Nicola Ball

#LikeAHypocrite: Why Profiting from Feminism Sucks

#likeagirlI’ve been having some major rage about Always’ #LikeAGirl viral advertising campaign. In case you didn’t see it, the #LikeAGirl video highlights the sexism behind the common phrase ‘you *run/throw/fight* like a girl’, showcasing one of the ways society still refers to females as weak, which affects girls going through puberty. It’s all beautifully shot. It gives space for women and girls to speak about how the phrase ‘like a girl’ demeans their gender and belittles their personal strength. I love that they can reach millions of people and make them re-think a phrase and an attitude which they may heretofore have seen as harmless. I love the message. So why the rage?

Well, because this is the only time Always sends out such a positive message. As the emotive music soars in the video’s climax, we see the tagline; ‘Join us to champion girls’ confidence at always.com’. I did try to find something that might champion girls’ confidence on their website, I really did. But I only actually found links to their sanitary products. I certainly agree with the message; it’s just that the message has nothing to do with Always. Amongst other companies, Always has realised that viral videos are an ingenious marketing; pull at some heart strings and people will share your video, freely doing your advertising for you. As Shire writes, ‘Always attempts to attach itself to some larger feminist-minded movement, and as a result, it rings false and disingenuous.’ (The Daily Beast) In fact, Always’ products arguably perform the opposite function to their self-proclaimed mission of bolstering girl’s self-confidence. They were the first company of their kind to market scented sanitary towels, which not only perpetuate the idea that periods are inherently disgusting, but have also been shown to cause thrush and yeast infections. How confidence-boosting. More abhorrent is the fact that Always is owned by the conglomerate Proctor and Gamble, who also own Olay, which sells a skin lightening cream ironically labelled ‘Natural White’, which is sold in many parts of Asia, Africa and India.

This leads me onto my other viral-video nemesis, Dove, and their campaign for ‘natural beauty’. Despite the well-meaning tagline on their recent campaign of ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ reading ‘You are more beautiful than you think’, the conglomerate to which Dove belongs also owns the company Fair & Lovely, which sell a line of skin  lightening creams in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Dove even has its own range of skin lightening products for these markets. Let’s be frank; skin lightening creams are dangerous, containing ingredients which bleach the skin and attempt to reduce melanin, leaving skin thinner and more prone to skin cancer. These companies are profiting from attitudes of white supremacy – from false belief that the lighter you are, the more beautiful. Skin lightening products are physically and psychologically damaging to millions of individuals worldwide. This has to be addressed. As was summarised by Layla Sayeed in a 2010 Guardian article, ‘in an era of increasing transparency, parent companies like Unilever can’t hide behind a barrage of sub-brands anymore. They can’t promote skin-lightening in India and self-esteem in England and expect to retain any credibility when it comes to their corporate brand.’

I could continue analysing the myriad ways in which these companies’ actions are hypocritical. I could, conversely, excuse these companies their wrongdoing by saying that at least they are trying to do something positive, unlike most of their counterparts. Instead I’m calling bullshit. ‘Championing girl’s self-confidence’ by selling them harmful sanitary products? ‘You are more beautiful than you think’, unless you’re dark-skinned? Sorry, no. I’m not sharing. I’m not liking. And I’m certainly not buying it.

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