Pantene, the Olympics and the Beauty Industry

I am annoyed.  I am annoyed that the Olympics is sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, who conduct disgusting animal tests.  I am annoyed that animals will be used in the opening ceremony.  I am annoyed that there is usually alot more focus on the male athletes than the female athletes, and that in the last Olympics in Beijing, even LESS television coverage was given to female competitions compared to male competitions than in the previous Olympics in 2004 or 2000, so it's getting worse rather than better.  But what has really annoyed me today is seeing Pantene's latest adverts featuring female Olympians.  

The first advert I saw was on TV, featuring 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin.  Natalie is an American international swimmer, who was the first American female athlete to  win six medals in one Olympics, the first woman ever to win a 100-metre backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympics, and is the first woman to ever swim the 100-metre backstroke in under one minute. Wow! She is an incredible female role model. 

So, how did the advert present this role model? .... Firstly we see Natalie swimming in the pool, with music on in background (no people watching or cheering.) 
She says in the voice over  "I was born to swim, but my hair wasn't so lucky." Oh, right...ok.  "Hours and hours in the pool damages it." Natalie gets out of pool, takes off her swim cap and squeezes out her hair, frowning, focusing solely on her hair whilst looking really worried and concerned.  The colours of the advert are greyer. 
"That's why I love Pantene Daily Moisture Renewal."  Crappy made-up product words blurb by narrator.  Then Natalie shakes out her now-dry, bouncy, glossy, glamorous hair, whilst a crowd cheers her beauty.
Her face has been made up.  Everything is golden, cameras flash, Natalie glows.  "I want to win as an athlete, and shine as a woman." ... ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Why can't she shine as a woman if she doesn't have 'perfect' hair?! Why is her hair of ANY value at all to how she is perceived as a woman? Why is she being cheered only when she is conforming to society's ideas of beauty and not when she just did some pretty awesome swimming in the pool there? She is an awe-inspiring athlete, who is considered one of the best in the world, and she is being judged on her FUCKING HAIR! 

I'm sorry, I know I never swear, but this issue has made me really angry.

Similarly I have seen an advert featuring Victoria Pendleton, a British sprint track cyclist, who is the reigning Olympic and World Champion for the sprint and who has represented Great Britain and England in international competition, winning nine world titles including a record six in the individual sprint competition.  Oh and she's also a former European and Commonwealth champion.  She makes me want to go cycling.  Here she is:
And here's her advert:
WHAT?! What the FUCK is that?!! It makes me HULK angry! 1) Why have they made her look more like a model than like an athlete? She's not even dressed as an athlete 2) Why isn't she sweating? Would that be so weird? 3) Why is her hair moving in such an unnatural way? 4) Why is she wearing a sequined evening top to ride her bike? 5) Why have they airbrushed her skin so it look so smooth and like it's been painted? Why can't we see realistic skin? It's not even a foundation advert! 6) Why have they airbrushed her thighs to make them look thinner? 7) Why is she in the classic "passive, beautiful woman with eyes glancing upwards adoringly and lips parted like an innocent virgin but a virgin who might be having an orgasm" face? I have never seen an athlete make this face whilst competing or training in their sport.  Why isn't it sexy and beautiful to see her doing what she actually does? 
The advert in the magazine says "Hours and Hours of Training and I'm Staying Ahead of Frizz.", so we are told that her gruelling athletic training, which has made her one of the world's top athletes, is worth nothing compared to beating frizzy hair.  It makes me sad.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with Natalie or Victoria.  I think they are amazing.  And they are beautiful (every woman is beautiful).  I WANT to see strong, female role models.  I think it's really important that we see women in the media who are famous for their talent, strength and determination, and that female Olympians should get equal airtime to male Olympians.  But I think it's really damaging to talk about their appearance.  What Victoria Pendleton looks like should be of no consequence, we (and the media) should value her on her achievements.  I wouldn't care if she looked like a bag of smashed frogs.  

So why are Pantene doing this? Because they want you to buy their products of course!

Proctor and Gamble are sponsoring the Olympics, so of course they have Olympic athletes in their ads, I'm sure it was a done deal.  Last year P&G (who make Pantene) spent £200,000,000 (that is two hundred MILLION pounds) on advertising beauty products.  They want us to buy their products.  The way they get us to buy their products is very insidious.   The beauty industry works by making us feel like we are 'failing' to be what their advert shows.  If I watch a TV ad or look at a picture in a magazine, then look in the mirror, there is a VAST difference! Poreless, smooth skin.  Endlessly long eyelashes.  Models in adverts have heavy makeup, lighting, lash inserts and are airbrushed to the point where it would never be possible for any woman to look like that, and even the original model doesn't look like that.  Adverts show this as the epitome of beauty, and consequently society goes on to believe this is the beauty norm.  If you're not that, you're not beautiful.  If you grow body hair, your skin has pores, and your natural eyelashes aren't 1 inch long, you must need to buy the advertised foundation/mascara/razor to 'fix' you and make you look 'normal'.  When in fact no bodies look like that and our bodies are completely normal.  Our bodies do grow hair.  We have pores in our skin.  

It's hard for women to be around these images, how can we feel good about ourselves if we are constantly being told we don't measure up?  Girls should feel like they can do anything and not that they are the sum of their looks.  It could have been great to have athletes in adverts, to show normal, sweaty, strong bodies, determined women at the peak of their game.  But the adverts are the same as any other and make us feel like we must be failing even MORE! "If Natalie Coughlin has hair like that and she swims every day in a chlorinated pool with it in a rubber swim cap that would give me loads of split ends, why is my hair not that shiny and glossy? I must be subnormal.  I definitely need Pantene".  It's so damaging to self esteem, and it's so subtle that you have to take a giant step back from everything you've ever been told about beauty (which you will inevitably have been told BY the beauty industry in their adverts, and in magazine feature pages where the company's PR have sent in their products to be shown in features in return for a large sum paid for advertising) to be able to see it.

I don't want to be bulshitted and controlled anymore.  I want to see realistic adverts featuring a diverse range of women, who put the product on and say "as you can see, this concealer covers up my spots a bit so they are slightly less obvious".  "This mascara makes your eyelashes look a wee bit longer and blacker." How awesome would  a bit of honesty be?! And in this case I would feel less insulted by an advert where they interviewed female Olympians, showed us how they trained, what spurs them on, how we can get to the top of our game ourselves, how to be confident, how to succeed in your career, how to do something amazing...with a tiny 'Sponsored by Pantene' in the corner. I'd be WAY more likely to buy Pantene! Though still not at all likely as I will never by a product from a company that tests on animals.

I think it's high time we judged women on their achievements, their talent, their strength, their intelligence, their sense of humour and their beautiful character traits, not on the state of their hair.

1 comment:

  1. Amazingly well-put, Flick; I agree 100%. When I first saw those adverts it made me sick in my mouth. Marketers/advertising companies such as the ones spewing out this crap are the scum of the earth. The kind of people who contributed to the making of these adverts: I'm imagining a boardroom full of stone-age men, or else a group of women, so over-saturated by the 'male gaze' in their own industry that they are starting to think like testosterone-fuelled toss-pots. I feel sorry for them. I understand that the athletes need sponsorship money to do what they do - I'm sure the prospect of receiving a large sum of money for posing in an advert must have seemed very appealing. But I'm wondering if they are so happy about the end result...