Turning Feminism Into Marketing Has a Serious Downside

Turning Feminism Into Marketing Has a Serious Downside
Source: YouTube
Source: YouTube

The latest in a slew of trendy, female-focused "real beauty" ads is Dove's "Patches," in which women with low self-esteem are tricked into thinking a prescribed beauty patch is making them more confident when — spoiler alert! — there's nothing in the patch. The confidence was there inside them all along. 

This $4 billion corporation is just one of many latching onto the latest "trend" of female empowerment. Just look to American Eagle's "Aerie Real" marketing campaign, Pantene's "Shine Strong" video and every Dove campaign from the last 10 years. Beyond marketers, media in general is glomming onto these concepts of "real" beauty, "real" bodies and feminism, pegging them as newsworthy trends. 


Image Credit: Huffington Post

Today Show hosts devoted an episode to the no-makeup trend as part of their "Love Your Selfie" campaign; ABC News covered a bride who chose to not wear makeup on her wedding day; #nomakeupselfies raised money for cancer (albeit in a kind of pointless and totally confusing manner); and the latest runway style features nude or barely-there makeup. Celebrities, too, are getting in on the action. The May cover of W magazine features actress Rosamund Pike taking off her makeup, and A-listers like Scarlett Johansson and Kate Winslet went makeup-less for the 20th annual Vanity Fair Hollywood edition. And it nearly goes without saying that Beyoncé's self-titled album spurred a nationwide discussion about feminism and what it means to be a modern woman. Self-proclaimed feminist singer Lorde tweeted a "real" picture of herself to protest Photoshop and remind fans that "flaws are OK."

Advocating for women to accept themselves as they are is a noble endeavor, and one that's finally more socially acceptable than ever before. But why are we labeling these ideas as trends? The feminist movement has been around for hundreds of years. There are women who have always believed in celebrating their natural selves, just as there have always been women who don't wear makeup, who embrace their bodies and who believe they're beautiful (or who don't care whether anyone thinks they're beautiful). What's really happening here is a clever and dangerous sham: The beauty industry is keeping the status quo while pretending to upend it.

As we break down gender norms and as the social and political climates begin to lean more toward equality and women's rights, our culture is moving to a place where women are #notbuyingit and subscribing less and less to the beauty myth. That place is a terrifying one for marketers. If the beauty industry loses its power over consumers and can no longer create "problems" for which it can provide solutions, it's out of business. Unless, that is, marketers can convince us they're on board with this cultural shift. So the beauty industry has turned things women have done forever into trends in order to capitalize on them, essentially saying, "We get it: You're 'real.' Real women buy [insert thing you don't need here]."

As Jezebel writer Callie Beusman puts it, for women, calling the no-makeup look "a trend is a big extrapolation. When magazines feature celebrities without makeup, it's a statement because makeup is the industry norm; that statement gets people talking (as we are, now) and sells copies. It's the same sort of thing when celebrities take 'no makeup selfies' — because we expect our idols to appear perfectly coiffed and polished, it's somehow significant when they aren't ... [But] we can't really say that something's a trend for the everywoman if the everywoman has already been doing it without much thought."


Beyoncé ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche - Flawless... by wonderful-life1989

The same goes for feminism and selling products under the guise of empowerment. It allows marketers or movie, music and TV companies to undermine women's agency in the name of trends. By convincing consumers that they're helping empower women through helping them embrace their "true beauty," companies like Dove garner good will for their brand by seeming progressive. But don't be fooled: Dove, Pantene, American Eagle and the like are first and foremost concerned with their bottom line. Underneath these messages remains a product, one that preys on low self-esteem and operates under the assumption that women might be beautiful the "real" way they are, but not so beautiful that they won't continue to need beauty products or colorful undies or diet cereal.

Calling them trends is dangerous in and of itself: The very act implies they have no staying power — that feminism may be popular right now, but at some point it won't be, and that it's acceptable to embrace your natural body, but only until we ride this fad out.

It's important to acknowledge that even if marketers are ultimately concerned with sales numbers, at least they're moving in a forward direction with campaigns that present and celebrate a more progressive view of women. But societally, we'd be remiss to not keep in mind that it's being done upon a premise of "trendiness" — a premise that undermines women's agency and that has a shelf life.

Thankfully, Dove's latest "Patches" ad has already inspired a spot-on parody video that we can only hope is indicative that consumers really are #notbuyingit.


How much do you trust the information in this article?

Michelle Juergen

Michelle is a writer in Southern California and the associate editor of TravelAge West, a Los Angeles-based travel magazine. She's studied journalism and modern art and is known to correct her own grammar mid-sentence. Her interests include but are not limited to snickerdoodles, short stories, feminism, pop culture, Grumpy Cat, other cats, and overusing semicolons. Twitter: @meeshull

MORE FROM

Women beer drinkers finally get the Beer for Her they never asked for

Why drink a rugged manly beer when you can have Aurosa's pink girly beer instead?!

Six months after the Women’s March on Washington, the Resistance Revival has a message for Trump

"Well I/ Went down to the White House and I/ Took back what they stole from me," the Resistance Revival Chorus sang in a Times Square flash mob last weekend.

20 attorneys general write letter urging Betsy DeVos to keep sexual assault protections

The attorneys general reminded DeVos that scrapping Title IX guidance will have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape reporting rates.

New study suggests high workloads and aging doctor population means looming OB-GYN shortage

Obstetricians and gynecologists are overworked at nearing retirement age — without a younger contingent to replace them.

Why pro-life doctors want the First Amendment to protect their right to lie to patients

Crisis pregnancy centers believe they should be exempt from a law saying they should inform patients about all their medical options, including abortions.

‘Brown Girls’ wants to tell women of color’s stories in all their messy, complicated glory

Creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey want to let their characters break free of the neat identity categories people are wont to place them in.

Women beer drinkers finally get the Beer for Her they never asked for

Why drink a rugged manly beer when you can have Aurosa's pink girly beer instead?!

Six months after the Women’s March on Washington, the Resistance Revival has a message for Trump

"Well I/ Went down to the White House and I/ Took back what they stole from me," the Resistance Revival Chorus sang in a Times Square flash mob last weekend.

20 attorneys general write letter urging Betsy DeVos to keep sexual assault protections

The attorneys general reminded DeVos that scrapping Title IX guidance will have a chilling effect on sexual assault and rape reporting rates.

New study suggests high workloads and aging doctor population means looming OB-GYN shortage

Obstetricians and gynecologists are overworked at nearing retirement age — without a younger contingent to replace them.

Why pro-life doctors want the First Amendment to protect their right to lie to patients

Crisis pregnancy centers believe they should be exempt from a law saying they should inform patients about all their medical options, including abortions.

‘Brown Girls’ wants to tell women of color’s stories in all their messy, complicated glory

Creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey want to let their characters break free of the neat identity categories people are wont to place them in.