Following last year’s all-consuming Protein World ad – which needs no further introduction – I saw a follow-up ad last week and decided to play devil’s advocate by starting a conversation amongst a group of friends. It went a little something like this: “Hey, have you seen the new beach Protein Ad on TV? That’s such a great ad!”. And whoosh, like a volcano violently spewing its molten lava the “conversation” erupted.
Whilst I watched the all-female group argue, chastise and judgey-wudge amongst themselves, it struck me that the problem isn’t the point behind the argument. I’m sure most women agree they should be treated equally to men and shouldn’t be objectified. But maybe it’s the conversation that’s all messed up.
It’s a tangled web with such confusion, and sometimes led by such suspect role models, that it seems that women are no longer sure what helps or hinders their cause. They’re screwing up their own narrative. Feminists don’t know what they’re talking about.
Here’s one of those 2015 tube ads, picturing a girl in a bikini that was altered to say:
(Image @ Katpowder/Instagram)
However, this image posted earlier this year spurned a great deal of copycat celebrity images, in support of being #liberated:
(Image@Kim Kardashian West/Instagram)
Kim Kardashian even wrote an essay saying that in 2016 we should be done with body-shaming and slut-shaming. And it would seem that a lot of people agree. But what’s the difference? Both images used the female form for publicity purposes yet it would seem Feminists can’t agree on what supports and what undermines women .
If both portray a woman with very little clothes on, why is one revered as being liberating and the other deemed as oppressive? How do we determine what is an image that supports women and what is an image that demeans them? Does it matter if they post the picture themselves or if a brand uses their image if the desired outcome is the same? Perhaps this is where the confusion lies.
Perhaps, having the Kardashian clan lead the message isn’t the best idea. Yes they are strong and successful women and not stick thin stereotypes. They break the internet with their curves and they change what it means to be a “supermodel” but they still do it in the knowledge that they manipulate their image and their popularity relies on others finding them sexy and alluring. That’s not entirely the definition of #liberated.
After the original PW campaign was crowned top “Turkey” of 2015, in January of this year the Global ad was awarded “Turkey of the Week” by Campaign. And, whilst I can go along with their criticism of the hackneyed “New Year, New You” slogan, I am thinking we are so quick to jump on the bandwagon that we miss the perhaps (or perhaps not) intended, two-fingered salute to the critics.
We didn’t like the idea that women should be body-shamed into losing weight to fit into a bikini. But here, no-ones suggesting they starve themselves in the pursuit of cultural perfection. Here is the depiction of strong and healthy women who living seemingly healthy lives. But they are doing it in bikinis.
What do feminists say now? Oppressing or liberating?
Would we like to see a fuller (pun intended) range of figures – sure. But can we say hand on heart say that this is demeaning to women – I don’t think so. The feminist narrative has to become clearer. If universally we want the female form to stop being a commodity then the message has to become, in itself, universal.
(Main image @ Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images via Time Magazine)