Flick’s Jessica Venning-Bryan on marketers’ role in mainstreaming body positivity

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has always rubbed with me. The campaign asks the audience to reflect on what is perceived as ‘beautiful’; which on the surface sounds somewhat noble. But in fact, it is more of the same – a campaign where women’s bodies are the sales tool of choice.

Some of the videos from this long-running, global campaign set women up to confess that they don’t see themselves as beautiful. The conclusion the viewer is lead to draw is that these women’s view of themselves is tragic, pitiful, ridiculous.

It seems flawed that the ‘best’ attempt by a brand to bring body positivity into the mainstream actually publicly chides women for their lack of confidence. It blames women for how they feel. It pits the brave – curvy girls who will pose in their underwear – against the weak. As if to say, ‘ladies, you just need to get over yourselves’.

The depiction of women in marketing, defined by their domestic relationships and their looks – selfless, subservient, self conscious – has a long and troubling history. It has both reflected and perpetuated gender stereotypes.

So I struggle with a brand capitalising on the unravelling of that paradigm, without taking any responsibility for its existence. And worse, not offering an authentic solution that deals with objectification and sexism in advertising.

Meanwhile, the reinforcement of gender normative stereotypes continues. And women continue to feel ashamed of their bodies.

There’s plenty of research that shows women want marketers to move ‘beyond pink’. A whopping 91 percent of women say that advertisers don’t understand them, which represents a real opportunity to engage in a more meaningful way.

In a digital business like ours, that thrives on word-of-mouth, we’re especially interested in women as connectors. Women spend more time online building relationships and participating in communities than men do. We have an opportunity to acknowledge and contribute to their reality when we introduce them to our brand.

Our technology and product also delivers significant monetary value to customers, so women as financial decision-makers is also a rich territory for us. Women control 80% of discretionary spending, and devote significant time online to researching home and financial decisions.

We must connect with women at a deeper level to grow our business and deliver returns to shareholders. Not only is persisting with a one dimensional approach to the female consumer patronising – it’s out of touch and, frankly, lazy.

Businesses have a responsibility to move the game on. Their brands are in a powerful position to reflect honestly the realities of modern life, and make traditionally media-marginalised groups feel like they have a place.

Older women. Single women. Gay women. Trans women. Drag women. Maori, Pacific and Asian women. Sexual women. Women parenting alone. Women with disabilities. Women who are the primary earner.

I challenge businesses to think more broadly about what social responsibility is. It’s not just sponsoring a charity, or replanting trees you tear down. It covers everything a brand says and does, including who is depicted in campaigns, and how.

Normalise diversity. Depict all women living normal lives. Be body positive and sex positive. And don’t focus on the impact of centuries of objectification. This simply keeps women in the vicious cycle of self-critique.

We’ve had a go. We’ve just launched a campaign that puts women front and centre, women in control. Our women are doing normal, everyday things in normal, healthy ways. There’s a good splash of sex-positive humour. There’s no gender stereotyping.

And we’re a power company. Who would have thought?

But that’s what mainstreaming body positivity is. All product categories, all women, all the time. Not exploiting women’s insecurities to sell them a product. Empowering them as consumers to live rich and satisfying lives.

  • This piece originally appeared on Venning-Bryan’s Linked In page.

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