this as a Representative of women in general and is actively learning how to treat “her” through these images. When we see 1 million images a day and 1/2 of them depict violence against women and gender inequality – we have a very heavy imprinting on our brain to think 1 view and idea of women.
When we put all of the ads together we see only 1 thing:
When 1 gender is seen to be superior to another gender, the superior gender will react in violence towards that lesser gender. This has been seen in racism, ageism, and sexism!
Add another aspect to this: Remember what I said above: “A woman will see this as a representative of herself and her self-worth.” Not only are men seeing that women should be treated with violence and that they as men are superior, but women are being taught they deserve this violence and they are less than a man. When a group of people are taught to see themselves as less than another group – the downtrodden group accepts the violence that is put on them as deserved and “normal”.
By allowing our brains to consume these images and by allowing these images to exist, we are promoting and imprinting on our brains – inequality towards women and violence towards women.
opt 4 writing letters to every advertising agency and magazine to end this violent campaign against women.
Opt 4 eliminating this kind of consumption from our society.
Opt 4 ending the consumption of disrespectful print media
It’s been an interesting few weeks for women (read: depressing). Lingerie Football League, yet another hyper-sexualised plus-sized model fashion spread, and a Bollywood star who hasn’t lost her pregnancy weight being called a fat elephant (she even got a YouTube clip dedicated to the weight gain, with elephant sound effects accompanying her image). Oh, and let’s not forget Cambridge University’s “Rear of the Year” competition, where women posted pictures of their behinds online to be rated, and hopefully win the title (what an honour!).
But this one really takes the cake. Bulgarian magazine 12 has released a beauty editorial spread depicting women as victims of physical abuse. The pictorial features glamorous and heavily made up women with an array of gory injuries, including a slit throat, ripped out piercings, acid burns and a woman’s mouth cut into a wide smile.
Titled “Victims of Beauty,” the so-called beauty spread is a visual slap in the face for women who have encountered this kind of sickening abuse. But what is most disheartening is that it isn’t the first time the fashion industry has displayed complete apathy towards violence against women. And it is very unlikely that it will be the last.
These kinds of images are nothing new. Seeing women shown as the victims of implied male violence — or victims of any violence, frankly — in what is an overwhelmingly female industry, in magazines that are overwhelmingly run, written, and edited by women, has always troubled me. It troubled me back when I was a model, and was asked to take part in shoots that had themes of violence and death. It troubles me now that I merely see these images in the fashion media, which are largely the women’s media.
It’s a given that fashion magazines — like other forms of mass media — often aim to shock. Because they like the attention. Because they like the ad dollars. Because they like the rebellious reputation that shocking us squares confers. But it’s still worthwhile to examine the means by which they achieve that shock value. The high-fashion world in general loves to think of itself as contrarian, élite, and boldly at odds with the tastes and mores of the wider public. It likes to think that it, in fact, leads those tastes. But much of the imagery the fashion industry uses to communicate its messages at best echoes and at worst reinforces some of the wider culture’s most negative ideas about women and girls.
We believe that images such as ours can be seen from various angles…Where some see a brutal wound, others see a skilful work of an artist, or an exquisite face of a beautiful girl. That being said, we do understand why some accuse us of promoting, in a way, violence, but we do not agree with that, and we think that it is very narrow-minded way of looking at the photographs.
And after all, isn’t it true that we see brutally wounded people all the time, in real life – on television, in the news, in movies, videogames, magazines and websites, and they are all very different, but alike in one thing: some are real, some are not. And fashion photography is an imitation of real life, sometimes realistic, sometimes delicate, other times grotesque, or shocking.
They go on to call critics sexist (because if it were men we may not have the same outraged response) and question what our reaction would be if the images were part of a campaign against domestic violence. But here’s the thing: these images of battered women were not created to spread awareness of physical abuse. They were not created to invite you to do something about the very real and heartbreaking issue of violence against women. They were designed for the sake of shock value, and shock value only. By publishing it in the beauty section of a magazine – a section that exists to give the reader an aesthetic ideal to aspire to – what kind of message are they sending?
In the last few years we’ve seen advertisements and magazine editorials glorifying images of women being strangled, as corpses, dead in car boots, with nooses around their necks and in gang rape situations. This usually followed by claims of it being “art” or to “make a statement.” Whatever you try to disguise it as, the constant bombardment of violent imagery with women as its main focus is an appalling credit to the fashion and beauty industry; especially as it is an industry that is for the most part, still dominated by women.
But soon they will have exhausted every means possible to shock us and grab our attention, and then what will they be left with? Nothing but an empty jar of eyeshadow and the bad taste of moral redundancy in their mouths.
Jane, 23, is nearing the end of her Media degree at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, and describes herself as “passionate about communicating with teenagers and young women about the importance of self-respect and a healthy body image”.
More sexploitation from a repeat corporate offender
Men’s deodorant brand Lynx – owned by Unilever – has added to it’s ongoing list of degrading ads with the company’s latest promotion, “Lynx, cleans your balls.”
We began hearing from CS supporters about the ad via our Facebook page when it aired on television. We checked out the video on YouTube where it was promoted on the home page. The company’s teenage target market are frequent visitors to the site.
We were asked to comment on the ad for the Herald Sun:
The controversial three-minute Lynx ad titled Cleans Your Balls stars actor and singer [Sophie] Monk in a mock tele-ad showing men how to wash sports balls.
The ad, which is full of double-entendres, has been criticised as crass and oversexualised by lobby group Collective Shout.
Co-founder Melinda Liszewski said up to 10 members had lodged complaints with the Advertising Standards Bureau because it was degrading to women and condescending to men.Read entire article.
Melinda Tankard Reist was also asked about the ad on Melbourne radio 3AW:
Co-founder of Collective Shout Melinda Tankard Reist said she was unsurprised by the tact that “repeat corporate offenders” Lynx had taken with their latest campaign.
Number of complaints is reported again in the media, view this as free advertising
When the ASB upholds complaints (if they uphold complaints) act indignant but agree to comply with the ruling even though you can’t do anything about the majority of other sites still hosting your ‘controversial’ ad. This will be perfectly timed with the natural end of the ad campaign anyway.
Slap each other on the back for a job well done and roll around in money, like Scrooge McDuck
Here’s something Lynx may have missed.
Lynx may be advertising deodorant and body wash, but they are also advertising the failure of the ASB to reign in recalcitrant advertisers. Lynx have done this before and they will do it again. They will face no financial penalties for continuing to run ads that are sexist, demeaning and that breach the Advertising Industry code of conduct.
We will keep speaking out because we believe silence has never changed anything and never will. Lynx’s latest ad campaign – like their previous ad campaign – highlights the inadequacies of the ASB and demonstrate why an independent body or authority is needed to replace it. Penalties should be put in place to ensure that advertisers cannot use self regulation to do whatever they want.
So thanks Lynx for helping us to make our case for independent advertising regulation in Australia. We will be sure to ‘advertise’ you at the next government enquiry.
As for Lynx’s claim that their ad is ‘sharp and edgy’ we’ll leave the last word to Allison who wrote:
I sat through that ad on the big screen. You could sense every person in the cinema cringing. No one thought it funny at all. My male companion felt embarrassed to be the target of such purile crap & he grew up watching Benny Hill.
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
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“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
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“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.