Just before the Super Bowl, something really cool happened. The folks over at The Miss Representation project created an app, based on a hashtag movement, to help us all call out sexist advertising. #NotBuyingIt was born.
I was always amped on the idea, and I downloaded it back in February, but I hadn’t busted it out until just last week. And let me tell you, I picked a douzey to start. Here is the lovely Miranda Kerr, using her very naked body to sell Reebok sneakers.
Using sexy ladies to sell products that have nothing to do with sex or women in particular is nothing new. We see it again and again with beer, cars, and pretty much all manner of products. Doesn’t matter who the target is, a beautiful woman in an ad can’t hurt, or at least that’s been the wisdom up to now.
But this ad is particularly icky because of the weird, voyeuristic point of view. The camera is following her from behind for most of the shots, watching her from a distance and also at weird angles. And then it randomly cuts to an across the street view from a different apartment. I was so startled that I expected that view to be part of the story line of the commercial. But it’s not. Because looking at women and visually consuming their bodies is so accepted and commonplace that even this awkward moment is just par for the course. It’s such a casual shift, you almost miss how absolutely inappropriate and invasive that viewpoint really is. I mean, who the fuck was watching her from across the street? Does it even matter? And what does her black-undies clad ass have to do with sneakers?
Now look, I know that in lots of cities (certainly in NYC) spying on our neighbors is sort of commonplace. We live in close quarters, the walls are thin, privacy is limited. But this kind of deliberate use of a voyeuristic view point is really inappropriate and creepy. Women are not walking around just so you can ogle them, and spying on people is wrong and sometimes illegal. And while we’re at it how about we can this weird ‘undressing as we go’ scenario. No one does that. It’s super choreographed and forced.
Seriously, why must this story line, which logically should include athletics or movement, instead focus on her undressing and showering? They could have at least shown her ‘working out’ so you can argue that the shoes helped her get that body (which is mostly untrue since super models have all hit the genetic lotto and even with these shoes and hard work many women won’t ever have that ass and THAT’S COMPLETELY OK AND WONDERFUL.) I had a similar beef when Sketchers was using beautiful women to try and convince us that they got their bodies using those dumb shoes, because not only is it exploitative of the models but it assumes that we, the consumers, are all dumb enough to believe that. I can almost picture the scene of creation for this concept: a group of dudes, sitting around a conference table, Googling pictures of Ms Kerr and pitching ideas with the the singular goal of seeing her get completely undressed. How sophisticated.
And it felt great. I felt relieved that there was a space for me to flex my feminist muscels and vent some of my anger. And not just a space of acceptance, but a space of action where other people were doing the exact same thing. The app, when it’s working right, actually does put pressure on advertisers and companies to change their ways. And why, you ask, does this kind of thing matter? Elizabeth Plank over at Policy Mic explains:
Missrepresentation.org explains that the average teenage girl spends 11 hours interacting with media every single day and that many of the images “depict women in a degrading light, perpetuate unrealistic body ideals, or use extreme stereotypes of masculinity to define men.”
The images we see all day every day, in magazines and on billboards and on all our varied screens have a huge impact. If the only women depicted in these spaces are sexualized, degraded, silent and objectified, then we will all absorb the idea that real women are also all of those things. And only those things. And until we demand different images with different messages, young girls will continue to internalize the very damaging idea that they can only be beautiful if they fit into a very narrow physical type, and that their only worth comes from being beautiful and sexually available. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the Miss Representation documentary to hear lots of much smarter ladies break it down. And download the free #NotBuyingIt app. It’s super easy and fun, and for now there is no shortage of sexist advertising to call out. Be heard.