When considering the proliferation of women’s exploitation in the fashion and makeup industry, it can be difficult to imagine an alternative approach to ‘getting people’s attention’ that does not involve the casual objectification of women. Even when it has been proven that sex and violence can prevent messages from being received by a viewer, the use of naked and semi-naked women in advertising creates an unspoken agreement that objectification is ‘necessary’ for selling makeup, fashion and skin care products. Hair removal specialists NADs for one, are a company whose objectification of women in advertising could be considered essential for selling hair removal cream and makeup (which, after all, are designed to go on skin).
Although objectification has hardly been accepted by everyone, current debates appear focused on the prevalence of advertising in public, not so much whether alternative approaches can be taken in the first place. In the process of writing this blog post, I was unable to find examples of fashion and makeup labels that were making conscientious, respectful choices in their advertising, beyond which had already detailed in a previous post. Badger for example, are a company that through the process of creating a campaign, use four criteria when determining if an ad objectifies women:
- Prop: Does the woman have a choice or voice in this situation?
- Part: Is she reduced to just a sexually provocative body part?
- Plastic: Is the image manipulated to the extent that the look is not humanly achievable?
- What if: Would you be comfortable to see your sister, best friend or yourself in this image?
Well Made Clothes, are an online company that source their goods from a variety of ethical, sustainable labels, whilst making sure that the advertisements they reproduce are grounded in gender equality and respect (even if the labels are not always balanced in their campaigns).
BONDS have defended their ad campaigns as ‘empowering’ for women, however when considering that many of their TV spots feature semi-naked women dancing in their underwear, one has to ask whether they believe that a woman can only be empowered if she is demeaned at the same time.
In the absence of any viable alternatives to advertising being readily spoken about, creatives in the industry are given free reign to insist that while they do personally condone objectification, they consider it to be a ‘necessary evil’ for effective advertising. Tom Ford for example, is a designer that has been quick to defend himself when criticised for his objectification of women. When queried on his portrayal of women in advertising, Ford has said, “I’ve been criticised for objectifying women. But I’m an equal opportunity objectifier – I’m just as happy to objectify men. The thing is, you can’t show male nudity in our culture in the way you can show female nudity. We’re very comfortable as a culture exploiting women, but not men. But I don’t think of it as exploitation [either way]” before going on to say that women should not be considered so passive in an industry where female models rarely have a voice, "there’s nothing stronger and more powerful than a beautiful woman. I don’t think expressing what nature intended you to be is anything but powerful. My women are not sitting there waiting for someone, they’re taking charge. Doesn’t matter whether they’re naked – they’re powerful, they’re smart, and you’re not going to get them if they don’t want you.”
It is not just those on the outside that have expressed dissatisfaction with the fashion industry. According to the Guardian, female creatives have expressed their unhappiness that the fashion industry can be demeaning, dismissive and unsupportive of women.
According to a study, “70% of young female creatives says they have never worked with a female creative director or executive creative director” and “88% of young female creatives say they lack role models”, while many more have said that they work in a male-dominated environment which is unsupportive of women with families. Could it be assumed that female creatives are denied a voice in the industry to curb the possibility that they may advocate for exploitation free advertising?
Naomi Wolf’s classic work The Beauty Myth portrays a clear picture of the damage that fashion and makeup advertisements can do. As well as being demeaning, advertisements create false expectations that impact men’s understanding of women, whilst fabricating a superficial view of ‘beauty’ that is based on perfect fashion, skin and makeup (with hair removal companies going one step further to suggest that bodily hair should be removed in the first place).
Whilst recent efforts to empower women through “femvertising” should be commended, particularly when hashtags like #HeForShe, #LikeaGirl and #ThisGirlCan are breaking gender stereotypes, their commonality does suggest that advocates and creatives alike have given up hope of a ‘revolution’ within the industry, and that it is advertising’s existence, rather than its approach, that needs to be challenged.
Instead, what is needed within this debate is a clear message that alternative approaches to advertising can be taken in the first place, taking a bottom’s up approach that will challenge the foundation of why objectification is so routine.
 The Beauty Myth. Wolf, Naomi. Toronto : Vintage Canada, 1997.