Friday, March 21, 2008

Blog 3: Normalization and the Bali Lycra Bras Ad

A. Kelley


One of the greatest tragedies of our heavily-capitalized society is that advertising has become a prime venue for corporate patriarchal forces to brainwash women into accepting the need to conform their bodies to male standards. By first establishing immutable, inescapable absolutes regarding the varying levels of human worth of females with supposedly greater or lesser physical attributes and then offering women an escape from the supposedly inescapable prison of their own inferior bodies, they not only profit but enslave women to a twisted ideology that forces self-objectification. According to genderads.com, there is specifically a process referred to as “normalization”, that being the creation of a dichotomy between “normal” and “abnormal” individuals, that patriarchal advertisers use to force inferiority on women and snare them in their profit-driven lies. [1] Women are made to believe that their body is diseased or are otherwise made to fear their own bodies and actively fight against them. The result of this disease or otherwise malevolent body is the status of abnormality, which is the state of having any number of physical features that are considered inferior and socially unacceptable. This is in contrast to “normal” bodies, whose bodies match up perfectly to the arbitrary, patriarchal standard and is the standard which “inferior” women are required to strive toward. A natural state of inequality between women is established, however, corporate patriarchy conveniently leaves an escape in the form of products that can be used to fix these “inequalities” and thus normalize the abnormal woman’s body. Below is an example of an advertisement to be immediately hereafter analyzed that encourages the normalization line of thinking:




Text:

HAS IT. [referring to woman in picture]

When Bali bras have LYCRA, you get beauty and comfort, too. (If it doesn’t say “has it,” it doesn’t have it.)

You either have it or you don’t.

The woman in this ad is quite bluntly indicated to be the image of patriarchal normality, having been declared to have “it”, with the implication that the reader will know what is being referred to by “it”, given the focus of the ad on female herself. This female is, of course, a blank object, with some emphasis given to her face, which has been carefully crafted to appear in the usual supermodel style of pouting lips, high, angular cheekbones, sharp eyebrows, and slick hair, so to immediately establish her place in the “acceptable” or “normal” female column, with the greater and primary emphasis placed upon her unrealistically large breasts, obviously sporting the product being advertised. All other things that could potentially draw the viewer’s eye away from these important establishers of normality are carefully omitted through intentional clothing choice and photography tricks–her black, feathery outfit is tailored in such a way that it obscures everything between her head and breasts, anything under her breasts has been cropped out of the image, and the image itself is taken in black and white to create a greater light-shadow contrast, with the two brightest areas in the image being her breasts and face. This makes the way her body and sexuality are used to sell the product rather straightforward, given the combination of her immediate establishment of that which “abnormal” women are to work toward and the singular focus on those body parts which make her the female standard. The impact is clear–as she stares at you, confidently and arrogantly, aware of her own superiority, her breasts vividly and brazenly on display, you are not only made to feel immediately inferior but are motivated to purchase Bali bras with Lycra because of the fact that she is actively looking down on you. The patriarchal machine has not even spared you with the mere threat of embarrassment for a normal body–it has already assumed that you are abnormal and you are being shamed for it before you even have the chance to redeem yourself by purchasing the product.

This ad is, therefore, absolutely offensive to women. Any ad that is driven by the concept of the normal and abnormal female is offensive by virtue of its being a destructive propaganda tool of capitalist sexist patriarchy. Contained in this ad is that most horrific gender ideology, that being biological determinism, due to the implication that women, based on their physical features, can potentially inherently lack something that gives other women their human worth. The dichotomy of “having it” and “not having it” indicates belief in one standard for each gender, although, of course, only the female gender is addressed here–any deviation, ever so slight, from what is considered natural indicates that a woman is unnatural–that, although their “not having it” is out of their control, it is still somehow their fault and their shame to bear. It establishes a pecking order of women determined by chance, and reinforces chance as a justification for domination and exclusion. Furthermore, it blazes past the dividing line between “sexy” and sexist. If I were to personally define what this dividing line is, sexism exists in an ad whenever an individual’s physical attributes are used to sell a given product, no matter the way in which the body is used. It does not necessarily have to be straightforward in its definition of some groups of people wholly inferior because they are physically inferior–it can promise or threaten to deny an individual something depending on how they look, it can perpetuate a gender stereotype, or be shoehorned into an otherwise acceptable ad for purposes of sexual arousal. Sexy is highly subjective and can only exist in an ad by pure coincidence–if an individual is in an ad for nonsexist reasons (if this is even possible) and the reader of the advertisement finds themselves attracted to this individual, that can be called “sexy”. In short, it can only exist when it is not intended to in an advertisement.

This advertisement seems to be blatantly anti-feminist. Because feminism’s goal is to overturn patriarchy and all the myths that result in the domination of women with it, this advertisement appears to be a concentration of all things anti-feminist. Produced by a capitalist organization whose profits come at the expense of female workers denied fair wages and generally burdened with stereotypical household responsibilities on top of work and sporting a stereotypical white, young supermodel with a patriarchal message that makes females susceptible to male domination through being indoctrinated into self-hatred, the message that success or true personal realization comes through beauty and not character or achievement, and inescapable feelings of inferiority, this ad undoes everything that feminism seeks to do. Every message about racial equality, physical equality, financial equality, and even human equality are opposed by little more than a sentence and a pair of breasts.

In general, advertising affects body image issues for girls and women by exploiting pre-existing feelings of insecurity caused by the emphasis on physical beauty that women are taught from the time they are born. They know that they are supposed to look good, and advertisements help to define what would otherwise be the ambiguous standard that women are taught to meet. Self-worth is exceptionally easy to destroy considering the extremely small percentage of individuals who fit the “normal” mold–young, white, blonde, with an extremely specific set of facial features, unrealistically well-endowed while anorexically thin, robed in the most expensive clothing and jewelry possible. When small, impressionable children are being threatened with social ostracism from the time they are first able to read, it is no wonder that they are forced into striving for the established mold out of this irresponsible fearmongering and encouragement of women to actively judge and persecute each other. When the concept of normalization finally becomes a fact of life for women, they suffer immensely and generally for their entire life, as finances are drained in the name of beauty, they seek men who will appreciate their bodies and thus lead themselves into unfulfilling or otherwise destructive relationships, suffer physical repercussions such as eating disorders, and lose any personal potential they would have once had as they are taught that success, intelligence, and other positive attributes are exclusively masculine and therefore “abnormal” for a woman. It is also of note that it is the advertising industry’s responsibility to promote more diverse images of women–as long as racism, sexism, and physicality still exist, they can be almost directly attributable to the lies found in advertising. Every woman who sacrifices something important to her in the name of the upkeep of her body has suffered in some way at the hands of the advertising industry. They are responsible for countless broken and discarded dreams, lifelong suffering and sickness both mental and physical, and even death in extreme cases. What these companies personally believe about women is up to them–women merely need to learn to reject these messages–however, when they use these images to encourage destructive behavior in women they are trampling on another individual’s human rights and have a moral obligation to stop regardless of how fiscally disadvantageous this would be to them. Would advertising companies ever admit to this moral obligation or responsibility? Of course not, but such a responsibility nonetheless obviously exists.

Unfortunately, it tends to be extremely difficult to successfully protest or oppose any policy that has always been and will likely continue to always be extremely profitable for the power elite. Because they will always hide behind the false reasoning that, because sales are always exceptional, they are merely “giving the people what they want”, it is virtually impossible to convince corporate leaders (or, more likely given that this has always been a carefully-crafted message, convince to admit) to change policy and enforce both physical and racial diversity in their advertisements. Therefore, the best that a concerned individual can do is personally boycott companies that perpetuate these myths and stereotypes, actively work to open the eyes of friends caught in the web of “normalization”, and attempt to convince friends and other women close to one’s self to also refuse to purchase from companies who are supporting patriarchy. One could also, for instance, seek legislation that demands race and body shape quotas for advertisers–if they refuse to change their ways, go over their heads and hope that legislators are not so deeply attached to these companies that they are sympathetic to the feminist cause in this instance. Either way, let us continue this fight–the worthiest causes are those in which the enemy seems strongest.


Cited:

[1] Lukas, Scott A. "Normalization." The Gender Ads Project. March 2006. 21 March 2008. <>.


A. Kelley

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