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Tag: Lynx

Sexism dovetails with hypocrisy

Nina Funnell and I wrote the following Opinion piece, which was also featured in The Age newspaper today. 

The Age on-line 21/6/12

Accusing Lynx of peddling sexist advertisements is like informing Kyle Sandilands that his material is considered controversial. Well, duh.

Lynx’s latest campaign featuring Sophie Monk offering to clean various men’s balls has attracted valid criticism and complaints relating to female objectification and sexploitation.

But the problem with protesting is that it is precisely this outrage that Lynx aims to provoke.

Each time Lynx campaigns are launched, advertising standards bodies are inundated with letters of complaint. Last year alone, for example, six Lynx commercials were banned in the UK. And each time this happens, Lynx issues a statement that basically says “Oopsie, we didn’t mean to be rude,” and then churns out the next lot. No doubt they are factoring in the free publicity their controversial ads will attract when calculating losses due to the short shelf life of their campaigns.

Forget the “sex sells” mantra. These days, it’s sexism that really pulls in the cash.

But if finger pointing is only feeding the beast (by providing more free publicity), should the critics remain silent?

Perhaps educating our young people about disingenuous corporate agendas would prove more effective. And they don’t come much more disingenuous than Lynx’s parent company, Unilever.

Remember that Dove campaign featuring women of all different shapes, colours and sizes standing around in their knickers supposedly taking on beauty stereotypes? Dove is owned by Unilever. Yep. The exact same company that is funding self-esteem workshops and body-love courses for girls in our schools (under the Dove brand) is also producing the very types of ads that those courses caution against.

And the hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. Dove reminds girls to accept their bodies and to love the skin they’re born in. But aside from selling the dieting product SlimFast globally, Unilever also sells a skin-bleaching product in places such as India and the Middle East called “Fair and Lovely”. This product is aimed at darker-skinned women, with the promise that it will whiten their skin so that they too might one day resemble the Aryan ideal so celebrated in all the Lynx advertisements. According to Unilever’s website, “skin lightening creams are the preferred mode of skin care in almost all Asian countries, just as anti ageing creams are in Europe and the USA”. What a fair and lovely message.

What really irks us, and the teen girls we speak to, is not so much the boringly predictable sexism of Lynx but the completely hypocritical ethos of Unilever as a company.

Teen girls get particularly irate when they discover that Impulse body mist sprays (which feature names like “Instantly Innocent” and “True Love”) are owned by the same company which produces Lynx products. Forget the images of dating, romance and hearts they feed the girls; when it comes to sniggering with the boys, Unilever pushes the idea that one simple spray is all that it takes to score.

For a brand hoping to position itself as “edgy” the messages are incredibly tired: Girls date. Men mate.  As one girl recently told us, “That’s so two faced!”

It makes you wonder what the Unilever office must look like. In one cubicle you’ve got the Lynx team drooling over headless bikini babes to see which one should feature in their “Wash me, I’m a  dirty girl” campaign, whilst at the next desk Team Dove are polishing up their latest  self-esteem slogan for women.

And while teen boys may respond well to scantily clad women, they respond equally well to clever Chaser-style takedowns of hypocritical corporate giants.

Activists who use witty satire can be highly effective in getting companies to rethink their long-term strategies. Satirical attacks work because the brand no longer looks cheeky or naughty. It just looks stupid.

Anti-Lynx activists have recently clocked up hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits on videos poking fun at Unilever. One particularly clever clip parodies Dove’s “Onslaught” campaign. The original Dove campaign, which was used to launch their self-esteem program, features a young girl being bombarded with images of the unobtainable standards of beauty presented to girls by the media. The film ends with the line “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”

In a witty twist, anti-Lynx activists replaced all the problematic images the little girl sees in the original clip with others taken directly from advertising campaigns run by Unilever itself. This ad ends with the line “Talk to your daughter before Unilever does.”

Amen to that.

 

A National Strategy on Body Image

The issue of negative body image has officially crossed over into the mainstream public debate. We now have a proposed National Strategy on Body Image, put together by an advisory group appointed by the federal government.

Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, put together the group, which was chaired by Mia Freedman, former editor of Cosmopolitan, and  featured big names in the fashion industry and  media such as TV presenter and model Sarah Murdoch, children’s health and psychology experts including Professor David Forbes of the University of Western Australia, and leaders of youth organisations such as the YWCA. They considered submissions from the public–mostly young people, teachers, youth workers, social workers and psychologists–then came up with recommendations for government action to deal with the widespread problem of poor body image.

What excites me, and my colleagues at Enlighten, is that the Strategy gives public recognition to the important role school programs can and should play in helping girls develop positive body image.  The Strategy calls for increased funding for “reputable and expert organisations to deliver seminars and discussions on body image within schools” and for workshops that increase girls’ media literacy so that they can stand up to negative media messages.

Many schools access independent organisations to deliver one-off body image workshops or to facilitate body image discussions among students. A number of these types of interventions have been demonstrated as effectively reducing the body dissatisfaction of students. The Advisory Group encourages government to increase the opportunities schools have to access these activities.

Proposed National Strategy on Body Image

As a first step, I call on the federal government to immediately introduce the Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist in the Strategy (on page 42). It has some great practical ideas that I would love to see implemented in schools across Australia. The best of the recommendations:

  • Bring positive body image messages into the curriculum. It is easy to see how body image can be incorporated into health and physical education lesson plans, but teachers need not stop there. In English, students could be asked to write a critical thinking essay on how the media affects our idea of what a woman should look like. A media studies class might focus on the way that programs such as Photoshop are used by magazines to create an unattainable ideal of beauty.
  • Consult with students to develop a sports uniform everyone feels comfortable wearing. Being involved in sport has been shown to boost girls’ self-esteem and body image–yet it has also been shown that figure-hugging uniforms are one of the greatest barriers to girls participating in sport.
  • Provide Mental Health First Aid training for teachers that can help them identify body image and eating disorders in students and then know what steps to take next.
  • Give training for teachers in how to use body-friendly language with students–that is, no “fat talk”, either about themselves or their students.
  • Include positive body image in the school’s policy, even writing positive body image and the celebration of diversity into the school’s mission statement.
  • Do away with weighing and measuring students. It seems kind of crazy that in this day and age that has to even be spelt out, but it is still done in PE and even some maths classes. And for many students, the humiliation they experience leaves lasting scars.

Beyond the school system, there are some other good (and long overdue) suggestions in the Strategy that I hope the government implements. A standard system of clothing sizes to avoid the distress many feel when they find they can’t fit into a certain size. Stores stocked with a broad range of sizes, reflecting the diversity of our body types. Mannequins that look more like the many different women we see every day in the street.

But as with most such working papers put together by committee, within parameters set by a federal government, the Strategy of course has its limitations. For instance, it can simply suggest that funding should be increased in schools to ensure all girls receive the media literacy and self-esteem workshops they need; it can’t provide an assurance that this will actually happen.

The limitations of the Strategy become clearer when it deals with other avenues for promoting positive body image. The right principle is there: to encourage clothing designers, magazines and TV, the diet industry, advertisers and marketers to finally shoulder responsibility for the shame, disgust and body anxiety they routinely encourage young women to experience. But the Strategy recommends first trying the softly, softly approach: asking companies to follow a voluntary code of conduct and rewarding them for good behaviour by listing them in a roll of honour and awarding them the right to display a logo. Think of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval, but in this case for creating positive body image rather than lowering cholesterol. Only once this approach had failed to produce results would penalties be considered.

I would be overjoyed if companies voluntarily started treating girls and women with more respect. And I think some would, so long as it was good for their bottom line. Think, for instance, of Dove, which uses the body image issue to sell a truckload of soap–while their parent company’s other key brands include Lynx (Boom Chicka Waa Waa, anyone?), Slim Fast and Ponds Skin Whitening cream marketed in Asian countries. A lot of fashion designers would  simply pull one of those frosty catwalk model faces in response to a suggestion they promote positive body image. I mean, can you really see Gucci saying “Hey, they’re right, we should stop promoting this unhealthy stick-thin image and adopt that voluntary code of conduct”?

I do wish that the proposed national strategy had more to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and especially of girls. While body size and shape and the lack of diversity in the media are prime sources of despair, the pressure to be sexy–and only within a narrow ideal of sexiness–is increasingly causing serious problems.

Research shows that over time women can come to see themselves as objects and subject their bodies to constant surveillance, feeling disgusted and ashamed about themselves. So even if the code helps industry to get serious about presenting more realistically sized women, the expectation to be ‘‘hot’’ and ‘‘sexy’’ will remain. And industry will have the right product and the latest look we need to achieve this false ideal.

Misty de Vries, COO, Women’s Forum Australia, in The Age

The way I look at it, the National Strategy on Body Image is a great place to start. But its recommendations are only worth something if the politicians, the fashion and beauty product industries, and the media and advertisers follow through on them. It is thanks to all of us voicing our opinions that the government commissioned a Strategy in the first place. Now we have to keep up the pressure!

Worshiping the Writing Muse

65105.jpg“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle
with human emotion.”
 

Laini Taylor

I love to read. I have always been devoted to reading. In the bath, before bed, with my children – I surround myself with words that help me make sense of the world. Words that amuse me. Words that challenge me. Words that leave me breathless with their brilliance.  

This week I struggled to make sense of some particularly disturbing events and searched almost manically for the considered insights of others. I thought I’d share some of my angst with you, and the words that helped soothe me. The pieces of writing I chose to absorb have not provided me with simple answers, but they have at least validated my own inner turmoil and ultimately made me feel less alone…

I have included links to the complete articles I quote from here in my articles of interest page.

 1. Heartache – The horrific abuse of children, both in Texas (where 463 children were removed from a polygamist camp after reports of widespread sexual abuse) and in Austria (the nightmarish story of a father’s ongoing imprisonment and sexual abuse of his daughter) left me feeling deeply sad.

I love children. More than I ever thought I could – and not just my own children, but everyone’s. This love and the empathy I have for young girls in particular seems at times so very large and hard to contain. It has arrived suddenly and unexpectedly into my life and whilst it is key to my success in working with young people (they can see, smell and taste its authenticity) it does also leave me psyche wounded by reports of children being harmed.

I ached to move beyond despair and sought to discover what, if anything, these events could teach:  

There is a link between the horrific violence committed against the women of the captive Austrian family and the apparent abuse of teenage girls in Texas, and it is the same unbroken chord that connects them tangentially—but significantly—to Hannah Montana’s fall from grace. When women and girls are routinely viewed as objects, they are dehumanized. They can be seen as chattel or animals, until someone uncovers a horror so complete that we recoil from it. Yet every day around the world, women are still sold into marriage, shunned for their husbands’ adultery, and raped as sexual assault is used as an instrument of war.

No, the degradation we have seen so much of these past few weeks does not signal the end of the world. But it provides a chilling reminder that history itself, with our own culture of sexism and misogyny feeding it, still consigns women to fates no man would wish upon himself.” 

Thank you Melinda for finding these words for me. Thank you writer Marie Coco – the pieces fit. I can now move beyond despair and get angry, and once again be active.   

2. Dilemma – 

I love reading blogs and am refreshed by the immediate, unfettered way bloggers write. The on-line world buzzed with news that Dove’s “real beauties” may not be so real after all. Crikeyreported that: “In a May 12 2008 profile in The New Yorker posted online, Pascal Dangin of New York’s Box Studios is quoted as saying he extensively retouched photos used in the Campaign for Real Beauty, which, if true, could seriously undermine an effort that already has subjected Unilever to considerable consumer and activist backlash in recent months. –AdAge

Even if this latest report is not true, I still feel instinctively uneasy about Unilever’s involvement in any self esteem program designed for girls. Unilever’s other key brand is the not-so-respectful Lynx. Lynx is a brand targeting young men, it promotes hyper sexualised images of women stripping and gyrating to a guitar rift lifted from a 1970’s porn film: “Boom Chicka Waa waa…”  

I have, of course, blogged on this in previous posts. The quandary? To speak out more publicly via the mainstream media, or to remain composed. On the one hand, I have plenty to say about the wisdom of allowing Dove into schools. On the other, as the CEO of a private company that also works in schools on self esteem and body image programs,  I do not want my arguments to be dismissed as merely “sour grapes”, nor do I want to be seen as criticising The Butterfly Foundation as they manage Dove’s in school programs in Australia. I believe the Foundation is highly reputable, hard working and genuinely committed to the welfare of young women. Other women I also admire enormously have been affiliated with Dove’s campaign too – including Naomi Wolf, a woman I consider one of my feminist role models.

The words below pre-date the latest outbreak of Dove alarm, this piece was written in 2006. I find I continue to return to it, however, as it confirms my suspicions and hearing them articulated so passionately, provides a release…   

HOW comfortable would you be with a fast-food chain providing the nutrition information in your son’s biology class? How about a beauty company lecturing your teenage daughter on her self-image…

What’s going on is a sales pitch. Everywhere we look, we see the beauty industry attacking women’s body images in the name of selling products that don’t actually work. Dove ingeniously aligns itself with the critics of its industry, while doing what exactly? Selling the same you-too-can-be-beautiful creams as its competitors…

Yes, these women are big and fleshy when compared with the anorectic adolescents usually trotted out to convince us to part with mega dollars for small pots of potion. But these confident, grinning women, with their perfect teeth and flawless skin, don’t resemble those I see in my local shopping centre pushing trolleys. There isn’t a wrinkle or a saggy behind on any of them.

What’s more, and despite Dove’s assertions to the contrary, these women are models. They were carefully culled from the crowd and paid to represent a product. Same as any other casting call. They’re now celebrities, touring shopping centres and appearing on television in the United States – a marketing dream…

In the end, even though Dove may ask some useful questions and may even do some good, its measure of beauty is still calibrated by thighs not thoughts, visage not values and appearances not actions.

Dove’s definition is just as disempowering and confining as any other definition of idealised beauty.

Would Dove really be so concerned about my self-image if it weren’t trying to get me to buy its products? Would the company still bankroll its social and educational programs, if sales declined?

If Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, was really committed to the body image issue, wouldn’t it change the advertising (its worldwide media budget is $8.6 billion) for all its other beauty products: Pond’s, Lux, Pears, Sunsilk and Rexona among them? Wouldn’t it be concerned that it’s the maker of Slim-Fast?

If this was anything more than the savvy implementation of a marketing angle, would the same company have given us LynxJet, the most sexist advertising of recent times?

Call me cynical, but I guess there must be real beauty in those dollars.”

Thank you Helen Greenwood.

2412842020_438d35b43b1.jpg 

Finally, thank you to Margaret Gee, my literary agent, and to Katie Stackhouse at Random House. I have just been offered a book deal with Random and am thrilled by their obvious commitment and excitement about the project.  

I too shall swirl and swing words.

Wonderful.

  

Claim back the music!

What is the soundtrack to your life? What music surrounded you in your most formative teen years? What song was playing when you first kissed, when you danced at your school formal, or when you broke loose and did a hairbrush solo in your bedroom?

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As a child of the eighties Madonna rocked my world and shocked my parents by revealing she felt like a virgin being touched for the very first time. Chrissy Amphlett sung of desperation and lust. These were wild women who fully embraced their sexuality, but they were nobodies “bitch” or “‘ho.” Madonna may have been a “material girl” but she didn’t need a pimp. These girls all ran their own show. The men around them looked on with respect or desire – perhaps even with fear, but rarely with contempt.

Song lyrics have always been filled with sexual innuendo and pushed societies boundaries but this in-your-face mainstream misogyny is relatively new. And now- thanks to large plasma screens in shopping centers, bowling alleys and bars and night clubs – it is inescapable. It’s hate and porn, all the time.

A 2008 report entitled “Ambivalent Sexism and Misogynistic Rap Music: Does Exposure to Eminem Increase Sexism?”, published recently in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that it is unlikely that hearing lyrics in a song creates sexist attitudes that do not previously exist. Based on their findings, the head researcher Assistant Professor Cobb went on to state,” There is not much evidence in our study to support an argument in favour of censorship.” But haven’t these researchers missed the point? Sexist attitudes may not have increased amongst their male and female subjects, but how did the female subjects feel about themselves and their bodies after being exposed to one of the songs they actually used in the study, Eminem’s song “Kill You”. The lyrics include:

“(AH!) Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore
’til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?!
(AH!) These mother #!!! are thinking I’m playing
Thinking I’m saying the shit cause I’m thinking it just to be saying it
(AH!) Put your hands down bitch, I ain’t gonna shoot you
I’m gonna pull YOU to this bullet, and put it through you
(AH!) Shut up slut, you’re causing too much chaos
Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK Ma?”

eminem_misogony.jpg

A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship.

Even the strongest of us admit to feeling less than they were after a dose of the Pussycat Dolls and Eminem – there is undeniably a nasty after taste. Yet look around, these sounds and their associated film clips are the very fodder we now give our children as the soundtrack to their youth. The Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha?” includes the lyrics “I know you want it…I know you should be on with me…don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me, don’t cha wish your girlfriend was raw like me?”. This anthem to the sisterhood featured on Hits for kids Volume 3 this Christmas, alongside songs by Hi 5 and Guy Sebastian. Alvin the Chipmunk sings “Don’t cha” in his made for the pre-school set holiday film release. Markets are filled with junior Eminem tracksuits and gangster accessories for the budding pimp. Am I the only one who cringes when I see small girls shaking it to “My Humps”?

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Rhinna is currently at number 1 on our music charts with her song “Don’t Stop The Music” – I agree. I love music. I’m not after censorship, just commonsense. And awareness. Would it be asking too much if there could be a day set aside to celebrate positive portrayal of women on music and film clips? A day where we didn’t have to keep our hand on the radio dial as we drive the kids to school for fear that they were going to have to listen to lyrics about yet another “Nasty Gal”?

Five years ago if you had suggested we needed Earth Hour, an hour where we all turned off the lights to remind ourselves to be mindful of power consumption and our impact on the planet, you would have been thought a radical environmental extremist. Yet as things literally heated up, the lights all went out. How much hotter do things need to get on our airwaves and on our TV sets? I suspect society will also agree we have now indeed reached tipping point and will embrace a day that seeks to claim back the music.

Smart radio stations will jump on board. Overseas, special days devoted to the positive portrayal of women in music have pushed radio stations ratings through the roof. In Boston “Radio Log”, a station set up to promote positive portrayals of black women and inspire open phone conversations around relationships, has received nothing but good press. Radio stations should show leadership and live up to their responsibilities of meeting societies ethical and moral standards.

And as companies madly chase the female dollar, surely keeping women happy and showing them, and their daughters, respect can only be a smart and strategic marketing move?

Money doesn’t just talk – it sings too.

P.S I have asked my colleagues at Women’s Forum Australia and Kids Free 2B Kids to join me in calling for a national day that reclaims the music for women. I am hoping we might hear from a few more like minded people who want to celebrate women through song, not denegrate them – would also love the media to get behind us. Any takers?

P.S.S How infuriating is this song from the “Bom Chicka Wah Wah’s”?  Unilever promote HIGHLY degrading portrayals of women with their brand Lynx (a brand that targets teen boys) whilst attempting to take their other key brand Dove in to our schools to sponsor self esteem programs for teenagers! “Body Think” may be a fabulous program and serves a real need – bravo the Butterfly Foundation for managing this – BUT when Unilver ( Dove and Lynx) also pushes these “girls gone wild” destructive messages at our young people I say NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  Until Unilver cleans up its act and starts to show it genuinely cares about young women – and does not just choose to act responsibly when it suits them for the sake of promoting a particular brand – I’m boycotting all their products.   

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And if that wasn’t bad enough – how about the lack of respect shown towards female teachers in this ad? Her student’s scent reduces her to singing porn music. 

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Want to get really angry? Check out the “web site they tried to ban” – The Lynx Effect. Compare it to the web site promoting Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty – SAME PARENT COMPANY. Grrrrrr…. 

LOVE this Youtube clip by Rye Clifton that exposes the inherent contradiction in Unilver’s marketing onslaught (in the USA Lynx is called Axe):

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LOVE that it caused a stir too…we need to be critical of all the dangerous and mixed messages that our young people are being exposed to.

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The comments here are MUST READS…

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