Last week, a video about body image appeared on my Twitter feed. “Fact: 97 percent of women have an ‘I hate my body moment’ every day” begins the clip. “That’s a lot of women looking in the mirror, wanting to change something.” The film goes on to call for women to love themselves, a message that I can get behind. Here is the issue: the video was an ad for Special K cereal.
In the past few years I’ve noticed a rise of “corporate feminism”—the use of feminist rhetoric in an attempt at marketing. Despite the potentially positive messages contained within this media, it should not be mistaken for legitimate feminist activism.
One of the most well known examples of corporate feminism is the Dove “Real Beauty TM” campaign. In one video, the ad tackles the way women view themselves. Sketched by an artist, women can see that they are more beautiful than they had previously thought. The video is moving, and as a woman who has struggled with my body image, it had an effect on me. So what exactly is the problem?
The short answer is that corporate feminism doesn’t care about you or me, it only cares about our money. This marketing may be powerful, but in the end it is still an ad, with the end goal not being self-acceptance, but purchases. Dove would be very displeased at the prospect of universal self-acceptance because satisfaction does not sell beauty products. For example, the company is owned by Unilever, which also sells “Fair and Lovely,” a skin-bleaching cream, which capitalizes on white supremacy in the beauty industry. Our ability to love our bodies without the assistance of cosmetics and soaps is Unilever’s worst-case scenario. If we were to whole-heartedly love our bodies, then why would we need shampoo to help manage our split ends?
At this point you may be thinking that it is not news that corporations aren’t perfect. Maybe if the ads are not entirely sincere, then at least they are promoting discussion. Perhaps some change can come out of questionable content if consumers take a moment to think about feminist issues when purchasing breakfast cereal, or a bar of soap. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The problem lies with corporate feminism’s lack of diversity—not just in its media, which mostly features white, able-bodied women—but in its choice of topics. Bonafide feminism is as diverse as its membership; it encompasses everything from conception, to race, to occupation. Corporate feminism instead focuses solely on ideas that can make money, mostly sanitized messages about body image. These are concepts which everyone can comfortably support, but do not address the root of the problem. While great change can come from diverse feminist dialogue, corporate feminism instead fosters a conversational monoculture, one which is not intended to produce anything other than sales.
Furthermore, corporate feminism often misses the point or leads us astray when it comes to meaningful social change. The Dove “Real Beauty TM” video focused on acceptance through appearance, not holistic self-love. The advertisement for Special K cereal had women throwing off the bonds of the patriarchy through physical fitness, which is not an option for many women with disabilities, nor should it be the sole path to self-acceptance. Both campaigns put the onus on women to change, not questioning the societal structures that make us feel the way we do about our bodies. Corporate feminism’s “solution”—through the magic of retail therapy—is also inaccessible to those who cannot buy their way in. It reduces a movement that is meant to be inclusive to one that is only available to those with disposable income.
At its core, corporate feminism is emotional manipulation wielded to divest you from your cash. Somewhere during the production of the ad for Special K, someone in marketing turned around and said, “The majority of women feel badly about themselves. How can we use this to sell cereal?” I don’t believe that self-acceptance is going to come tucked in with my breakfast food, and neither should you.
Photo Credit: Harry Carr