From runways to advertising campaigns the use of the ‘real woman’ in fashion has become the new vogue.
But what is this idea of the ‘real woman’? The woman who is curvaceous without being overweight, who has big breasts yet avoids the sag, and bears full hips sans the cellulite? The woman who somehow is sexy but not promiscuous, intelligent but not too showy, and in some stroke of genetic genius, can combine Miranda Kerr’s looks with the sharp wit of Tina Fey?
As Elizabeth Bennett would say, “I never saw such a woman.”
So, why then, do fashion labels continuously use the term ‘real women’ as if to get the big tick from feminists at the same time as perpetuating an unrealistic ideal of what women should be?
The curvy visual image of the ‘real woman’ seems to work in congruence with traits that we’re most comfortable with seeing in the female form. It’s the promise that’s reflected in the childbearing hips and homely full chest. It represents a society in order and is a blatant reminder of the woman’s antiquated ‘role’.
But it’s also a disregard for women who are naturally skinny, narrow hipped or, dare I say it, flat chested.
When fashion labels promote their brand by flashing buyers with words like ‘real women’ and ‘untouched photos’ in an attempt to sell more bras, I can’t help but express some cynicism.
UK lingerie brand, Aerie, has recently released a new ad campaign that does just that. Their new catalogue claims to use ‘real women’, exulting in the fact that they’ve resisted the easy click of Photoshop to erase any imperfections.
Scrolling through the pictures in this campaign, however, it becomes blaringly obvious that they’ve done little more than use models who can fill a d-cup and conveniently show some tattoos they’ve so graciously kept in the shot. I think it’s incredibly bold for the brand to therefore use the term ‘real women’. First of all, it implies that the women who usually frequent the runways or magazines are not real and therefore what, made of polystyrene? Secondly, while some critics praise the campaign as a progression in the industry for the ‘healthy’ depiction of women, it would be remiss to forget the very purpose of their advertising; to sell more bras.
Historically, advertising in fashion has always been rife with unhealthy depictions of beauty. In 2011, Dove released a study that said that only 11 per cent of girls feel comfortable using the word “beautiful” to describe their looks. Dove, since their ‘Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, have been well know for their advocacy for a healthier image of female beauty- one that apparently celebrates diversity.
Campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ and Aerie’s new “Real” campaign pose an interesting contradiction. While the premise of the ad claims that ‘all women are beautiful’, there is a subtle clause attached; only when they use or wear our products. And it’s a very clever technique. So clever, in fact, that the inconvenient truth that Dove is a brand under Unilever goes relatively unnoticed. Brands that also fall under the Unilever umbrella include Lynx, Impulse, Sunsilk and Lux, to name a few. It takes about 5 seconds of watching a Lynx ad to undo any feminist notions that might be conjured up by Dove’s attempts at promoting ‘real beauty’.
My serious distrust with big brands using faux altruism to create a positive brand image or to hook more people on their products is, in many cases, not unwarranted.
In the similar vein, fashion labels like DKNY and Rick Owen have controversially used ‘average’ non-models in their runway show for New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Rick Owens, a brand mostly unknown to those outside of high-end fashion circles, chose to don his new season’s looks on people you’d usually see walking down the street. Distracting away from the clothes? Perhaps. Generating talk? Absolutely. His collection of models had more fine lines and wrinkles than his specially sewn, silver cylindrical, space-like cloaks- and this became the main point of attraction. Which brings to question the motive. It is clear that Rick Owens is making a point of being subversive, but it treads a thin line between empowering and being controversial for publicity sake.
The ‘real woman’ is a term that’s become overused to the point of meaninglessness. Similar to the way everything seems to have become green washed, the promise of a ‘real woman’ is luring consumers into a false sense of admiration for the brand.
It’s pretty clear that in reality, most people have a relatively liberal and swerving view of what they deem beautiful. The definition of what is and isn’t attractive is culturally relative. Which is why the idea of the ‘real woman’ is a complete fallacy. It’s a term advertising has concocted in an attempt to further categorise, manipulate and sell, sell, sell.
So while advertising is often difficult to ignore when it’s plastered across a 12 story building in the CBD, I do think people need to understand the techniques used in ads so they might make a more informed decision. A choice not only on what bra to buy, but also on what ideas to subscribe to. ‘Real women’? Get real.