Women in Ads and Magazines: An RLB Chat

This morning S and I were chatting via gmail, as we are wont to do, and we decided that our conversation about how women are portrayed in magazines would make a pretty stellar blog post. Herein, a glimpse into the minds of the RLB creators…

(Note: Because I copied and pasted the chat, the “me” that appears is me, Elizabeth, and the “Sha” is S, because I have her listed in my email contacts as Sha Na Na Na. Naturally.)

me:  What I really want to do today is write a blog post about how this happened.

Sha: Hmm what do you think of it?

me: When I first read a quote from it I was pretty uppity, but then
1. I realized he was speaking at a Feminism in Media conference hosted by COSMOPOLITAN magazine and
2. He has some valid points. I won’t say, as many have, “at least he’s being honest” because being honest doesn’t equate integrity. If he followed up with “and I think this is a problem and we all need to work together to fix it,” well then sure. But he doesn’t. He’s all Shrug, this is the way the world works, which is the BS part for me.

Sha: I wouldn’t expect somebody in his position to recognize this as a problem

me: Right.

Sha: Because he sells these magazines

me:  mmhm

Sha: And they do sell. And I also agree with him that women’s magazines are much worse

me: See, I don’t know about Much Worse or The Root of the Problem. They are at fault, surely…

Sha: I see them as worse because they manipulate women directly

me: …but my Vogue doesn’t have ads of women in bikinis pouring milk on themselves. Or whatever.

Sha: Hahaha, unless it’s a new beauty treatment.

me: Haha.

Sha: Women’s magazines and men’s magazines are both guilty of objectifying women, totally. They just have different goals.

me: Exactly.

Sha: Women’s magazines want women to feel like shit so they buy stuff, and men’s magazines want to sell more magazines. And also stuff.

me: So they turn women into objects.

Sha: To sell objects

me: Yes.

Sha: So the images of women are presented differently in each. He’s right that the women in men’s magazines are more diverse, which is interesting, because a women’s magazine would have you think that all women look like 100 lb aliens with no pores, and that that’s what men want, lol.

me: Hahaha, right? When most men in fact prefer women who are human, and even (gasp) a little “flawed.” And he’s also generalizing, about women’s magazines. Glamour has taken leaps and bounds in this arena as of late,

Sha: Oh right I’ve heard about that.

me: whereas Cosmo is offensive just by existing.

Sha: Hahaha. The industry is just really fucked

me: Well yes. Women in media, in general, are not well represented.

Sha:  HENCE the blog. lol

me:  Haha huzzah! And I don’t think you get brownie points just for being “honest” about it.

Sha: No, he’s sleazy. But I would expect him to be, I guess? I don’t expect the editor in chief at Cosmo to be a good person either, or hollywood studio executives. They don’t want to upset the status quo, that’s how they make their money

me:  BUT THEY ARE CREATING THE STATUS QUO. Sorry for the shouty caps.

Sha: Hahaha. I think that we create it, by buying it. The collective we. If we stopped buying it they would stop making it that way.

me: True… I think it’s a cycle, because we are in a consumer culture, and we are desensitized. So yes, I agree with your point, but

Sha:  But we can make choices in what we consume. I don’t know if there’s like a male magazine equivalent to Bust Magazine? Is there?

me: I don’t think so. But let’s take Dove, as a for instance.

Sha:  yes

me: Great Real Beauty campaign, right, but so many women say

Sha:  right

me: “That corporation also owns Axe body spray, so they’re hypocrites, so I won’t buy Dove”

Sha:  ah

me: But by not supporting the campaign that’s great, aren’t we sending a message that it isn’t important to us? Unless you’re writing to them saying “I will not buy Dove until you stop making Axe,” then no one knows about your principled protest. And like you said, our dollars matter. So buy Dove, not Axe. Amiright?

Sha: Right, yeah that does make sense.

me: It’s not productive to say All Women’s Magazines are to blame, because they’re not all the same. We have to support the pieces that resonate with us. I subscribe to Glamour, not Cosmo. Bust is a women’s magazine, and it’s amazing.

Sha: It’s like the indie flick that gets great reviews and makes no money

me: Exactly! It’s why box office earnings are so important. Opening weekend, specifically. But I digress.

Sha: The thing about advertising and magazines, because most magazines are mostly about advertising, is that even if it seems good… like the dove campaign, for example, and even if good things come from it, like the dove campaign, we are still just being sold something (soap), but also a feeling…

me: Of course. I say better that feeling of positivity and acceptance than feelings of worthlessness and insignificance.

Sha: …and I’m sure that even though there are well-intentioned people who worked on the Dove campaign along the way, and they were glad to put it out there, it was backed by people who were like, “You know what women seem to want right now? Acceptance. Let’s sell that to them so they will buy this soap.”

me: Which again, in my opinion is a better message, and a result of what women want right now, what we are demanding, which speaks to your point that our dollars do our talking. So ultimately I think if more media responded that way – “this is what women want so let’s give it to them to sell our product” – that’s essentially a good thing! They’re going to try to sell us shit no matter what. That part isn’t going away.

Sha: Haha that’s true.

me: Personally I’d rather have diversity and acceptance selling me things than Rosie Huntington Whitley draped over a fur rug in her panties. (Added after chat: Omg I just said that off the cuff, but look! It’s almost an actual thing.)

Sha: Well we’re both from a demographic like that and plenty of companies use that on us. But not all. Many of them don’t need to use it. Like men’s magazines!

me: Way to bring it full circle! And I suppose my biggest issue there, is that the kind of objectification in men’s magazines is the sort that leads to perpetuating the treatment of women as objects.

Sha: Yep.

me: And in women’s magazines, the objectification makes women feel like they Should be treated as objects. So all around, things need to change, and if it’s one greedy corporation at a time, so be it.

Sha: It’s a gross business. I don’t know what it would take to change it but talking about it is definitely a start.

Elizabeth’s Summary: Talking about it is absolutely a great start. We can see the ripple effect that these conversations are having – there are countless grassroots campaigns that have set out to spark the necessary discourse, in order to change the way women are portrayed in the media and the way we see ourselves in everyday life.

Together, these campaigns have already had a powerful effect on representations of women in commercial media (as evidenced by the ads below, which were unheard of in popular culture before the body image movements of the last several years), but there is still a long way to go. Our voices, our insistence on respect and real representation, cannot be too loud or too prevalent. This is how we will change the story.

On that note, here are some steps in the right direction: 

handm

 

Yes! More women of color! More women who are curvy!

Dove-Campaign-for-Real-BeautyYes! Not all women are under 25!

nikethighsYes! Women’s bodies are strong, healthy sources of support for how we live our lives!

And if this:

dove_wideweb__430x327
Leads to this:

real real women
Then let’s demand more of it!

This link is also posted in my summary above, but y’all should check out Beauty Redefined! It was pure coincidence that I stumbled upon these amazing ladies while doing my google search for diverse ads. Show them some love and support. And let’s plaster the world with their amazing post-it notes!

beauty-redefined

4 thoughts on “Women in Ads and Magazines: An RLB Chat

  1. I love this post. I’ve heard a lot of negative reactions to the Dove campaign because they still used Photoshop, but I think your point is the important one. If what Dove’s doing leads to more real-world women feeling comfortable with themselves, it’s all for the best. I don’t mind if Dove sells a little extra bodywash along the way!

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