4 Terrible Messages That Girl-Centered Ads Are Sending
The Internet has exploded in an estrogen-charged fury of pro-girl viral ads, each more emotionally manipulative than the last. And it's a good thing, because prior to the summer of 2014, American girls were languishing in princess towers, completely clueless that they had any value beyond their homemaking and boob-flashing skills.
As a grown woman and a mom of middle school daughters, I'm convinced that the new wave of viral ads are just as pandering and insulting as the things they're trying to prevent. You just have to get past your gut reaction of "Yay! Girls!" to see it.
Dove Thinks Being Beautiful Is a Woman's Ultimate Goal
The Positive Message
In these Dove Real Beauty sketches published last year, women described themselves to a forensic sketch artist, then other people described the same women to the same sketch artist. The first sketch turned out ugly, and the second turned out more true to life, because apparently all women see themselves as trolls. The takeaway is that as women, we need to be kinder to ourselves, appreciate our beauty, not get so caught up in our own flaws. It's a sweet message for a world that's obsessed with looks and tends to shun actual trolls.
The Actual Message
Being beautiful is good, being ugly is bad. Shame on you women for being bad. Bad girls.
In Dove's eyes, beauty and self-worth are inextricably tied together. You can't get one without the other, like a beautiful one-person human centipede that fuels itself on good feelings. Sorry, that analogy got away from me before I even got to "centipede." The point is that the logic behind this commercial is that these women deserve to feel better about themselves, not because they're good people or smart or seconds away from writing the perfect human centipede analogy, but because they're not as ugly as they think they are. That's it. That's what the women in this commercial have to offer the world in Dove's eyes, which is stupid, because I'm pretty sure Dove could have picked up on at least five new ways to tie oversized scarves if they'd just paid enough attention to the women they were drawing.
This whole ad campaign is Dove's way of shaming women for describing themselves as unattractive, because unattractive is Dove's version of bad. That's why you never see women with interesting birthmarks, crossed eyes, missing teeth, or tiny mustaches in their ads. And also probably why they don't actually include any overweight people in their Real Beauty ads. And why they sell anti-cellulite cream for all the fatties out there.
Pictured: Women who look great in their underwear.
Remember, the women who painted kinder pictures of their new friends did so by describing them as thinner and younger than the women described themselves. Because thin and young is beautiful, and crow's feet and pointy chins and broad noses are, once again, bad. Here's my challenge for Dove: Do this experiment again, but next time only interview obese septuagenarians who suffer from elephantiasis. If you dare.
Don't Get Caught Trying to Be Pretty
The Positive Message
In Colbie Caillat's most recent video, she wipes off her makeup and erases the Photoshop effects, only to reveal (surprise!) a naturally gorgeous 29-year-old woman underneath it all. And aren't we all naturally gorgeous 29-year-olds (on the inside)? Even if some of us are 30 or 31, it's important to stop being so fake and embrace our natural beauty.
The Actual Message
Makeup makes you fake, and being fake is bad. Bad girls.
The lyrics of the song insist "you don't have to try" when it comes to beauty. Other women take off their makeup as well, and God help you if you thought they looked better with it on. You'd better keep that shit to yourself, because nobody wants to hear it. I'm all for celebrating natural beauty. In fact, I have no problem publishing my makeup-free face for hundreds of thousands of people to make fun of. It's good to be comfortable in your own skin, and that's what I want to teach my daughters. I also want to teach them to OWN THEIR FACES AND BODIES and not let Dove, Colbie Caillat, or me demonize them for wanting to wear makeup or paint their nails.
Speaking of demonizing girls for wearing makeup, shut up, Verizon Wireless.
In this heart-wrenching Verizon Wireless commercial, a little girl is slowly molded into a mindless lip gloss-wearing monster of a human. Her parents must be the worst, what with all their supervised excursions to beaches and creeks and forests. What kind of child-abusing beasts would buy their child the Styrofoam balls, glue, paint, glitter, and string necessary for hanging a freaking solar system in her room? IS SHE BUILDING A ROCKET IN THE GARAGE?
Take two steps back and you see that this kid has been in an amazing learning environment her whole life, one most parents could only aspire to provide for their kids. I have an actual forest in my backyard, and my kids are glued to the TV and probably shooting up dope as I write this. Yes, the commercial includes little motherly asides about not getting dirty and being careful, because that's what parents do. It's called "nagging," and it's kind of our thing. For example, I have an alarm set up to remind my kids to make sure to not leave their syringes on the floor because the dog will get them.
Fast forward to the shot of the girl as a young teen, when Verizon wants us to believe that natural curiosity has been replaced by a short romper and lip gloss, like all hope for her is now lost and she's damaged goods. It's infuriating.
Susan B. Anthony is turning over in her grave.
Even if you overlook the message that little girls can't take motherly asides without devolving into stereotypes, the heart of the commercial is in the line "Isn't it time you told her she's pretty brilliant, too?" BAD ADVICE. Telling kids they're smart is actually the worst thing you can do if you're trying to motivate them toward a successful life. Sorry, straight up killing them is the worst thing, but praising a kid's intelligence over their work ethic comes in a close second. Telling a kid they're inherently "brilliant" over "hard working" sets them up for a life where they think everything is going to come easy to them. So a life of heartaches and disappointments, essentially.
Girls Can't Figure Out Who They Want to Be Without Help
The Positive Message
Last year, toy-maker GoldieBlox took the Internet by storm with a Beastie Boys song and a fun video of girls making the world's coolest Rube Goldberg machine. This year, they're at it again with a commercial called "This Is Your Brain on Engineering." Hey, girls, did you know science is cool? You should try it!
The Actual Message
Liking Barbies, princesses, or anything girly is bad. Bad girls.
All of these commercials boil down to young girls getting told what to think by people who want to sell them products. GoldieBlox packaged their science projects as feminism in a box, when those toys have been sold for years without girl-specific packaging. Do people think little girls strictly buy girl-marketed toys? That they're too dumb to ask for a box of LEGOs or Hot Wheels or toy chainsaws? Or that all the educational toys are marketed toward boys? They're not. Science-toy packaging is almost always in primary colors and gender-neutral. I know this because I taught kindergarten for two years and home-schooled my kids for five years -- toy companies would be clinically brain dead to target boys only.
What a sausagefest!
Just in case it's not clear, I do get the urgency and underlying message of these ads. Girls aren't sticking with math and science beyond middle school, and people want to fix that. I'm all for that, because what kind of idiot isn't? But there should never be a point where we say, "Your brain is flawed because you like princesses." Remember, these are the same girls that someone is going to slut-shame 10 years from now, the same girls who are heading into a world where 1 in 5 of them is going to be sexually assaulted in college. That's a terrible statistic that has nothing to do with toys, obviously, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the GoldieBlox message isn't a direct slap in the face to girls who like dolls. "This is your brain on princess" might as well be translated to "You're doing life wrong, stupidhead."
Women Are Manipulative Liars, and That's OK, Because Periods
The Positive Message
I love HelloFlo for creating before-the-period care packages for girls. Getting your period is like having a slasher movie in your panties, month after month, for 35 years. They're traumatic nightmares, and if you don't know how disgusting they are, that's because you've been shielded from the horror. Thank the women in your life for wrapping it up every month. It's great that someone has taken on the challenge of demystifying a natural process that I've obviously never come to terms with. Kudos, HelloFlo!
A few weeks ago, this commercial hit my Facebook feed. A girl obsessed with getting her first period on a Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret level fakes getting it, so her mom throws her a period-themed party. The commercial is cute and off-putting and funny.
The Actual Message
Being a woman means being a bitch.
It's on second glance that you realize how weird this commercial is, and the grossness has nothing to do with menses. Listen to how the daughter talks to her mom when asked about her fingernail polish-soaked pad: "What do you think it is? I'm on my ladies' days." Yikes. I don't know about your house, but in my house that tone would get a grounding followed by a lecture followed by a "Who do you think you are?" followed by a whiny Facebook update that didn't mention the child by name but definitely called them out. Then that Facebook update would get promptly deleted because everybody hates passive-aggressive complaining on Facebook. Part of raising kids is making sure they don't grow up to talk to other humans like the other humans are trash, is the point I'm getting to.
The mom in this commercial is way cooler than me, however, so she decides to punish her daughter's lying and bratty tone ... with more lying. She stages an elaborate blood-soaked party and gets everyone this family has ever known in on it. Friends, family, local bakers, and pinata makers, everyone, all in the name of teaching a hormone-addled child one lesson: I'm older so I can out-bitch you. Oh, and I'll humiliate you in the process.
Look at the smug, self-satisfied look the mom gives the camera when the party's over. This is a mom who isn't interested in raising her daughter to be comfortable with her body or confident in the changes she's going through. This is a manipulative, power-hungry woman who is not only asserting herself as the dominant female in the relationship, but teaching her daughter that this is how womanhood works. Through lies, humiliation, and general douchiness. For a company that's trying to normalize talk about periods, they sure are playing up the association with women, periods, and bitchiness.
Looks like she learned her lesson!
In fact, I can't think of a more terrible message for girls hitting middle school: When someone wrongs you, go Mean Girls on them, first with humiliation, then by literally forcing physical contact when they don't want it. The actress who played the daughter in this commercial actually nailed all the feelings of defeat, self-doubt, and disgust that come with living in a world where everything is out of your control, including your own body.
Get used to getting bullied, young lady.
So in that sense, HelloFlo does a great job of capturing young womanhood. Awesome job, guys!
Kristi is a senior editor and columnist for Cracked. For more from her, check out past articles here and follow her on Twitter or Facebook.