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Ads The Wymyn Like
Yesterday, I blogged about National Organization of Women's recently released list of ads they find offensive to women. They also put out a list of "positive ads" -- which show, more than anything, what suckers they are for advertising manipulation. Here's the statement they led with:

Tired of advertisers peddling flesh and not product? Here are some examples of ads that actually show real-looking women—of diverse ages, ethnicities and body types—taking an active role in the world.

Hilariously, they're all for the Crystal Light ad -- a 5-calorie, artificially sweetened beverage advertised with the caption "Bring out your beauty." (Sorry it's so small.)


Yes, to the credulous ladies of NOW, this sends the message that it's okay to "love your body." Uh, ladies, if you love your body so much...why don't you give it apple juice?

Another ad they applaud is for Dove:


Yes, they're actually naive enough to believe that Dove and Ogilvy & Mather are in the business of raising women's self-esteem:

Brian Collins, the executive creative director of the Brand Integration Group (BIG) at Ogilvy & Mather, spearheaded the project.

Collins and his team agreed wholeheartedly with Dove's desire to challenge society and the media to re-define beauty and in so doing, raise the self-esteem of women worldwide. At the National NOW Conference, where Collins and his team were given an Image of Women award for the campaign, Collins said, "This is a simple idea, that beauty, whatever that means, is a self-defined and democratic idea." Collins went on to tell the audience, "What I really want everyone to do here is hold the advertising industry accountable."

All the way to the bank! P.S. As for NOW's fight to end the exploitation of women, you gotta love the irony: that excerpt quoting Collins above is from a piece written by one of their unpaid interns.

Here's a excerpt from my earlier post on Dove. Whoops, it seems Unilever, the parent company of Dove, is also running TV spots for another one of their brands, Axe, which they claim turns women nto "lust-crazed vixens." As I wrote previously:

Newsflash: Large, multinational corporations really don't give a shit about your body image. Feminist groups, silly dears, applauded Unilever for Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty," which should have been called Dove's "Campaign for Real Dollars" (not that there's anything wrong with that).

It isn't some company's job to worry about your body image. And frankly, I find it naive and silly to think for a moment they do. But, from a story by Alana Semuels in the LA Times, a consumer group called (sorry, I have to laugh, "The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood") accused Unilever of (gasp!) hypocrisy!...because they're not only running the larger ladies in the Dove campaign, they're running a commercial for Axe grooming products for men that "blatantly objectifies and degrades" women.

Wow...which is it? Healthy images for women, or pandering to the male gaze?'s the marketing, stoopid.

Posted by aalkon at November 14, 2007 1:43 PM


"Healthy images for women, or pandering to the male gaze?'s the marketing, stoopid."

Truer words are rarely spoken.

Posted by: vlad at November 14, 2007 5:51 AM

"This is a simple idea, that beauty, whatever that means, is a self-defined and democratic idea."

Yep, and winning this vote are tall, slender young-looking women with smooth skin, shiny hair, and nice curves!

P.S. - You know you're good at marketing when your campaign is not only successful, but successful in getting ad critics to promote both your advertising business and your products.

Posted by: justin case at November 14, 2007 7:23 AM

Aside: Is it only me who hates the misuse of "everyday" for "every day"? Eileen Fisher, get an ad agency that knows the difference.

Okay. Now, I'm not a skinny beautiful chick, it's true. But I do notice that NOW clearly hates skinny beautiful chick - er, wymyn. It would appear that they'd cheerfully put all these tall slender gals out of modelling work, while smiling beatifically as the hefty and splotchy among us take over the magazine pages of the world. I guess you can't be a Real Woman if you aren't kinda chubby. Sure, in theory that's great for me, but I'm not so crazy with their demonization of the slim.

That said, yes, I agree some models are WAY too skinny and unhealthy - don't jump on me, please. But size, whichever size it may be, isn't a measure of worth or lack of worth.

Posted by: Wiserchoices at November 14, 2007 7:48 AM

Thank you, didn't see that, and it bugs me, too.

And you're absolutely right about NOW the dearth of skinny beautiful chicks in ads they find appropriate. I didn't end up blogging that, or mentioning that if you want to get guys, and you aren't 17 and darling, you'd do well not to wear big farmer overalls. The thing is, even if you aren't skinny, guys want to see your body, and actual curves, and they generally aren't attracted to women with the silhouette of a trash can.

Posted by: Amy Alkon Author Profile Page at November 14, 2007 7:56 AM

"The thing is, even if you aren't skinny, guys want to see your body, and actual curves, and they generally aren't attracted to women with the silhouette of a trash can." Agree whole heartedly but there are curves and there are rolls. One should (male or female) strive for a healthy weight. Hate me all you want for what I'm about to say but if Lane Bryant mail order or Casual Male XL sizes are too small, we aren't talking about curves any more. Un healthy is unattractive no matter how you look at it.

Posted by: vlad at November 14, 2007 8:12 AM

Why doesn't NOW just recommend all women put on a burka? That would solve the problem.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at November 14, 2007 8:16 AM

Yes, you're right about the Lane Bryant/Casual Male XL overflow.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 14, 2007 8:35 AM

So the ironic thing about the Campaign for Real Beauty (which actually could have been a very effective campaign had it been done properly), is that they promptly took all of their photos of "real" women and Photoshopped them...

Posted by: Cousin Dave at November 14, 2007 8:59 AM

I find it all very amusing. I am actually not a big fan of the stick figure models, but I don't get how this is offensive to women.

I also have to second justin case. It is all about the sales. If "positive" ads are going to bring 'em in, that's what gets produced. There is a certain type of advertising that gets me and folks like me. I have no illusions that these products are anything special. Nor do I hold the illusion that the marketers share my values or even my sense of aesthetics. They merely want me to buy the product they are marketing.

NOW really strikes me as a bunch of suckers. And they seem to be more prudish than the most conservative fundies I know. Backwards too. The ads in yesterday's post aren't exploiting wymyn. They are exploiting the guys (and gals) that buy the advertised products because of the ads.

Posted by: DuWayne at November 14, 2007 9:30 AM

The quotes "This is a simple idea, that beauty, whatever that means, is a self-defined and democratic idea." and "What I really want everyone to do here is hold the advertising industry accountable." are hot air emitted from an advertising asshole.

How can anything be both self-defined and democratic? Either each of us sets our own standard, and accepts no argument about it, or we accept the vote of the people, whether we agree with it or not. The text on the old woman's image is "[_] Wrinkled? [_] Wonderful? Will society ever accept old can be beautiful?" The check boxes suggest a vote; but the whining text complains that the democratic idea of beauty is out of date.

Finally everyone is to hold the advertising industry accountable. What exactly should we do? Burn effigies? Deface billboards? It reminds me of a poster in my local fishmongers, which says that 100 men are lost at sea every year, and this is "the real cost of fish." It's a shame, but should I buy fish or not? Perhaps buy fish and feel guilty?

More images at - some rather good. Ungh. I hate the depths of duplicity and spin revealed by this OP. The more I write, the more annoyed I get, so I'll stop.

Posted by: Norman at November 14, 2007 9:34 AM

This is somewhat off-topic (deals with TV commercials), but your blog reminds me of it. Does anyone remember the commercial by Secret Deodorant that featured the man and the woman going to a party and they have a flat? He's all helpless / dumb looking and she jumps out and fixes the tire. That one.

That one drives me CRAZY. It is subtly bashing on men. Oh, he's either stupid, lazy, or weak, but he can't change the fricking tire, so she saves the day. What the hell? I have no problem with the message of women can change their own tires (it's one of the first things my daddy taught me to do when I started driving) - but they could have easily had her in the car by herself. She gets a flat, calls hubby and says "I'm running late - let's just meet there" and then proceeds to change her tire. Ah, but that would mean no male bashing. ARRRGGHGHHH!

Anyway, great blog, and thanks for letting me vent.

Posted by: Anne at November 14, 2007 9:44 AM

> which actually could have
> been a very effective
> campaign

Who knows? Literally, has anyone looked at the numbers to see if P&G or Unilever or whomever has actually shipped & sold more stuff since this campaign started?

There are certain things that fascinate people and I don't understand why. One of them is power. People (usually ones who don't have much) chat about it as if it were illusive and elusive, a mysterious fog that turns into razor blades when you least expect it. To such people it's always about treachery and nuance, and things are never as they seem to the average person.

Self-esteem is another weird fascination. Women seem to worry and prattle about it most. It's always talked about like it's a delicate little construction demanding the purest intentions and most sober handling from other people.

I think the fastest, surest and maybe only path to self esteem is to do something estimable. But check the math and get back to me if you have another result.

Mostly this is something for people who enjoy looking at advertising to talk about. Ninnies are lonely; we need topics. Again, does anyone who knows the market care to talk about their stock? To the untrained eye, it looks pretty good, but maybe we shouldb't credit the marketing.

Posted by: Crid at November 14, 2007 9:45 AM

And am I the only one that HATES to see the pseudo-words "womyn" and "herstory"? WTF? I understand you weren't using them seriously, and that's fine. But I kid you not I picked up a book that had every instance of the word "history" written as "herstory" and it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Posted by: Anne at November 14, 2007 9:47 AM

Thanks, Anne.

And regarding this comment: The quotes "This is a simple idea, that beauty, whatever that means, is a self-defined and democratic idea."

What we consider beauty is mainly a product of 1.8 million years of evolution. And yes, while there are variations, there are strong standards that extend across cultures. It's all about what features would have produced healthy, surviving children to pass on genes.

Glenn Sacks, whose work for men's rights I generally agree with and admire differ in how we perceive advertising. I think many people are overly sensitive about ads, and I rarely see one I find truly offensive...unless, of course, I can rope dreadfully boring and inane ads into "truly offensive."

The French and the Brits have much better advertising than we do -- much more entertaining advertising -- because their citizens aren't the whiny, big girls' blouses we are about any sort of humor in advertising.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 14, 2007 9:49 AM

The wrinkled Dove lady and the Axe's Vixen are both made by the same marketting company?!?!

Thank you Amy for putting some sunshine in my life today! It is always good to remember that everything coming out of the mass-media is a digested product, as fake as the next one.

As far as MOW goes with their Taliban-esque action against the media, they need to learn that, as long as women will be ready to pose for money, we will see such advertisement. True freedom is the right to make the wrong choice.

Posted by: Toubrouk at November 14, 2007 9:52 AM

I think the fastest, surest and maybe only path to self esteem is to do something estimable.


Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 14, 2007 10:06 AM

I didn't buy Dove products before their "campagn for real beauty" ads (coughgigglesnort) and I don't buy them now. I remember feeling vaguely squicked out by the first one I saw in a Metro station. It wasn't because the models were larger or doughier than one is used to seeing in ads for beauty aids, it was because they were wearing decidedly unsexy and clinical looking white underwear and looking sort of self-conscious. At first I thought it looked like a women's health services ad or something. Christ, I'm going to buy the products I can afford and that I feel like work, not buy something because zomg!! teh reals womyns! use it. That's just stupid. Besides, if it came down to looking like a "real woman" and Gisele, I know who I'd pick. That being said, Dove is free to use my anorexic tattooed ass in their ads, if only for the hilarity factor. (Look real! Look anemic and miserable! Hah.)

Posted by: amh18057 at November 14, 2007 10:34 AM

I think women who don't feel insecure about their bodies probably prefer idealized pictures of women. And remember, those Dove ladies are probably heavily retouched! (I think somebody mentioned that above, but I'm seven minutes behind on my writing schedule, so I have to hop to it!)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 14, 2007 10:37 AM

Wow! I get it! NOW wants them to advertise that if your fat and wrinkly you should use their products, and not lead us to believe that those people are beautiful b/c they use them.

I personally like to convince myself, when I see a hot woman in those ads, that I could be that hot too if I spent that time and money taking care of myself. Call me crazy, but I thought that was what advertising was about?

Sounds to me like those women at NOW need a good ol' dose of self esteem. My fav quote 'there are no victims, only volunteers'. They CHOOSE TO feel those ads are "exploiting women" because they are not confident enough with their sense of self and their own value, to compare THEMSELVES to a (mostly airbrushed) attractive model, and are not confident enough with their bodies and sexuality enough to be faced with provocative imagery.

Posted by: dena at November 14, 2007 10:41 AM

I wonder if it has ever been different. I mean, perhaps the enormous interest women have in their appearance is part of being women, since appearance is of such evolutionary importance. Perhaps the current hyper-obsession is a result of the free market latching on to it.

For comparison, the bulk of email spam I get is directed at my penis. (I have to read the email to it as it can't work the keyboard or mouse.) Another aspect of the same phenomenon?

Does anyone have a historical perspective on this? For example, women were wearing mascara and using henna in ancient Egypt.

Posted by: Norman at November 14, 2007 11:19 AM

For comparison, the bulk of email spam I get is directed at my penis.

Mine, too.

Women have been beautifying themselves throughout history, far as I know. That's how you attract men. Men, on the other hand, men of all species, show they're providers. Insects provide what are called "nuptial gifts" -- yes, even in the insect world the dude picks up the tab for dinner, hoping he'll get lucky.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 14, 2007 11:28 AM

The ads from yesterday don't offend me. The ads today don't irk me.

Yesterday's ads were pure sex appeal. They weren't about making women less than man or mere sex objects of men - it goes both ways! Today's are idealizing women in a separate way. No one looks like the women from yesterday - four days a week at the gym has yet to transform my (as bf calls "sexy") ample hips into those of a 12 year old boy (aka, of a supermodel). Sometimes it annoys me that the latest fashion looks like shit on my body but you work with what you have, you don't have a tantrum and stomp your feet and cry "sexist!"

I think it's help to see both 1) sexed up skanks surrounded by muscular men in compromising, Twist-type positions 2) real women doing things that you *actually* do (like, yoga and get wrinkles).

I see them both as benign. The only complaint I'd give the time of day is the effect the sexed up images may or may not have on the developing psyche of children, in terms of how children will interpret them to gauge "normal" sexual behavior.

In other words, I wouldn't want a daughter of mine to see yesterdays' ads and thing "Oh, so if I don't eat and writhe around men will want me and that's a good thing." I think it tampers with the natural sexual development. But to grown adults we should have the brain power to separate the fantasy (sexed up D&G) from the inspirational (old woman who is happy and alive...and maybe the sexy ads are inspirational too?).

I hate when people make a big deal out of nothing. We all want to be calm and happy and content (yoga, health in old age) and we all want dirty sex (yesterdays ads).

Posted by: Gretchen at November 14, 2007 12:01 PM

Wow, Gretchen, way to proofread.

"I think it's help" - HELPFUL
"Twist-type positions" - TWISTER

Posted by: Gretchen at November 14, 2007 12:03 PM more thing about the effect the sexy ads have on disclaimer is that media barrages aren't the only perpetrator - b/c there is also bad parenting. I'd be afraid of the effects and therefore try to figure out out how offset them!

Posted by: Gretchen at November 14, 2007 12:05 PM

Gretchen -

No, no, no. It's not bad parenting! It's always someone else's fault. I mean if those asshole marketing people didn't make whatever sort of ads offend, then the kids wouldn't suffer from hours upon hours in front of the nanny-box. I mean come on, do they really need to put advertising in the video games that they spend the rest of their time playing?

We had an interesting discussion about media awareness in last weeks parenting class (no, I'm not a horrid parent, just want to be an even better one). Three different parents/couples espoused the idea that the state should have controls over adverts in children's programming. Only one other couple, besides my partner and I, felt that just maybe it's our responsibility to deal with it.

My son is finally past the point where he would look at ads with sexy, scantily clothed women and start drooling over their boobs - not for the same reason adult males do.

Posted by: DuWayne at November 14, 2007 1:25 PM

Totally off-topic, but you brought it up, DuWayne, therefore, it's your fault, not mine - you see what I did there? ;-) But, back to the off-point point: I will NEVER understand people who want the government to have even more control over our day-to-day lives than they already do. What's with that?

Posted by: Anne at November 14, 2007 1:53 PM

Anne - I agree with you.

Re: "history"

"relation of incidents" (true or false), from O.Fr. historie, from L. historia "narrative, account, tale, story," from Gk. historia "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative," from historein "inquire," from histor "wise man, judge," from PIE *wid-tor-, from base *weid- "to know," lit. "to see" (see vision). Related to Gk. idein "to see," and to eidenai "to know."

For the record - the word "history" does not derive from "his story." In other etymological urban legend-busters, "hispanic" derives from "Espana" (aka "Spain"); Nixon (or whoever the college kids want to bash these days) did not call latin people "his panic."

Posted by: snakeman99 at November 14, 2007 1:55 PM

Thanks, Snakeman - I'd never heard about the hispanic thing. Jeeze. And yes, generally I chalk it up to someone putting their ignorance on display when I see things like that, much like the gentleman forced to resign for using a racial slur. He called someone "niggardly". I was pretty infuriated over that, and personally felt he should have fought that one. Perhaps with a dictionary.

Posted by: Anne at November 14, 2007 2:05 PM

I dont want to repeat the fine points that everyone has made. So I'm just going to say that..
I believe I'm the only on here who has this rather weird obsession (for as long as I can remember). I love the GUESS? adverts and I love copying the looks when I go out for a night on the town. It's got nothing to do with being brainwashed since it's only that one particular company adverts that please me so.

NOW would be wrong to typify me as a materialistic young woman. I just find GUESS? ads appealing. Who the hell knows why? Is liking their ads a question of my morality?

I once was dumped for a girl who had the more "natural" look. Some would say that he wasnt superficial, but I think otherwise. I think he was just as superficial as the rest of us -- only what got him off was the absolutley zero makeup look. Just another odd kink in my opinion. And I even question his motives, whether he was trying to feel the way he felt he should feel about a womans looks.

All this being said I think most women are attractive but they just need a little tiny bit of makeup and nice clothing. A big chunk of life is knowing how nature works.

Posted by: PurplePen at November 14, 2007 4:01 PM

I once was dumped for a girl who had the more "natural" look. Some would say that he wasnt superficial, but I think otherwise. I think he was just as superficial as the rest of us -- only what got him off was the absolutley zero makeup look.

Exactly right. There's just a (silly and wrong) notion that it's somehow okay or valid to go for no makeup, and that there's some moral superiority to it. Guys, likewise, are vilified for having a thing for large breasts, but you're unlikely to see the NOW ladies or any others of their ilk raging against a guy who has a thing for ladies with spider bites instead of hooters.

I see a lot of women who could put in five minutes of effort in the morning and look really pretty. They must not think it's worth it -- and then, some of them come complaining to me that they can't get a boyfriend. No, not without a little output on your part. Shocking, but true.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 14, 2007 4:08 PM

In all honesty, I actually do prefer the "natural" look. I don't feel morally superior because of it, purple pen is spot on that this preference is no more or less shallow than any other. But women who feel compelled to put on a bunch of makeup are just not my thing.

My partner is not the type to wear make-up all the time. She does on the special occasions, but even then it's very subtle. It works for me. OTOH, I have a few friends who are absolute makeup essentialist's. Sara won't even step out the door to grab smokes from the convenience store at one am, without checking her face - fixing if necessary. She is also very literate, very intelligent - one of my favorite people. She just doesn't feel fully dressed without perfect makeup.

Posted by: DuWayne at November 15, 2007 9:35 AM

In all honesty, I actually do prefer the "natural" look.

The natural look, done properly, takes time. It doesn't mean going out sloppy, it means going out not looking like a cheap whore who walked in off the strip to buy a pack of smokes.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 15, 2007 9:48 AM

Amy -

We're not on the same page with the natural look.

Hairs brushed, she's clean and the clothes are clean and relatively wrinkle free (lately, often my clothes which sort of fit around the baby) - my partner's ready to head out the door. Assuming of course, that the five year old is all together. Rarely does she leave the house in anything more fancy than a pair of jeans and whatever shirt she deems appropriate. This is not to say that she's incapable of dressing up, far from it. She just really doesn't feel compelled to do it unless we are going to a function where it's appropriate.

It also isn't that dressing nice doesn't make her feel sexier. It does. But she really gets into it, on the rare occasions it's appropriate. Far more than she did when she was a sales clerk at a clothing store, where it was a daily requirement.

It really helps that she knows that I think she's sexy wearing some of my work clothes with paint streaked across her forehead. I also think she's sexy when she's dressed to the nines and I am too.

We make a study in contrast on occasion. A few years ago, we wrote a pornographic novel together. The first time we had a face to face with our agent, she was in her jammies and I had come from work for the meeting. Didn't faze the agent much, as he was all about our writing not our appearance. He was blown away when two weeks later, we show up to meet with the publisher. My beard was trimmed and I wore a stylish suit. She was wearing a tastefully sexy dress, that showed off her curves quite well. She also spent some time with her hair, making it flow seamlessly, over the dress. (unfortunately, the time investment/pay ratio just didn't pan, writing porn was the big fun)

To make it clear, a women wearing bibs with dreadlocks is far more likely to catch my eye, than a women wearing a tight, slinky red dress and perfect makeup. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, it's just not me. It really doesn't matter if the dready in bibs just made it out of the woods from a week long camping trip, she's still going to catch my eye.

Posted by: DuWayne at November 15, 2007 2:53 PM

I've also been disappointed with NOW's alarmist press releases about ads that they judge to be offensive, supposedly on behalf of all women. I stopped giving them money when they whined about a contract dispute that threatened to pull the Lifetime Channel off the air from a popular satellite network. Of all the problems facing women, they choose this as a high priority? As a pro-porn, pro-sex, pro-nudity feminist, NOW certainly does not speak for me. (and personally, I'd rather watch the NFL channel)

Posted by: janet at November 16, 2007 7:56 PM

anyone looking for social relevance in advertising can stick their head in a toilet.
advertisers are the scum of capitalism.

Posted by: kittie at November 19, 2007 9:59 AM

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