Empowerment. According to marketers, we all want it. ‘Empowering’ may just be the new [and equally problematic] ‘fat-free’.
And, I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of being powerful, comfortable in your own skin, self-loving, independent, confident and generally kick-ass? It’s a heady concept wrapped up in a pithy word that can be easily packaged and sold. An ass-saving attempt by brands to respond to a generation that is sick of being told that we’re not good/skinny/fashionable/beautiful enough.
Never mind that in many cases they were the ones who gave us insecurities in the first place, now advertisers are urging us to get empowered… by buying lots and lots of products.
Empowerment can be yours. Here’s how:
Buy Revlon products and ‘choose love’. Because the best way to feel confident is to wear make up and, apparently, eat chocolate. But mainly wear make up. Revlon make up. Obviously.
Buy Beyonce’s Ivy Park label. Because clothes = empowerment. Even though the women who make the clothing are paid a pittance.
Eat Special K cereal and feel better about your body issues. Which have had nothing to do with Kellogs telling you that you should eat Special K to get a slimmer waist. Nothing at all. Don’t hate yourself, Special K implores, just #OwnIt.
‘Femvertising’, the advertising industry’s recent commitment to feminism lite (as long as it’s profitable) has become so mainstream that it even has its own award.
Don’t get me wrong, seeing women portrayed as strong and capable in advertising is a welcome and refreshing change to ads that co-opt female sexuality to hawk their products. Messages of empowerment are endlessly better than the condescending, offensive, trope-reinforcing bullshit we’ve been forced to deal with for decades. Grumbling and cynicism aside, I’d rather see feministy advertising than the alternative.
Can we just cut the crap and show a little honesty? When brands like Special K have been emphasising weight-loss for years, it’s going to take a lot more than a hashtag to accept their new direction as a sincere change of heart. When Revlon has been feeding the idea that make up is what makes women beautiful since its conception, it’s a little hard to swallow its new penchant for empowerment.
A little mea culpa would go a long way. Sure, advertising that empowers is better than sexist crap, but when brands simply choose to forget their complicity in the many myths and narratives that have made women feel insecure in the first place, a sudden shift to selling empowerment is deeply ironic and kind of galling.
Perhaps instead of encouraging women to #OwnIt, brands should be considering what led us to this place where we need to sell empowerment.
And maybe, just maybe, they should be owning their part in that.