Advertisers must not trivialize women’s issues

Janhavi Nemawarkar

Last week, Reebok announced their selection of Gigi Hadid as the face of their #PerfectNever campaign. In a statement, the company announced their belief that her “strength and tenacity” would “empower millions of women around the world.” 

In other words, Gigi Hadid — a conventionally attractive and wildly popular supermodel — is the face of an advertising campaign that purports to inspire women to fight the unrealistic expectations placed on them by the media.

The concept of women’s empowerment is sexy to advertisers now: From Dove’s long-running “Real Beauty” campaign to Always’ more recent #LikeAGirl campaign, the number of social media initiatives that focus on some empathetic byproduct of sexism women face by companies that target women has exploded within the last few years. Somehow, “empowerment” evolved from a term used to describe the revolutionary process of a disenfranchised group claiming power to a buzzword used to describe everything from Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits to soap marketed towards women. At some point, “women’s empowerment” has been conflated with “things that make some women feel good.”

But even in a world awash with campaigns and initiatives designed to break stereotypes associated with women, unattainable standards of how an ideal woman should look and act like haunt many of us. Psychology junior Stephanie Estrera believes advertising that at least attempts to subvert the media ideal of a white, thin woman could have powerful and far-reaching benefits. 

“While ‘empowerment’ may have become a buzzword in advertising, I think it still can leave an impact on an advertisement’s audience,” Estrera wrote in an email. “Feminists have made strides over the years, but rape culture still prevails due to the patriarchal values prioritized in western culture; the unequal treatment of black women and other women of color still prevails due to the racist tendencies ingrained in our traditions and holidays; the fetishization of queer women still prevails due to a porn industry that caters to male audiences. Women have more freedom than we did 100 years ago, but we are still stuck in this trap that capitalizes off of our insecurity.”

Moreover, Estrera believes that campaigns that do attempt to be inclusive are a step up from the vast majority of advertising.

“In the end, I’m going to have to buy deodorant and soap, so I may as well support the company that produces a wide variety of body types in their ads,” Estrera said. 

Gigi Hadid being selected to embody a campaign about imperfection reveals how companies water down revolutionary women’s issues to sell a product. But ultimately, their power over the media leaves them with a large amount of social responsibility. Advertisers should continue to challenge outdated ideals of what it means to be a woman — ultimately they must understand that women’s rights are more than just an excuse to sell soap. 

Nemawarkar is a Plan II sophomore from Austin. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @janhavin97.