So it is always of interest to us to take note of the changes around us. Who, for example, would have thought, in the heyday of Photoshopped, celebrity endorsed magazines and ad campaigns, that it could be ‘real’ women; cellulite, flesh, blood and all, that could be making the biggest sales for brands across the world? And now that ‘real’ women are making their way into the media, is there a problem with the fact that the main motivator for businesses may well not be their ethical and social responsibility, but the fact that they have clocked an opportunity for increased sales?
Last year, Getty Images saw the search for pictures of ‘empowered women’ increase by 772%, while brands including Dove and Always pioneered the quest to empower women through their branding, and SheKnows Media, a women’s lifestyle digital media company, presented the first #Femvertising Awards last year.
In the pursuit of ‘real’ women, real blood was even used in Bodyform’s ad campaign showing women scaling the heights of all sorts of sporting arenas with bloodied toes and broken teeth, the embracing tagline being “no blood should hold us back” – a sentiment echoed in Caitlin Moran’s Desert Island Discs interview when she points out that we have no problem with blood and gore in movies, but collectively we squirm at the thought of menstrual blood on screen. Periods of course go well beyond the commercial realm in terms of the discussion around gender equality and opportunities for women across the globe at the moment – just read Meghan Markle’s essay in Time.
We have also been particularly struck by Barbie’s Imagine the Possibilities advert, which is probably a favourite thus far. With many a mum in our Spabreaks.com midst, both staff and clients, many with little girls making their way in the world with so many external influences, it’s wonderful to see this particular product, which has historically been such a potent symbol of objectification and body image, turned into something positive for young girls, as a method to explore their hopes and dreams and talents.
Of course, alongside all of these messages that aim at promoting strong, confident, capable and interesting women who are allowed to be both successful and flawed in their struggle for success in whatever field of personal and professional life they choose, there remains a lot of strong influences that challenge our self confidence.
For every advert that tells us we can do anything, there’s an Instagram feed that pressurizes us into thinking we should have already conquered the world. We should be slim, but not skinny, have beautiful skin, be fit, be the perfect mum, run successful businesses, have inner peace and eat the most perfectly presented free from foods that organic food suppliers can provide. We feel as though we should be all things to all people; by way of illustration, just last week Stylist wrote: “studies have shown that women are less confident about themselves than men. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In stated that women often wait to apply for a job until they meet 100% of the hiring criteria – men apply when they meet just 60%.” That’s a lot of pressure we put on ourselves without external forces adding to it!
In addition to that, the language around even positive marketing, for example the term ‘real’ women, in itself is problematic. As writer Pandora Sykes put it: “My theory (hold onto your knickers) is that all women are real, by dint of being a woman. You’re a woman? Congrats! You win! You’re real!… It is insulting to both parties: to models, to imply that they are not ‘real’ because they occupy a certain clothing size, by either fate or intervention; and, also, to said ‘real women’. ‘Real’ somehow takes on a distasteful tone.” And of course she’s right. When we talk about how groundbreaking it is that ‘real’ women are used in advertising, it is undermining because in actual fact, we’re all ‘real’ women. Perhaps however it is a term that is a necessary evil while we go through the process of change.
For all the work that’s left to be done, and while one would always hope that any message being put out into the ether was one created by people who genuinely believe in it, not least because a genuine message always seems to shout louder than one that’s not, the changes in the way we talk about women are pointing in the right direction.
They’re not perfect yet (ironically), but there is awareness to speak to people in a positive way that’s representational and positively aspirational. The important thing is that the more positive messages there are in the world for both men and women, the better it is for our society as a whole for the long term, and happily that seems to be something we’re all waking up to.
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