Here are some things I would like advertisers to stop doing:
- Showing me a flawless 18-year-old butt in a $5 pair of panties and tell me its empowering because it’s not Photoshopped.
Asking me to choose “beautiful” or “average” and then explain my choice.
Telling me what physical features “real women” do or do not have.
Showing me a picture of a woman who is radical only for being comfortable with herself and expect a gold star for progressive thinking.
Using the word “real” to sell me underwear or soap or goddamn douche.
These ads often come with a “think of the children” veneer — we must save the little girls growing up bombarded with racy swimsuit ads and Miley Cyrus’s gymnastic tongue! This boring, nanny-state sort of thinking has given us Aerie’s no photoshop campaign, many, many self-righteous Change.org petitions, and lots of praise heaped upon women like Jennifer Lawrence, who dares to be a size 4 instead of a size 0.
Burn this into your brain, teach it to your kids, get it tattooed on the hand you use to swipe your credit card: Brands do not care about you. Brands do not care about what’s “real”. They have a fiduciary responsibility to remind you constantly that something is wrong with you, because that’s what makes you buy stuff. According to them you will always too fat or too skinny or not “real” enough. When it’s being used to sell a product, “being real” by necessity becomes another thing at which women can feel inadequate. A size twelve woman declaring that she, too, is beautiful is not radical. You know what’s radical, what’s really powerful? A woman who understands that beauty doesn’t matter.
Much easier said than done, obviously. But here’s what I would rather teach those girls Dove is so worried about: It does not matter what you look like. That may sound like a flippant thing to say, because, of course, it does matter, in a lot of instances–that’s the world we live in. But do looks matter to your self, your person-ness, your essence? Do they really affect how capable or intelligent or compassionate you are? Nope. (The next time you talk to a little girl, do something really revolutionary: don’t tell her she’s beautiful. Ask her what she’s reading, or how her soccer team is doing, or what she wants to be when she grows up. Tell her she’s smart, tell her she’s strong. Try harder.)
The radical opposite of fake tits and Photoshop is not “real beauty”, not the late-capitalist gospel of “everyone is beautiful”. It’s the hard won knowledge that your appearance is not you. Mistrust anyone who tells you otherwise–they’re probably trying to sell you some soap.