Welcome to the first mini-series on here. We’re at number two now – last week’s post covered instagram and body positivity, this one focuses on its venture into mainstream culture and therefore capitalism.
What does the brand Axe (with sexist ads like these ones that have now been anounced to be dropped in the future and have hugely already been dropped after quite some resistance from the public) have in common with the body-accepting brand Dove (which shows all kinds of body shapes and looks in ads like this one)? That’s right, they’re owned by the same company, Unilever. The most generous interpretation of this fact would be that this company is just tring to make all its consumers happy and they’re willing to participate in sexism in order to do that. That’s not my interpretation, although it would already be bad enough. Mine is that companies like this one don’t really care about making all women* feel good about themselves, but to sell as many products as possible (naturally, after all it’s a profit-oriented company), and if sexism does the job then that’s fine and if body positivity gets it done then that’s just as great.
Body positivity has beccome a consumable good. It didn’t start out that way; It started as a movement against constricting and damaging marketing strategies, and now it’s a marketing strategy itself. The movement has survived, but it has also been appropriated. The opposite was the goal: it was to take away companies’ authority to define what is a beautiful (and often even so much as a healthy) person. Companies now have the possibility to present themselves as benevolent social (r)evolutionaries, even if they couldn’t care less about actual social change. Now, if a company really cares and wants to make a difference, produces its products fairly and supports a vision of a better world I’d say that’s great, be my guest. But it’s become really hard to tell the difference.
I must admit I’m at a bit of a loss concerning possible solutions. I can only think of just buying what we truly need and researching brands before we buy from them. Of course, this shouldn’t be our job; enterprises that make society a worse place to live in shouldn’t be legal. But we live in a world where they are, which means the way-too-many-times-repeated saying “you vote with your dollar the world you want to live in” holds true. And we still can’t fully escape (unless you want to live off the grid and be completely self-sufficient). So if anyone has more ideas I’d be curious to hear them.