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Beauty and the Media: Empowering or Oppressing Women?

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Jessica Kingson Malik

on 9 December 2013

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Transcript of Beauty and the Media: Empowering or Oppressing Women?

Remaining Questions
- Feminist theory should accommodate all women, but how is that the case regarding those women who decide to engage in beauty that may be deemed as promoting the current patriarchal structure?
- Is every experience in beauty also a source of harm?
- Should public schools be promoting 'cosmotology' classes?
Beauty and the Media: Empowering or Oppressing Women?
Alternatives to Beauty
GrassRoots Initiatives

Feminist Critique: Beauty is Oppressive
Beauty and the Media
- The media is instrumental in transmitting beauty ideals to young girls and women
- Through the media patriarchal society is maintained as women are exposed to products they "need" and romanticized ideals
- The products women "need" and the ideals presented to women through media images are oppressive despite the fact that the media frames these images and products as being "empowering"
- This discussion mirrors present feminist critiques of beauty
- We use the Dove Campaign and the Disney Princess to highlight the oppressiveness of beauty
Performing Beauty: Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign
Root of the Problem
- Through the media, the ideals of feminine beauty continue to oppress women

- Although the media gives the impression that it is addressing the challenges women face regarding beauty, in actuality they are doing nothing to address the root of the problem which is the capitalist, patriarchal structure of society.

- Feminist critique of beauty started in the 1960s & 1970s
- Feminists originally argued that beauty was oppressive to women
- "In our culture, not one part of a women's body is left untouched, unaltered. No feature of extremity is spared the art, or pain, of improvement. Hair is dyed, lacquered, straightened, permanented; eyebrows are plucked, penciled, dyed; eyes are linted, mascaraed, shadowed; lashes are curled or false - from head to toe, every feature of a women's face , every section of her body, is subjected to modification, alternation" (Dworkin, 1974, pg 112)
- One would think that this view would become more entrenched as beauty procedures became more drastic
- However this was not the case, the 1980s and 1990s brought in liberal feminist perspectives that argued that there was nothing wrong with "lipstick, or women wanting to make themselves look good". (Jefferys, 2005. pg 1) Liberal feminists could "choose" to engage in certain beauty practices instead of it being thrust upon them
- post modern feminists argued that the female body and beauty practices can be socially transformative. The body is a "text", writing on it, tattooing it and using lipstick are just interesting ways of expressing it
Conflicting Views within the Academy?
A Western Problem
- "Beauty" being harmful is often thought of in relation to cultures outside the West
- The United Nations recognized "Harmful Traditional/Cultural practices (1995)
- practices that are understood to be damaging to the health of women and girls, for the benefit of men, that create stereotyped roles for the sexes
- traditionally, the West is not included in these practices (genital mutilation etc.)
- however, Western beauty practices should be included in this definition of harmful practices because it
harmful towards women in that it oppresses women
How is Western Beauty Oppressive?
- The problem isn't with women's choice to engage in beauty practices, the problem lies within the harm those choices have towards women and the way in which those choices uphold patriarchal society
- Psychological (women have been stereotyped, culturally dominated and sexually objectified) and thus think they "need" beauty
- Women hating culture to maintain male supremacy
- Vital to the economy ( the message of beauty is to glorify the female body, but in actuality beauty encourages women to buy more products)
- Major substance in the differentiation of the sexes
- Beauty is required in the work force - although women entered the workforce as a sign of liberation, they also entered the work force as sexual objects for men

Disney Princess Marketing http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/how-disney-princess-works1.htm

Jeffreys, S. (2005). Beauty and misogyny: Harmful cultural practices in the West. Routledge.

Johnston, T & Taylor, J. (2008). Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists: A Comparative
Study of Grassroots Activism and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign. Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 33 (4): 941-966.

Millard, J. (2008). Performing Beauty: Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign. Symbolic Interaction. 32 (2): 146-168.
The Disney Princess
In 2004 Dove, Inc released a video called Onslaught as part of “Campaign for Real Beauty”

- Dove’s goal is to rebrand the company, redefine beauty standards and reconstruct women’s self-esteem
- The Real Beauty Campaign has received global attention within the media but not a lot of attention within the academia circles (Johnston and Taylor 2008)
- There is a lack of information about how women are responding to Dove imagery and discourses
- The researcher’s argument within this study was that beauty, the self and a public image is difficult to disassociate from performance
- This study examined sixteen interviews with Canadian women and was guided by dramaturgical and social semiotic concepts
- Dramaturgy or performance theory contributed to this study because beauty and maintaining appearances requires impression management and thus performance
- The dramaturgical perspective suggests that, within an individual’s entity, like beauty, self is a social process, not an intrinsic entity that exists inside an individual
- An individual’s self and beautiful body are impacted by all kinds of interactions whether face-to-face or mediated which media plays an important role
Semiotic Resources=fundamental units of meaning
Modality= truth value
Semiotic Change = transformation
The Dove Supporters versus Dove Skeptics
- Dove is trying to be identified as a caring company and their purpose is to confront the dominant beauty script by showing countercultural images
- The company Dove, Inc. and their products are well known worldwide and have created a platform after instructing a global report on beauty
- The Real Beauty advertisements have brought in so called “real people” for their ads
-The photos advertised by Dove, Inc. are not touched up or digitally altered
- Dove’s campaign provide media literacy and are recognized from their advertising peers regarding their work
- Example of their achievement: Won two international advertising awards in 2007

- A counterargument was whether Dove is becoming “a brand for fat girls” (Schrobsdorff 2005)
Not addressing its skin-whitening campaigns in India (Tumato 2007)
Dove Inc. markets under the same company as Unilever, as Axe cologne and Slimfast (Neff 2007)
- Using consumers’ empathy as a marketing strategy in order to sell their product
- The use of guilt to sell their products
- Not the first to illustrate women in their own natural beauty


- By examining beauty from symbolic interactionist perspective is it viewed as a result of action that is not intrinsic
- Beauty is not intrinsic but it is embodied through social and cultural construction
- Individuals are defined as either beautiful or not through the standards of the beauty scripts and this would require manipulation of semiotic resources such as hair or skin in order achieve desired ends
- This would depend on what form of beauty an individual wants to obtain such as natural, glamorous or alternative
- In order to obtain beauty there are limitation from financial resources to anatomical attributes as a few examples
- In Western culture, ‘beautiful people’ appear to receive more out of life because of the worth of beauty
- ‘Beautiful people’ are seen to as more healthy, intelligent, powerful and higher class compared to individual who are not
- The semiotic resources that are required to be viewed as beautiful are long shiny hair; clear, smooth skin; cosmetics; thin body; straight, white teeth; and trendy clothes
- Dove is promoting for change by including variety and actuality within beauty advertising scripts
The Study
- This study conducted interviews from sixteen women from Saskatchewan in three focus groups and three individual interviews.
- The questions that were asked in the semi-structured interview were such as “what are some beauty standards that exist for women today?” and “What are Dove’s intentions with the Real Beauty Campaign?”
- A short demographic questionnaire was presented to the participants, which required them to provide background information such as their age, income, education and ethnicity
Participants explained similar female image which the ideal woman is a model: tall, thin, tanned; have large breasts, clear skin, and long hair; and is often blond-haired
Beauty standards are comparable to “beauty script”. Participants who had disagreed with traditional beauty scripts are impacted by larger social world.
A desirable attribute is thinness and women attempt to obtain this standard that is portrayed by social beauty scripts.
Participants demonstrated their awareness on this campaign as being a good gimmick but some participants felt the ads were valuable in the advertising world.
Observations of Results
- The campaign/advertisement provide women an alternative choice in fighting against the unattainable standards of beauty
- The physical attributes in some of the models in the Dove campaign made viewers feel better about their own self-image
- The advertisements created a discussion for the participants by examining the intentions of the campaign but not stepping out of the political correctness
Being Princess is Awesome Because...
Meet the "classic" Disney Princesses
- Teaches young girls patience and kindness to animals
- A "dream is a wish your heart makes"
- Teaches girls that you can always achieve your dreams ....
- Be brave and go after your dreams no matter what anyone says...
-Achieve your goals at any cost
Teaches girls to always be kind to others... and everything works out!
Always marry for love
(side note: how is she
empowering- the movie isn't even named after her?)
Inner Beauty is the most important kind of beauty ... (when looking for a man!)
Sleeping Beauty (Princess Aurora)
The Little Mermaid
(Princess Jasmine)
Beauty (Belle) and the Beast
Snow White
The Disney Princess Empire
- The Princess Effect
- Disney Princess films are five of the top six Disney video releases of all time.
- Disney Princess titles are four of the five top direct-to-video premieres of all time.
- Disney On Ice presents Princess Classics is on a five-year global tour with an attendance of 2.5 million each year.
- An estimated 24 million people have seen "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway.
- Walt Disney Records' "Disney Princess Collection" achieved platinum status and consistently maintains top 25 status on Billboard's Children's Chart with its three CD releases.
- Top selling Disney Princess products include: the top licensed Halloween costume assortment for the last three years; the top girl's book; and the top kid's room paint color ("Disney Princess Pink").
- $2.6 billion in box office revenue worldwide for Disney Princess animated films
- Disney Princess was nominated as Property of the Year for the Fifth Annual Toy of the Year Industry Awards by the Toy Industry Association, Inc. (TIA)
(source:Disney Princess Marketing http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/how-disney-princess-works1.htm)
Princess Problem
- Disney capitalizes on the princess
-Disney is telling us what beauty is by the images they use
-While doing so Disney is limiting young girls and creating unrealistic expectations
-People argue that the new princess are better (Mulan, Pocahontas etc.) when actuality they are still working within the same patriarchal structure (Mulan dresses up like a man to participate in the army)
- The new princess may be ethnically diverse but still only show one type of "pretty" (thin, small waist, long hair)
None of them needed anything more than their beauty. AND! If they demonstrated valuable traits outside of beauty - independence, skills, intelligence - they weren't valued for it. Thus - Disney tells us beauty is valuable and is on the surface.
All these wonderful Disney princess persevere, achieve their goals and live happily ever after (all while looking fabulous)
Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off
Transformative Corporate versus Grass-Root
Feminist Consumerism: Dove Campaign
- Consumerism is the ideal consumption of “central meaningful existence” (Sklair 2001, 5) and shopping would be promoting and resisting to social change.
- Capitalistic society needs conformity, therefore, in order to achieve social change we must become nonconformists.
- The Dove campaign works within the hegemonic ideology and refuses to challenge the idea that beauty is important to a woman’s identity, personhood and regulating the idea that women should conform to being beautiful (Johnston & Taylor 2008)
- Uses gender specific marketing strategy uses models with different physical attributes in order to gain brand loyalty and appear as a corporate philanthropist (Johnston & Taylor 2008)
- One of Dove’s advertisements had stated “make peace with beauty” which does not bridge women from escaping the pressures from beauty. Rather this creates a negative impact on women’s self-acceptance, self-worth and self-beauty
- Denies hierarchical nature of beauty standards.
- The urgency to change the Eurocentric beauty norms rather it is an optional to address beauty ideals and social respect which are linked to inequalities based on sex, race, class and body size
- Through the Dove Campaign relies on the heteronormative foundation of beauty ideals accompanied with the male gaze throughout the campaign (Johnston & Taylor 2008). Therefore, does address structural hierarchies or how to create social change within dismantling the construction of beauty.

Feminist Community Building and Consciousness-Raising: Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off
- Modeled therapeutic consciousness-raising: where women discuss about their painful experiences through the use of songs and dances which were created based on their stories that were narrated by women. This was a form of processing their feelings about hegemonic beauty standards which is central to their campaign
- Stories were shared on social exclusion and self-loathing
- Emphasized on building a community and friendship with women
- Acting out their pain and isolation was used as a technique to release their anger of ending with either assertion of self-worth or assertion burlesque sensuality
- PPPO advocates for women solidarity and does not promote conformity instead accepts women’s appearances
- PPPO did not have a diverse cultural group and through activism did not address antiracism
- Instead looked at class division by fundraising for low-income children to able to attend fat-positive camps and created clothing-swaps
- There was not a lot of attention on men and complex gender identities

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