Sunday, 28 June 2015

No, No One Thinks You Have to be Fat to be a "Real Woman"

Recently, there has been a slew of articles about a photoshoot of women who aren't models - popularly dubbed 'ordinary' or 'normal' or 'real' women - wearing Victoria's Secret swimming costumes. The photos they took were placed next to the ones in the catalogues, in which the suits were worn by models.

As it got thrown around social media, this was the photo that most often accompanied the headline:

Which is a perfectly valid example of a non-model wearing one of the swimming costumes the models wore. And most of the people I saw sharing it accepted that.

But I saw a handful of people making comments about it as if they were offended. Comments like:

Oh, so in order to be a real woman you have to be fat?

I see loads of women who could be models, why are they making such a big deal about it being unrealistic?

Comments that seemed to miss the point.

The point wasn't that she was fat. It was that she was the kind of woman who isn't typically photographed weaing revealing clothing, outside of pictures taken by friends and family.

It also showed they hadn't bothered to read the article before judging it. If they had looked at it, they'd see that only two of the six women involved were noticeably overweight.

Including those two women showed exactly the kind of diversity that the media, generally, doesn't. And that advertising and catalogues and other such outlets rarely do either. The difference in the shape, size and look of all of the women in the non-model photoshoot was designed to exeplify how ridiculous it is to expect all women to conform to such rigid standards of beauty as are projected in the mainstream media.

The main differences between the models and the non-models is not size. It's the wide variation between the women featured. They're not all the same shape, they're not all the same colour, they're not all perfectly tanned or waxed.

But they still look good in their swim suits, the way women do when they buy a swimming costume that suits them. They look confident and they look like they're enjoying themselves takng photos on the beach.

The point of the photoshoot isn't to show how unreaslistic the body shapes of typical models are, but to reflect the lack of diversity in mainstream modelling and to show how unnecessary that is. By taking many different kinds of women - including some whose photos aren't all that different from the originals - and not airbrushing their imperfections out, they show that modelling doesn't need to be so exclusive.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

I Miss Dawn French in Chocolate Ads

I can't remember a time when there wasn't a fair amount of hullaballoo about the kind of women used in advertising. Whatever they're promoting, they're usually models of some description designed to make the target viewer either want to be her or want to bang her. Using these idealised and, when in print form, airbrushed women doesn't make for a realistic advert.

It's just something I've become used to.

But it's also something I don't really understand. I think a really good example of this is in chocolate advertising.

A lot of chocolate adverts make it out to be a luxury item that beautiful, successful women indulge in from time to time. And that's great. Really, chocolate should be a luxury item. It's not the kind of thing you can just eat and eat and eat and not have to deal with some consequences. Presenting it as such is probably for the best.

But that doesn't make for fun advertising.

So they make it sexy, they make it naughty. They, like most other advertisers, show a typically attractive-shaped woman enjoying it in a sometimes worryingly sexual way. They're enjoying it almost too much.

Flake ad, 1991
I understand that the idea is that viewers will want to be that successful, attractive woman who still allows herself indulgences from time to time, so why wouldn't they pick that same choice of luxury sweet?

But none of them have ever resonated with me. Those adverts have never been the reason I have chosen a particular brand of chocolate over any other. Largely because I don't tend to pick my food based on advertising anyway. But also because all those very similar adverts don't make an impact on me. I care so litte about those stuck up bitches who treat chocolate like masturbation.

For a chocolate ad to impress me, it should make me feel like chocolate makes me feel. Yeah, it's an indulgence, so after I've had some I feel satisfied and happy.

Kind of like I feel after the Dawn French Terry's Chocolate Orange adverts.

They were a special kind of clever.

They used a woman who didn't look like a model. It wasn't an unattainable goal to be like her one day. She looked like a normal woman, who enjoyed chocolate enough to have the authority to comment on what good chocolate. She looked happy, too, with her Chocolate Orange. She didn't treat chocolate like a dirty little secret. She treated it like something that enhanced her quality of life.

In those ads, at least.

And they were funny. Which is probably why I remember them so vividly from my childhood. I like funny things a lot. I haven't seen an advert for anything that I've enjoyed quite so much in recent years. What makes it good advertising is simply that I remember it so well, and still find it funny, so long after it was broadcast. I have fond memories of the Terry's Chocolate Orange ad from when I was seven years old.

It helps that I really like Dawn French anyway. But I could also identify with it, especially as a chubby kid who did horde chocolate when I had it.

There are simple reasons I still like this ad. Largely because there's not a lot like it any more.

It's an advert that shows how real people treat real things and can still make its product look good.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Shaving Ads and Sexism. Kinda.

I remember a little back, there was a bit of controversy about this waxing ad:

I understood the objections. While it doesn't go out of its way to persecute or belittle any specific group of people, I can understand why it could be considered sexist or homophobic. I understand why people might take offence at it and I understand why people disliked it.

But I also dislike most shaving or waxing ads. Anything that makes body hair removal look like a necessity rather than a luxury feels somewhat off to me.

In the same way that the now infamous 'beach body ready' ad inspired controversy, it belittles body types other than those depicted as being desirable and it is considered likely to upset people who have existing issues with body image. And so on and so forth. The key issues with it are going to the same as the ones that you could raise about basically anything that promotes unnattainable standards of beauty and expects ordinary women to strive for it.

But, at first, I didn't there was going to be a way of making a body hair removal ad that you couldn't find some kind of issue with. If you think about, most of the taglines and main selling points in those adverts are based on the assumption that women must get rid of their body hair. Probably not all, but off the top of my head (and I admit I haven't studied them in particular depth and I don't even have a TV box any more) I can't think of any that don't embrace that attitude.

And I think the problem is that it's not seen as a luxury. Hair removal is presented as a necessity. And that's why people take offence.

And it's easy to see how, without that pressure to conform, those products won't sell anywhere near as well.

But with a bit of creative thinking, there are plenty of ways that you can eschew those uncomfortable insinuations and still make an effective ad. They just have to embrace what is good about shaving for women. What, specifically, makes it a desirable luxury for the people removing their hair. Instead of making them feeling ugly or unattractive for not doing it.

Even just thinking about it, it sometimes seems that the benefit of shaving is for the people around the shaved person, rather than that person herself. For whoever looks at her or touches her. She, really, won't notice it all that much because, if she conforms to the expectations of these ads, she will be perpetually smooth. She won't experience any other way of being.

But I know a fair amount of people who hold feminism close to heart, but still shave their legs. Because it is their choice. Some of them choose not to shave their armpits, though. And considering the difference between the two areas is where you find what benefits shaving actually has for the woman doing it.

Because that benefit, simply, is luxury.

When you shave an armpit, it remains an armpit. A part of the body that, no matter how you decorate it, remains basically the same. It might get a bit more ticklish bald. But that's it. Otherwise, it's still a kind of boring and fairly unsexy part of the body that is best known for being sweaty.

When you shave a leg, though, the way you experience it changes completely. The wind feels different against it. It feels nicer. You can feel it so much more clearly. It's cool and pleasant, brushing directly against smooth skin. The same can said of lots of things - of warm sunshine and long grass and clean bedsheets. It feels different on a smooth surface than a furry one. In a positive way.

With that as the focus, I'd be far more inclined to buy hair removal products. The way that I will enjoy the world because of it, when I choose to experience that luxury. I don't want to be told that I have to shave my legs every day in order to be accepted.

But I do like having the option of going out as smooth as possible in short shorts on a sunny day and appreciating how different the world feels that way.