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Can beauty campaigns ever truly be empowering?

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Can beauty campaigns ever truly be empowering?
(Picture: Instagram)

Oh good, another new advert that boats diversity and inclusivity has just surfaced.

Women of all ages and sizes stripping down, embracing each other, laughing, staring pensively, touching sensually, and all the other cliched components are seen in the latest beauty campaign.

Skincare brand Babor uses activists, mothers, designers, editors and more to advertise their products, showing off the models and their untouched bodies in nude swimsuits and underwear.

They’re certainly not the first to peddle the fuzzy body-positive soundbite. Whether it’s Dove, Vogue, or Missguided, brands have capitalised on trendy movements such as body positivity and diversity for exposure and further visibility.

And while this new campaign at least attempts to make sort of positive change, it’s a drop in the ocean from an otherwise money-making brand.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt moved by some of these adverts, mostly due to the emotional background music, but I’ve been quick to realise that it’s just a marketing tool.

I’ve never actually felt empowered by an online or TV beauty campaign. Female empowerment, to me, has come more from real women around me, and not the ones that represent a problematic brand.

In this campaign, which was made to draw awareness about body positivity and celebrate diversity, all kinds of models are seen and heard in the background describing how they learned to love their own bodies.

Babor might’ve thought what they did was empowering, hiring non profit organisation All Women Project who lend their diverse range of models to such campaigns, but really it’s all in the name of profit.

And while the project itself has good wholesome objectives, hosting all kinds of real women, the real problem lies with brands who employ this trick of appealing to audiences in order to shift sales.

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Dove is a classic example. Its ‘femvertising’ methods have capitalised off the back of female insecurity with its decade-old ‘Real Beauty’ campaign which has been tone deaf if anything.

The brand’s owner, Unilever, is the parent company of Slimfast, Axe and Fair and Lovely skin-whitening cream. How can a corporation that purports to celebrate real beauty, to love yourself, also carry the same message that your beauty isn’t slim or white enough?

The £3 billion toiletries company has tried to update its campaigns through the years i.e by introducing women from all over the world, including India and China, but it has been tone deaf again, not least because the images were captured by Mario Testino.

So methods by problematic brands to promote movements which lack the exposure feel inauthentic and tokenistic, especially when you consider that profit is the bottom line.

Vogue has also endorsed body positivity in the past few years but failed to acknowledge its hypocrisy as it has peddled anorexia fever in the early noughties.

And now it regularly publishes ‘positive’ body images and ways to increase self esteem and confidence.

Although it can be argued that many brands have abandoned such old methods and are genuine in their u-turn, the hypocrisy makes it difficult to buy into.

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What’s more is that such adverts play up to the male gaze. Almost always, body positivity campaigns such as these show off women stripped down to their underwear. This isn’t just to show that women come in different colours, sizes and marks-fully clothed women can show this just as well.

But there’s a sensuality that can be said to serve the male gaze which is defined by film theorist Laura Mulvey as such: ‘The determining of male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness’.

The fantasy woman role is heavily abundant in mass media.

Campaigners like the All Women Project might aim to subvert the gaze and predominantly white, slim beauty culture, but let’s be honest – lending themselves to brands which only look to boost sales just undoes all that work.

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