The panel were discussing Dr Ellie Cannon’s piece for the Mail on Sunday, which claimed that Real Women ads normalise obesity. Cannon is a GP, and writing in response to the current M&S campaign which, in a bid to reflect the store’s ‘broad customer base’, has ditched Twiggy and her mates for a gaggle of unknowns sized 8-16. After watching the ten minute slot, where Madeley took the opportunity to express his blatant appreciation for all the women in the advert (how can you not love him?) I went online and read the article. Yowzer.
Did you really think you could pull the wool over our eyes, you big shot advertising bods? Yes, hurrah for the fact that size zero is terribly unfashionable now. Maybe you can take some credit for doing that. But the women in your campaigns are still very beautiful. One of them might be twelve stone but she’s also approaching six foot. Yeah, one of them is fifty, and she’s even let her hair go grey, but she has better skin than me, a girl half her age and she is not typical of a woman who has spent thirty years working and rearing children. I know you feel like patriots of the unfortunate looking, like you’re really charitable and everything, but you’ve kind of pissed us off.
With all this in mind, what we really don’t want to see is an article, written by a doctor, claiming that three of the five women in a “real” ladies lingerie poster are fat.
My own personal rage isn’t with the piece. It’s garbage. It’s full of fat trigger words and Cannon is pretty much the Samantha Brick dopplegänger of a women’s health expert. Plus I think the obesity pandemic is bollocks. I eat like a Tudor because nobody lives much past their mid sixties in my family anyway (weak tickers, not Logan’s Run style assassination) and I kid myself that running three times a week allows me to do so.
What upsets me is that the advertising industry still has a part to play in moulding how society expects women to look. Even worse, it still has a huge effect on our individual self-esteem. What will it take for adverts to become as irrelevant to perceptions of female beauty as Nick Clegg is to politics? Why the bloody hell haven’t we realised that these campaigns are designed to sell us something?
We find it easy enough to ignore the paintballs sales people in our town centres...
When Dove announced their first Real Beauty campaign in 2004, the brains behind the billboards in America set up a voting line, where you could call and say whether the women in the picture were 'fat or fab'. The first results released showed that 49% of voters said that the women were fat. And this percentage continued to grow. It’s not nice to see that pressure isn’t coming from suits in a boardroom. It’s coming from us. Which doesn’t mean advertising holds no accountability, it does, but the problems of superficiality and the idea that only one kind of person is beautiful isn’t something we’ve come to accept. It’s something we’ve learned. It’s something that, for some reason, we’ve gone along with and allowed to be true.
The only saving grace of the Real Women trend is that it does seem to have made an impact. While the Dove campaign initially highlighted some truly nasty thoughts, eight years on the M&S campaign has received criticism of the opposing variety. Women have claimed that the models in the ad are still too perfect, and so the conversation about what a real woman looks like is gaining more and more attention.
Beauty, sex and appreciation for both of them is part of our world. That’s okay. But it’s not okay for that appreciation to be warped by a body of people who are trying to get you to spend your money. Close OK magazine, ignore Dior and Coco Mademoiselle, Fuck M&S. Just be like me. Be jealous of the good looking women at the gym, or at Sainsbury’s. It’s much healthier.
Becky Shepherd - you can follow Becky on Twitter here @becky_shep
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