sexualisation

All posts in the sexualisation category

American Apparel Marketing and the Objectification of Women

Published December 4, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

*Heads up:  This post is going to have several photographs of women in little to no clothing, in poses that may represent sexual acts.  If you feel you may find these photographs offensive, triggering or upsetting, please do not continue reading this post.  This post also may not be considered safe for work, children or your Grandma.  Come back and have a look when you’re at home/they’re not watching.

I need to write the post that others failed when they wrote about American Apparel’s marketing and promotions.  It’s been a big week for me, with another big week coming, and I wasn’t sure I would have the spoons to blog about this topic yet, but I can’t leave it alone.

I won’t link to other posts.  You really don’t need to read them, they’re full of slut shaming (the misogynistic  judgement of women for having/displaying any sexuality), denial of female sexuality and general loathing towards women who they deem outside the “nice girl” box.  There is the use of words like slutification, pornification and sexualisation.  All of which conflate female sexuality with objectification, which is not helpful at all in taking on the negative stereotypes of women that are perpetuated in marketing and media.  Plus there is a rather massive dose of bullying and mean girl behaviour going on with most of them too.

Instead, I want to talk about American Apparel and the objectification of women that they perpetuate with their marketing.

I don’t know if any of you have seen any of American Apparel’s marketing.  Here’s an example:

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Now American Apparel make a whole bunch of Lycra/Spandex/Elastane stuff that you would consider as dance wear, gym wear, sports wear etc.  So yeah, it’s the kind of thing you expect to see dancers in, and it’s body fitting, because that’s what those kinds of garments are meant to do.  Tights, leotards, socks and similar things aren’t meant to be baggy and body hiding.

However, American Apparel seem to really think that women should always be presented in sexual positions in their marketing.  Legs open, bent over with bared buttocks, sexually available and open.  Often you won’t see the woman’s face, but if you do, she’s expressionless, vacant, compliant, submissive.  There is often alcohol involved which to me implies a removal of control from the women depicted as well.  Often the female models are splayed out in beds, sometimes with other clothing partially removed or yanked down to expose buttocks and genital areas.  Here are a few more examples:

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Very provocative stuff, as you can see.  Women in American Apparel marketing are treated as objects, laid out and available for the viewer to have whatever they like of them.

I’m not sure who this is marketing too.  Is it the women who would wear these items of clothing?  Would they respond favourably to this kind of imagery and go out and buy these products?  Or are the marketing images aimed at someone else?  Are they designed to create buzz in their controversy?

If you do a Google Image search for American Apparel, you will find they also sell men’s garments too, as well as some children’s pieces.  I noticed that the imagery for men and children are far, far less objectified than those for women.  The male models chosen always seem to be older looking than the women they use for their marketing too.  And they seem to opt for white men and children yet with a lot of the marketing images of women, they choose a high proportion of very young looking Asian and Latin American women.

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Personally I find the objectification of women in American Apparel’s marketing highly offensive.  Women are almost always shown in their images with either their legs spread or on all fours, regularly headless or at least expressionless.  Cameras are focused on genitals or the buttocks, even when the model’s face appears in the photograph.  The models are presented like sex dolls, completely devoid of any humanity in most cases.  Women are treated as objects for the gratification of others, rather than as human beings or of having emotions, thoughts, or intelligence of their own.  This is not about the sexualisation of women, it’s actually about a woman’s sexuality being removed from her, and her being nothing more than an object to be used.

In fact, American Apparel make it very clear that they don’t want a whole person when it comes to women.  They only want body parts:

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As you can see – they only want your backside, or there’s some breast there that they are willing to accept as well.

American Apparel’s marketing is very much aimed at young people.  It sends the message to the young people who view these marketing images that women are nothing more than parts to be used, ogled, spread out.  It’s not about the women in the ads being “slutty” or pornographic, it’s about the removal of humanity from the female subjects in the marketing.

Don’t buy from American Apparel.  Tell your friends and family not to buy from American Apparel.  Tell American Apparel that their marketing is offensive and unacceptable.  But don’t attach terms like slut, porn or sexuality to these marketing images.  They are dehumanised and objectified, not sexualised/slutified/pornified.

*Dr Samantha Thomas has also posted a great piece about the concept of “slutification”.  It’s well worth reading, go here to read it.

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Lynx Still Stynx – So Do Unilever

Published October 3, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Well, well, well.  I got a response from Unilever regarding my complaint to them about their Lynx Lodge campaign.  Brace yourselves for some of the worst correspondence to a customer complaint that you are likely to see:

Dear Kath

Thank you for your feedback and the opportunity to address your concerns regarding our marketing activations.

While acknowledging the raised points I would like to take the opportunity to outline Unilever¿s practice standards regarding the marketing activities involving our products:

¿We take marketing responsibilities very seriously and are committed to responsible marketing
¿In all cases we follow the regulatory guidelines, while being respectful of differing views, and taking care not to offend.
¿Unilever adopted a global guideline to prevent the use of ‘size zero’ models or actors in its advertising to ensure that our advertising does not promote ‘unhealthy’ slimness.
¿We follow explicit guidelines about direct advertising to young children.

Unilever has a wide portfolio of everyday consumer brands, offering products to consumers that address different needs. Each of our brands talks to its target consumers in a way that is relevant and that communicates the brand¿s own unique proposition. Sometimes that proposition is serious and informative; at other times it is light-hearted and amusing.

Lynx communicates to its consumers through a series of light-hearted and tongue-in-check advertisements that feature fantasy situations that rarely happen for guys in the real world. Lynx strives to create marketing campaigns and promotions that make women laugh as much as men, and the women featured in our advertising are always in on the joke.

The campaign for Lynx aims to build the confidence of young men. For Lynx, it is about the ¿Lynx effect¿ ¿ the boost that using Lynx can give to the confidence of young men that often find themselves daunted by the dating game.

We do take the concerns of consumers very seriously and thank you for your feedback.

Again, we apologise for any offence caused and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Sue Connolly
Consumer Relations Consultant
http://www.unilever.com.au

Where do I start?  I would start with the weird punctuation and spelling (I’ve left it in) but that wouldn’t be fair.  Let’s start with the “practice standards”:

¿We take marketing responsibilities very seriously and are committed to responsible marketing

So portraying women as subservient toys waiting with nothing to do until the men arrive at Lynx Lodge is responsible marketing?  So offering a “campaign for real beauty”, and a “self esteem fund” for women through one range of products absolves Unilever of any irresponsible behaviour in their other ranges?

¿In all cases we follow the regulatory guidelines, while being respectful of differing views, and taking care not to offend.

I am offended.  Dozens of other women are offended.  Do you care Unilever?  Or are you bothered that people are offended, not that you’ve done something to offend them?  The last sentence is a clear indicator of that:

Again, we apologise for any offence caused and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

You apologise for any offense but what are you doing to rectify the situation?

¿Unilever adopted a global guideline to prevent the use of ‘size zero’ models or actors in its advertising to ensure that our advertising does not promote ‘unhealthy’ slimness.

Ok so you don’t use size zero models, but you’re more than happy to use any other size models to objectify women to peddle a cheap deodorant?

How about the rest of the letter.  Here’s a fun sentence for you:

Lynx communicates to its consumers through a series of light-hearted and tongue-in-check advertisements that feature fantasy situations that rarely happen for guys in the real world.

But does the objectification rarely happen for women in the real world Unilever?  Are women just supposed to “suck it up” so that you can give those poor guys a bit of fantasy?  How about creating a fantasy situation that rarely happens for women in the real world?  One where women aren’t expected to be man pleasers just because the guys might need it.

And then comes the Pièce de résistance:

The campaign for Lynx aims to build the confidence of young men. For Lynx, it is about the ¿Lynx effect¿ ¿ the boost that using Lynx can give to the confidence of young men that often find themselves daunted by the dating game.

Do they Sue Connolly?  How daunted do you think women feel by the dating game when young men are told in advertising campaigns from Unilever that they can have “The Lynx Lodge kitchen staff (a heavily photoshopped young woman in a cleavage-baring chef outfit) will effortlessly whip up a barbecue platter, hearty burger or blood-red steak on request.”?  In the bedroom of Lynx Lodge, two girls dressed in maid outfits pillowfight while the page says “After fluffing your pillows, Lodge staff will tuck you in and prepare you for sweet dreams.”

I’m sure young women must be SO excited to jump into the dating game with guys who have had their confidence built by the advertising of Lynx brand.

I won’t link back to the Lynx Lodge website, they don’t need the hits.  Needless to say, there is now a link that says “Watch the Ad too hot for YouTube” that wasn’t there when I wrote the earlier blog post.

And fellas?  I think you should be asking Unilever just what they think of you as intelligent human beings if they feel that you’re going to rush out to buy their product just to get yourselves dates.  I personally like to believe that most men are a whole lot more intelligent and streetwise than that – it’s a pity that Unilever don’t seem to hold the same high opinion of their male customers.

Let’s tie it back to the work Unilever are supposedly doing on body image and self esteem.  Do Unilever really think that any messages (and they’re problematic) that women and girls receive from their Dove campaigns are not at all affected by those that they put out via the Lynx brand?  Do they think that women just turn off the television in an ad break when the Lynx ad comes on?  Or close the magazine?  Perhaps they think that women just have blinkers and can’t see advertising that’s not intended for them.  Don’t look girls, this is men’s business.

Do Unilever believe that there is no way to advertise to young men, to build their confidence up than at the expense of young women?  Do unilever really think that their male customers are so simple and one dimensional?

Not good enough Unilever.  I know you sent out the exact same letter to other customers who contacted you as well (I saw two on Twitter and another on Facebook within a day of getting mine).  Your customers deserve better.

I encourage you, my readers, to not purchase anything from Unilever where possible.  Here’s a link to the brands that Unilever own.  These include:

Lynx, Dove, Sunsilk, Rexona, Bertolli, Bushells, Continental, Flora, Lipton, Raguletto, Streets, Lan-Choo, Domestos, Drive, Jif, OMO, Persil, Surf, Impulse, Lux, Lifebuoy, Lux, Pears, Vaseline.

There others but these are the ones I pulled off their website quickly.

I’m going to send this post to Sue Connolly in a day or so, so please, post in the comments below, share with your friends and better still, contact Unilever yourself, here is the link.

Valuable

Published September 5, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

It has happened again, I’ve been inspired to blog by another fabulous Fat Acceptance writer.  There are some amazing writers out there, and they just get me thinking and writing so effectively.

In particular, this post by the lovely Jessica of Tangled Up In Lace, who as well as providing a great blog, has one of the most fabulous Tumblr’s in existence.  I reblog more of her stuff on Tumblr than anyone else.

Anyway, back to the post of Jessica’s that has inspired this post.  Jessica shares an experience in her post of being duped into attending an event by being given sketchy and misleading information.  She and her friend turned up to what they were led to believe was a fat positive pinup modelling shoot, but turned out to be an event to promote a porn website and BBW (big, beautiful woman) nightclub.  She goes on to give her thoughts about fat admiration and the BBW concept, which then segues into thoughts on feederism.

I get quite angry when I find people using Fat Acceptance and Fat Admiration/BBW as interchangeable concepts.  Please understand, I don’t have any issues with fat admiration, or the BBW culture per se, but I don’t believe it is right to equate the two as being Fat Acceptance.

To me, Fat Acceptance is a social justice movement.  It’s about ending prejudice and bigotry, about pride, respect, dignity and inclusion.  To have that broken down to a mere vehicle for sexual attraction diminishes the importance of what FA activists and advocates are doing to a mere “Hey I’m hot too.”  Yes, fat admiration and the BBW culture is often a very effective way to raise ones self esteem, and strong self esteem is at the very core of FA, but to break it down to merely promoting fat being sexy undermines the power of being included and respected in society as the fat people we are.

It’s great to feel beautiful and sexy.  But to have that as the primary identifier of who you are, and to be considered attractive and sexy just for your fatness and not because of anything else about you removes any depth or complexity to you as a person.

In my mind, to reduce a person to mere fatness for sexual pleasure is no different to reducing a person to mere fatness with the aim of curing or eradicating obesity.  It makes fat people “other” than the human beings that they are.

And yet, I would say a significant portion of the visitors to Fat Acceptance blogs are fat admirers/BBW fans.  How do I know this?  Let’s start with the most prominent search terms used to navigate into this blog alone.  They’re all about fat body parts, and most of them are about “hot/sexy” fat body parts.  Again, it’s lovely to be admired, but it’s incredibly frustrating to be seen as just a bunch of fat body parts sought out for sexual gratification.

I also see it in a less sexual form, where fat women are celebrated for being gorgeous and glamorous by other women, and attention being paid merely to how they look, without any consequence to the rest of them.  Their intellect, their humour, their kindness, their outspokenness, their passion, their eloquence and so on.  The very focus is on how the fat women look, rather than who they actually are.

It isn’t helped that when we finally get a voice in mainstream media, that very mainstream media focuses on how we look as opposed to what we think, what we need and want, and who we really are.

Not only does this diminish those beautiful, glamorous, gorgeous women to their external appearance, but it sends the message that women are only valuable for their looks, and that those who are not considered beautiful, or glamorous, or gorgeous have less worth, that they don’t have a place in Fat Acceptance and society in general.

All of us are worth far more than that.  Fat Acceptance is worth far more than that.

Stop the “Slut” Talk

Published June 22, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I don’t normally read Miranda Devine’s columns.  I read a few some time ago but found her so snarky that I’ve avoided her work ever since.  However tonight a friend posted this article from the Sydney Morning Herald on Facebook, and the headline of “Flash of Fame Spreads Sluttiness” just grabbed my attention.

I responded to my friend’s post, and realised that what was coming out of me was more than just a response, it was a full on blog post.  So I have decided to expand upon it a little here.

While I do believe that we’re experiencing an intense “pornification” of celebrity and fame, I really take umbrage with the “sluttiness” label.

This implies that it is all about the young women and bad behaviour, and says nothing about the equally sexualised behaviour of young men. Not to mention the fact that more and more, young women are pressured into this behaviour because they’re led to believe that their value lies in being sexually pleasing to men. Their “hotness” is worth more than intelligence, heart, humour, kindness, and so on.

Every time a young woman opens a magazine, turns on the telly, watches a movie, sees a billboard ad, or any other media, the message she gets is that her sex is the most valuable currency in our society.

And yet does Ms Devine challenge that cultural attitude?  Not really, instead she suggests David Jones dump Miranda Kerr as their spokesmodel – so the young woman cops the punishment for the cultural pressures she is under.  How is that the right action to take?

It also doesn’t touch on the fact that these ARE young women, who have nobody to advise them except those grubbing for their money, or cleaning them up just enough to slap them back on a stage to start the cycle all over again. If someone treated these young women as the daughters they are, then they might not be on this path of destruction.

If Ms Devine wants to challenge the pornification of western culture, she’d be best to lay off creating a stigma around young women and analyse it across our entire culture. Look at the messages we’re sending to our young people; young women who behave outrageously are sluts, young men are just “boys having fun”; sex is the most valuable currency for starters.  Perhaps we need to start to teach our kids that they have so much more to offer the world than sex and scandal.

I agree, the culture of young people in the public eye is intensely sexualised, and “pornified” and we need to address that.  But there should be no place for the word “slut” in our culture, as it creates a heavy gender bias against women when the problem lies with the entire culture, not just women.