This is another post in the Real Fake News series where we examine fake news stories with important elements of truth. In this post, I'm going to take a quick look at Onion's piece, "Olay Getting Women To Drop Guard With Few Nonjudgmental Ads Before Nailing Them With Body Shame." This piece points to something very important that has come up a lot in the last few years: corporations labeling themselves or labeling some particular brand as feminist. I'm siding with the Onion's mocking of this practice by saying: Don't trust them.
Dove has done a good number of commercials that are allegedly feminist, and they get shared all over Facebook and other social media sites. But are their ads feminist? For reasons why not, see here, here, and here. And, as many of you may already know, Dove is part of the same company as Axe, thus suggesting Unilever is willing to use allegedly feminist ads to attract one kind of customer, while using sexist ads to attract another kind of customer. Hardly a principled commitment.
So, the Onion does a great job of tackling this kind of corporate exploitation of feminist principles: "At a press conference, company executives rolled out a number of body-positive advertisements for Olay’s age-defying anti-wrinkle day lotion, eye-awakening cream, micro-sculpting serum, and other products, saying they hoped to lure women in and then, right when they’re least expecting it, bombard them with an all-out barrage of magazine spreads and primetime TV spots that promote shockingly unattainable standards of beauty." Like the Dove/Axe dichotomy, we see this kind of joke as exploring the intelligence of this kind of campaign: while some of the commercials are explicitly making claims of being open to feminist ideas, other commercials continue to body shame women into buying products we don't need.
Corporations have throughout almost the entire history of advertising used body shame to produce consumers, but this new tactic really justifies our highest cynicism: pretending to be against the very body shame that the corporations require to keep the rigged system going. As the Onion piece says, "[W]hen marketing professionals believe the first wave of ads will have made enough women feel sufficiently vulnerable, a second wave will reportedly introduce a new tagline—“Who says you can’t stay young forever?”—and deliver a hefty dose of shame about having crow’s feet, laugh lines, or even one single visible pore anywhere on your face."
The Onion piece does an excellent job of explaining the corporate mindset by telling us what they are likely thinking: “We hit them real hard with that quick one-two and they’ll definitely be extra critical the next time they look in the mirror,” he added. “Then we just sit back and let women’s negative images of their bodies take over. Easy as that.”
Towards the Onion piece, it asks this question: “And we can keep doing this over and over and over again,” he continued. “Look, we’re a $2 billion brand—who’s going to stop us?”
Well, let's just hope it will be us feminists, starting by spreading a healthy does of corporate skepticism.