Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Marketing, Positive Body Image & Being Accountable for One's Self

So, there's something I've been kicking around in my head for awhile.  For the last two or three years, actually.  I've been debating in my mind if it was really an issue or not.  And then, a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook.

If you don't want to jump to the article using that link, I'll save you some time and tell you - the article essentially discusses how the shift in marketing towards positive body image, regardless of what you look like, is great ... but we need to remember that marketers are only changing their tune because at the end of the day, they want us to buy their crap.

And shortly after reading the above article, I came across another article via James Fell - Body for Wife.  Rather than summarize that article, I'll steal a quote: "I don't believe anyone should be shamed for their body, but ‘body acceptance’ is tricky ... Accepting (or even glorifying in some cases) obesity and unhealthy lifestyles isn't something we should make trendy.”

That right there. 

"Accepting (or even glorifying in some cases) obesity and unhealthy lifestyles isn't something we should make trendy.”

That's what I've been worried about for awhile.


Before I get too far in this conversation, I feel like I should remind you all about my history.  Most of you might remember, but if you don't, it's no secret that I struggle with my weight.  Growing up as a kid, I was always the fat one.  And even now into adulthood, I have a hard time keeping my weight in a healthy range. 

That being said, when I first started seeing "real" or "normal" models being used in marketing campaigns, I literally blurted out: "It's about FUCKING TIME!"

Seriously, I was stoked.  Because for years and years, our media has inundated us with images like this:

60s/70s fashion icon, Twiggy

90s fashion icon, Kate Moss

More recently popular, model Cocoa Rocha

I've always agreed that images like these obviously do not portray healthy or attainable body types.  And that's not even getting into the whole Photoshop thing, which is a discussion for another day.

Then, to make matters worse (as if the above wasn't enough), our culture somehow started coupling unattainable beauty standards with bulling.  Which meant it became more and more common to hear some snide comment if you weren't the right weight, or wearing the right clothes, or smelling of the right perfume.  Ah, brings back the good old days of coming home crying because someone at school called me fat, again.  Or picked me in gym last, again.  Or whatever short end of the stick I was suffering that day.

So when I saw my first ad like this, I was like ... yeah!  Finally, some acceptance that other body types are OK, too.

But it wasn't just me that got excited about this shift.  The overall media buzz surrounding the use of more "real" looking models in the last few years has been HUGE.  So things started snowballing.  All of the sudden it wasn't unheard of to see a physically handicapped model, or a plus sized model, or a model with downs syndrome gracing the "front & center" of an add campaign.

One of my favorite current campaigns, by the way, is Desigual's choice of Chantelle Brown, who has a rare skin pigmentation disorder.

So for the last few years, I've thought the growing acceptance of diversity in marketing was great!  Coupled with the concept of positive body image, it seemed like things were really starting to turn around.


But, somewhere along the way, things started to seem off to me.  It wasn't right away.  It wasn't in the first year or two of this being a trend.  But somewhere in there, I started seeing ad campaigns like this, and comparing them to each other ... it just felt like something wasn't right.

So I started researching.  And Immediately I got frustrated.

Why?  Well, until just a short time ago, Lane Bryant - the "no angel" add makers above - were owned by the same parent company as Victoria's Secret: Limited (L) Brands. 

Hm.  Isn't that interesting?

Parent Company - Limited Brands
Subsidiary - Victoria's Secret, ad slogan: "The Perfect Body", models known as "angels"
Subsidiary - Lane Bryant, ad slogan: "#ImNoAngel, product line marketed to plus sized women

A parent company letting two subsidiaries market against each other?  That' doesn't seem right.  They wouldn't let their brands slaughter each other, would they?  Well ... you can bet your ass they wouldn't ... unless it was going to make them good money.

So I started to realize, these people don't give two toots about body image.  They are only trying to get you to buy their shit. 

While the upside to that is we get to see healthier, more normalized models in the media; the downside to that is that marketers aren't doing it because of acceptance or wanting to promote healthier body types, they're doing it simply for sales dollars.


Feeling jaded by this realization, I started look down on many campaigns featuring "acceptance" - be it the Lane Bryant ad (which photo I feature above) or the Dove campaign (referenced in my original link at the beginning of this post) or anything in between. 

And I also started to wonder ... is it really a good thing to be so widely accepting?  Can marketers take this too far?

So for the last year or two, I've been wondering where marketers would go with this "acceptance" process.  And I started to worry a bit, because with obesity becoming ever the norm in the United States, I wondered - could it be possible that these campaigns could begin to feature even larger models?  And if so, what will this mean?

Sure enough, just a few months prior to me writing this post, a new plus sized model began gaining momentum in the media.  Because I do not mean to shame her, I am going to omit her name here.  But I do want to include her photo, because it is relevant to what I have to say next.

Seeing the above photo, my first reaction was - wow, what a beautiful woman.  She really is very lovely.  And naturally, being curious, I started reading articles about how she was getting some very good modeling contracts and such. 

Unfortunately, that's when I started seeing other photos of her as well, some of which featured her in a non-Photoshopped and non-ideal body positions.

I saw all these additional photos and I started to think ... are we going so far to accept people of all types that we're normalizing, or even idealizing (via media promotions), a physical appearance that could have some serious overall health and wellbeing impacts?

Before you light up and attack me for this question, I challenge you to think about how marketing works.  People today see messages and photos tied to various products.  We are bombarded all day long with messages on what to wear and buy and eat and do.  And whether we want it to or not, it becomes ingrained in our memory.

Case in point #1?  I can sing the McDonald's big mac song from the 80s/90s 'till the cows come home, but God help me if I need to recall the capital of Nebraska.  (It's Lincoln, and yes, I had to resort to Google.  Meanwhile, I still can't get the "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese ..." song out of my head).

This just goes to prove that media and marketing today is an innate part of who we are.  Regardless of how hard we fight it, those messages becomes an ingrained part of our personal self. 

And unfortunately, many people don't even fight those messages, they just accept them as fact.

Case in point #2?  In the last two months, I've been asked multiple times by people I work out with if they should start taking protein supplements via various advertised shakes ... because they help with weight loss or muscle build or whatever the advertiser claimed in their ad; never mind that the people asking me if they should take them already get plenty of protein in their daily diets and aren't trying to become body builders or "bulk up".

So I look at the influence marketing has had on just myself and those around me and I begin to wonder: how will the use of obese models shape us as it becomes more frequent in the media?  Will seeing these models begin to normalize obesity and thus create a crutch for those who want to justify their current unhealthy lifestyles?  Meaning, will this "acceptance" in marketing encourage people to accept their obesity rather than try to address it?


Thinking through this topic, I decided to reach out to a friend about this and discuss.  As I expected, she told me that this topic is a VERY slippery slope.

And yes, this is where I have to admit, there is definitely a very fine line in this discussion.  I can't go around telling people to be happy with who they are (and I definitely think that's a must), all the while saying we shouldn't use overweight models in advertising.  Not to mention, it is obviously IMPERATIVE to be kind and accepting of all people.  We should never talk down to someone or shame them - regardless of what they look like, what color they are, or even what kinds of clothing they choose to wear.

But my friend made an exceptional point.  She mentioned the "This Girl Can" campaign that came out some time ago, and said something to the effect of "that's an ad I can get behind because it's features all different body types, but not for the purpose of pointing out one is fat or one is skinny - it's simply to show them doing all kinds of things, and that they are all trying to do what is best for them".

Hm.  Good point.  There was actually a great message behind that ad campaign, and it featured all types of body shapes.  Granted, it was more of a PSA than a message to consume some sort of product, but still ... it did use all kinds of body types to portray its' message, and I didn't walk away feeling like it glorified obesity or anything stupid like that.


After thinking through how much media can brainwash us, but my friend mentioning how "This Girl Can" featured people doing what is best for them, I find myself stuck in the middle.

I love the all inclusive, positive message of "This Girl Can".
I hate how the average person is so snowballed by marketing.

So where does that leave me?  I guess ... I don't know what else to say.

Maybe the best thing I can do is bring us back to where I started at the beginning of this post, with a James Fell article quote:

"Perhaps most important is not to listen to trends about what is allegedly hot and what isn’t, and instead do what you feel is best for you."

So I end this post by saying - please, everyone, wake up!  Stop doing what marketers want you to do.  Stop accepting their portrayals as truth, or acceptance, or whatever their message of the hour might be.  Instead, just ignore all that and do what is best for you.

And maybe, try turning off the TV a bit more often.  If nothing else, at least that will free you from some of the marketing to begin with.


What are your thoughts on this topic?  Start the discussion below.

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