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Tag: Unilever

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.

 

The Government’s New Body Image Policy

bodyimagecodeLate last year in this blog, I gave my assessment of the National Strategy on Body Image proposed by an advisory group that was appointed by the federal government. Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, has just released the government’s body image policy in response to the proposal. So, how has the policy shaped up?

I had praised the advisory group’s recommendations for a Body Image Friendly Schools Checklist, so I am happy to see that the government will be distributing posters based on the checklist to every primary and secondary school in the country.

Regarding the rest of the policy, I think the intentions are good and many of the principles are undeniably sensible. Stores stocking a broad range of clothing for all shapes and sizes? Of course I believe in this recommendation, and many similar recommendations. However, I also believe that girls and young women deserve stronger action than what this policy takes.

The government has introduced an industry code of conduct designed to encourage the media, fashion and advertising industries to promote more positive body image messages. I agree with most of the guidelines in the code, such as calling on companies to: promote positive body image messages; include images of a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities; not undermine positive body image editorial messages with negative advertising; use models who are of a healthy weight and appropriate age; and cater to diverse women. One aspect of the code I am suspect of is that it asks companies to not digitally alter images to an unrealistic or unattainable degree, and to tell consumers when they have altered images. Frankly, this recommendation seems inadequate. Doesn’t any Photoshopping send the message that women are not good enough the way they are? That aside, in large part, I think it will be a healthier world for our girls to grow up in if companies follow the code of conduct. But—and this is a big but—the code is only voluntary.

This seems profoundly naive to me. What media, fashion or advertising company is going to invest time and money in following a voluntary code—unless it’s good for their bottom line?

This brings me to my next reservation about the new policy . . .

A national body image friendly awards scheme is to be launched. Organisations, initiatives and products that receive awards will earn the right to display a body image friendly symbol. It’s like the body image equivalent of the Heart Foundation’s tick of approval. But surely companies will only vie to win an award if it helps their bottom line. Are we seeing the start of the commodification of positive body image? That’s a possibility that truly makes me shudder.

Already we have seen companies such as Unilever using the body image issue to sell products, through their Dove “real” beauty campaigns. Given that Uniliver employs incredibly negative body image messages to sell some of its other brands, such as Lynx, Slim Fast and Ponds Skin whitening cream in Asia, I think it’s fair to conclude that at least in that company, profit is more important than positive body image. (There has also been some questioning of just how real the images in those Dove campaigns are. If you want to find out more, there are articles in New York magazine and Jezebel about a hypocritical casting call for “beautiful” and “flawless” women for their next real beauty campaign. Dove has since put out a statement that they didn’t approve the casting call—though I notice that they haven’t denied an association with the casting company that issued it.)

My main concern is that a body image friendly symbol could become just another marketing tool to drive profit—and one that may well be fairly meaningless to the consumer if it doesn’t reflect the whole reality of a company’s body image messages.

Last year, I noted that the proposed national strategy had nothing to say on the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls. The government’s policy also fails to address these crucial issues, even though the pressure to be too sexy too soon is a major part of many girls’ body image dissatisfaction. Experts in child and adolescent development, parents and social commentators have identified the damaging rise in sexualisation and objectification as something we as a society need to act on now.  The Australian Psychological Society has issued guidelines and has lobbied extensively in Canberra. So, why the deafening silence in the government policy?

Melinda Tankard Reist has written a couple of thought-provoking blog posts on this gap in the policy. Among other things, she discussed the absurdity of the media touting the size 14 model Laura Wells as the ultimate in positive body image simply because she is not thin and is happy to pose almost nude, squeezing her breasts together for the camera. I agree wholeheartedly with what Melinda wrote in a follow-up post:

You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.

Associate Professor Karen Brooks, of Southern Cross University, in her column in The Courier-Mail, like me agreed in principle with the aims of the policy but had reservations. She believes, as do I, that it is unfortunate that the advisory group did not seek opinions from a greater number of outside bodies and individuals with expertise in these issues. Karen also notes that the government’s allocation of funding has opened the way for beauty industry involvement in the teaching of positive body image in schools. I think such involvement is a whole world of wrong, akin to a fast food chain going into schools to promote healthy eating. That’s why Enlighten Education will always remain proudly independent, never accepting sponsorships or partnerships with corporations of any kind, especially beauty and fashion companies.

I also share Karen’s view that it is key for any in-school body image initiatives to be targeted at large groups of girls, over a sustained period. This is something that Enlighten believes in very strongly, because evidence shows that large-group interventions—say, with an entire grade—are far more effective than small-group ones of only a dozen or so girls. It is critical to spread the message to as large a number of girls at once as possible. That way, a girl’s whole peer group is speaking the same language, so the message isn’t undermined.

Over the next few months, the criteria for earning the government’s body image friendly symbol will be fine-tuned. I join with Karen Brooks in urging the advisory group to use this time to consult more widely with experts and with young people. I applaud the government for its good intentions and for acknowledging that negative body image among young people is a real issue that we all need to be concerned about. However, given the policy’s limitations, I again urge parents, teachers and community leaders to keep up the good work of combatting negative body image messages. In the end, it is our responsibility to be body image role models for girls and to send positive body image messages in what we say and what we do.

Teaching Resources ready to go – part 2!

I stumbled upon another great American site in my cyber – world travels this week that I think is worth sharing:

www.loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org

This organisation runs a number of really interesting initiatives. One is the “Love Your Body” campaign which is launched each year with a poster competition:

The grand prize winning poster will be used as part of a national campaign to challenge the media’s use of violent, drug-addicted, starved, surgically-enhanced images of women and to fight against industries that profit from women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.”

 Some of the past winners have produced fabulous works of art; LOVE this year’s winner, What’s the measure of a woman?

I have saved a number of past winners (including one submitted by an Australian!) to my picture gallery but do check these out for yourself at their site. Better yet – you can forward those you like to girls and women you want to inspire as they are available to send as free E-cards!

Another fabulous resource the foundation offers is a downloadable PowerPoint presentation on the portrayal of women in advertising. This comes complete with separate facilitator notes. I have saved the presentation for you here as a PDF so you can take a quick look through; if you think it may be useful simply download the PPoint yourself from their site.

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My Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discovered the following PDF listing resources for students, teachers and parents that will support work on eating disorders and body image at the Tasmanian Eating Disorder Web Site : Resource list

And I also quite like the “Completely Gorgeous”site. There are some useful things here as well – including teaching notes. Found the GORGEOUS film had some really bright moments: http://www.completelygorgeous.com/vid.html.

I know Dove support The Body Think program in schools but I am so furious with Unilever’s hypocrisy that I just can’t go there. Unilever own Dove – great messages for women there. But they also own Lynx ( vile misogyny!), Slim Fast ( vile hypocrisy!), and run shameful ad’s promoting skin whitening in other countries. Check this one out for their Pond’s brand in India. SHAME!!!

Love to hear about any resources you have used to inform and enlighten!

 

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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