From Beyoncé to Emma Watson to clothing companies, everyone interprets feminism differently. Feminism is an ideology that advocates the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. Although, over the last year or so, the definition has become more of a buzzword in the marketing industry when referring to body image. Advertisements from global companies have contributed to these body confidence trends. Lingerie or bikini photos on Instagram and in advertisements are deemed as acceptable, allowing women to do whatever makes them feel confident and companies are now starting to capitalise on that. So, is this the new wave of feminism?
Women are a big target for marketers. They drive 70% to 80% of consumer spending with their purchasing power and influence. Women influence 91% of all home purchases, and 75% identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households, so it’s no wonder that companies are trying to appeal to the feminist movement.
The first wave of feminism took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics. Discussions about the vote and women’s participation in politics led to an examination of the differences between men and women as they were then viewed.
The second wave began in the 1960s and continued into the 90s. In this phase, workplace equality, sexuality, family and reproductive rights were dominant issues.
The third wave of feminism began in the mid-90s and was informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking. In this phase, many constructs were destabilised, including the body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity. An aspect of third wave feminism that mystified the earlier feminist movement was the re-adoption by young feminists of the lip-stick, high-heels and low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression.
One of the most famous and most controversial ads is the 2014 Victoria Secret, “The Perfect ‘Body’” campaign. The ad promoting the ‘perfect fit, perfect comfort, perfect soft’ all while including the size 4 models with almost identical, slim figures.
This campaign failed to celebrate the diversity of figures and plays on women’s insecurities. The tagline was then changed to “A body for every body” due to the backlash it received.
This then prompted many people to compare the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign from 2004 to the Victoria Secret ad saying it was a more true expectation of women. Although, the ad did show a diverse range of women of all sizes and colours, the company did receive backlash not, because of that ad, but because of another.
Dove continually aims to promote beauty a source of confidence. Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004. The campaign aimed to shatter beauty standards, but received angry backlash partly because the campaign was launched with an advertisement of a cellulite cream, and the company retouched the ads. This was then covered up by the 2006 “Untouched” ad showing the behind-the-scenes manipulation of a fashion model to appear unrealistically beautiful. This is extremely contradictory, but the ad still went on to win many awards as people forgot what the company really stands for and sells- the ideal-self image.
As women are struggling to fight against and create awareness of inequality, the definition of a feminist gets lost in between the corporate greed. Companies trying to redirect that energy and action away from anything subversive and towards hyper-consumerist spending does deep damage to the public because it makes it harder for us to move forward politically. Then the rise of the term “meminist” comes about. One of the main reasons for male-bashing and extremism is the fact that global companies and public figures are capitalising on the term feminism and how more and more people are becoming aware of that, even though we can vote, there are still issues we have to overcome as women.
Although these companies are integrating feminism in their advertising, most women would agree it’s manipulative and simplifying. Awareness of the actual definition and problems for women today, that aren’t body confidence, are still big issues and these issues get pushed aside. While some companies are engaged in efforts to aid and empower women, activists fear the commercialisation of feminism could water down their efforts. Brands, they argue, use feminism in hopes that consumers will associate it with them and consumers will think better of their products.