Feminist language is being appropriated by ads selling conventional beauty

In Opinion
By using feminist rhetoric to push a product, magazines and advertisements are cashing in on the movement and reinforcing conventional beauty standards and gender roles. Women have to exercise caution and be more critical consumers to prevent this from remaining the standard. (Hannah Miller / Daily Titan)

Magazines and advertisements aimed at females seem to push for a more independent, empowered and confident woman, but their messages of consumerism, conventional beauty and romance are sneakily worded to appeal to a modern feminist audience.

“Seemingly esteem-boosting ‘girl power’ rhetoric makes this message seem fresh, and provides marketers an appealing way to sell even independent-minded girls old-fashioned deference and subordination as ‘empowerment,’” said Amanda Gengler in her research article “Selling Feminism, Consuming Femininity.”

Women, especially young girls, need to be critical of advertisements and entertainment magazines. Without reading between the lines and identifying the ulterior motives within these types of publications, women are vulnerable to becoming consumerist puppets.

The cover of Seventeen magazine’s March/April issue entices women to buy the magazine by saying “CUTEST Outfits Ever, PRETTY Makeup & Quick CONFIDENCE Boosters.” It appeals to women who promote positive self-esteem by emphasizing the word “confidence,” but makes it seem as if confidence can only be reached through buying the “cute” and “pretty” products that pertain to physical beauty advertisements.

Cosmopolitan’s June issue, self-proclaimed as “The Confidence Issue,” commands readers to “Love Your Body” while simultaneously featuring conventional beauty standards and “Baywatch” star Kelly Rohrbach on the cover in a tight-fitting, cleavage-revealing bathing suit.

Feminist language is used on the cover, but it’s being appropriated to sell a specific look that entices women to buy certain goods so they can feel confident.

Advertisers have created a means for convincing women who view themselves as “intelligent, self-directed and equal,” that they are right in their views, but that they still need to constantly improve themselves with the products they’re advertising by using buzz words like “empowerment,” “self-determination” and “independence,” Gengler said.

This method of advertising using faux-progressive language keeps girls behaving in acceptable and appropriate feminine ways and leads them to emulate, rather than challenge, society’s traditional gender hierarchies, Gengler said.

Magazines and advertisers may seem to be supporting women but in reality, they are supporting their own greed and stereotypical gender roles.

In magazines, for most articles about looking good and feeling good, there’s another one about sex, how to get a boyfriend or how to look sexy — making magazines less about the women they’re trying to appeal to and more about pleasing men.

Not only do magazines provide advice for how to be conventionally beautiful and stylish to feel confident, they also emphasize that women must follow this advice in order to be desirable to men. In addition, there are articles and ads that tell women how to please and support men and rarely any about politics, education or careers, or important issues like texting and driving.

Dove is mostly successful in actually serving women while still selling a product, by featuring women of many body types and skin tones. The critical responses to Dove have been mostly positive but when advertisers try to go against the grain, they are often met with hostility.

Adidas recently featured photographer, digital artist and model Arvida Byström in a video advertisement series for its new Adidas Originals Superstar shoes. The company chose Byström because she’s “known for her photography, which questions femininity and gender standards using so-called ‘girly’ aesthetics,” according to the info section of the official video on YouTube.

Oh, and she also has unshaved legs in the video.

Among the many hateful comments under the YouTube video, one read: “Is this what some woman have become? No thanks.” Another read: “Stop brushing your teeth and wiping your a– too f–king feminazi retarded.”

Some people were too distracted and offended by her naturally hairy legs to get that she was specifically chosen to challenge conventional beauty standards and show that beauty can be found in many different forms.

In response, Byström posted to Instagram, “Me being such an abled, white, cis body with its only nonconforming feature being a lil leg hair. Literally I’ve been getting rape threats in my DM inbox. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to not posses all these privileges and try to exist in the world.”

Most advertisers are not as bold as Adidas and still pander to the sexist ideals that litter society, leaving women to think that their looks and relationships with men are more important than anything else.

“Feminist demands for political and economic equality … Morph into a refusal to settle for less than silky skin,” Gengler said. “Pseudo-feminist language allows young women to believe that they can ‘empower’ themselves at the checkout counter by buying the accoutrements of traditional femininity.”

Women need to be critical consumers and recognize that magazines and ads are pushing a culture of beauty and romance that benefits themselves most of all.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a boyfriend or that new lipstick from MAC, but be aware that these things won’t make for a better life like advertisers say it will. Women should check themselves and the media they’re consuming to make sure that whatever they aspire to have or be is not a result of being told to want it.

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