For some time now, advertisement execs have had an obsession, and it’s been on decoding the apparent low self-esteem of the average American woman.
For about five years now, companies specifically oriented on beauty, health, and skincare have released commercials determined to de-myth the notion that only outward beauty matters and that when it comes to what the everyday people are shown from the models in Victoria’s Secret to even the silver screen, not everything is literally what it seems. Makeup ads even had to start adding disclaimers that not all of those lashes were courtesy of that flexible brush and fake lash inserts were included. The newest ad campaign centered on encouraging young girls to stay themselves in the face of doubt and adversity comes from the “feminine hygiene” brand Always, and their commercial of #LikeAGirl. The touching commercial featuring brief testimonials from girls you remember from homeroom and recess is a play on the archaic and sexist labelling of when something is being done or attempted, occasionally and especially from the opposite sex, the effort is described as “like a girl”, as in meaning “weak”; “unsubstantial”, and more damaging “not good enough”.
There has definitely been a surge of not just female empowerment ads, but girl empowerment ads, and they are all like a more headstrong, in your face rendition of the ’90s, super friendly and super fun tagline of “girl power!” brought to massive popularity thanks to the Spice Girls. Though it seemed the uplifting, nauseatingly cheery slogan took a backseat in the years that followed, women’s suffrage against the media began again when in 2010 Dove released their semi-silent clip that exposed just how manipulative photoshop really was. During the height of photoshop’s saving abilities to make celebrities look even more put together than they already were forced to, and the stunning commercial struck a watercooler nerve as Dove’s mission to break apart the bad marriage of perfection and false advertisement was praised. That commercial barely even mentioned or showcased a blip of soap.
Since then, others have hit YouTube, including more love me as I am ads and commercials from Dove featuring women of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones in their underwear, and statements from Pantene, Dermablend, and CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan. Global Democracy did their infamous ad of using an everyday women as a model on a soundstage and showed how her entire body was photo-shopped. Some clothing companies have joined the beauty is inclusive lane like American Eagle’s Aerie and their “This woman has not been photoshopped” billboards and shopping bags. So many hashtags, so much nouveau pressure to no longer fade into the background but step forward and shout at the top of your lungs because women roar and not nibble for that they want, these girl empowerment ads, as effective and well-meaning as they are, have they begun to feel…pious?
The #LikeAGirl commercial has been a viral hit with over 15 million views, and has opened many commentators to share their thoughts on the table with the comments section filled with actual paragraph or thoughtful responses. The campaign has even questioned the still used and high-strung statement of what it is to “be a man”, and #LikeAGirl is backed by research in that by puberty, girls begin to question their self-worth. Statements with negative connotations such as “like a girl” are classic examples of when bullying or the gender wars start to wear on a young girl’s self-esteem and these issues that could last very well into the teenage years and beyond, and we could only imagine so in a social media heavy America.
As mentioned, other companies have done like-minded ads before, rounding out lioness figures in business and the media like Sheryl Sandberg and her #BanBossy lingo, or the more downtown, IDGAF aura of Sophia Amoruso and her #GIRLBOSS movement, challenging what is or isn’t feminine or becoming of a woman in power. While much could be analyzed about the presentation of some of the world’s biggest pop stars like Rihanna, Beyonce, Katy Perry and even the impact of shows like Sex and The City and their use of sex and playful glamour, they have also been the biggest known and pop cultural examples of women in charge of their careers and bodies and in providing the kind of soundtrack or backbone that young and thirty-something women could relate to, appreciate, or be reminded that it was never exactly written in stone anywhere that men were supposed to rule the world, or rule everything in sight. Yet the double-edged sword remains in that being a proud, confident girl shouldn’t always have to be displayed in the current one-dimensional ideal in that she has to disclose her sexuality to everybody or perpetually dispense sassy retorts in order to show she is not a doormat or a prude. As regular reports of women still behind in wages and complaints of not enough women in managerial or leadership roles, though the hashtagging of girls doing whatever boys can do is coming across a bit repetitive (seriously, how low does media think our self-esteem really is?), maybe the reminder is still necessary and for the greater good when it really is trying to make a difference (this year we’ve also had #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen). Hashtags won’t bring about the same kind of change actual action does, but they are handfuls of hope if used in an altruistic manner.
What makes the #LikeAGirl ad so great, and affecting to women of all ages is that it asks for the opinion of the tween to teenage market, and while often salivated over for their monetary contributions to pop culture, often their input on the how they view what they are being told is beautiful or strong has not been as largely vocalized.
Pre breaking down the notion of what “like a girl” means, there was American Girl‘s magazines and self-help books to get a girl through middle school, and some classic Young Adult novels (though Judy Blume’s Forever still gives us chills), there was the ’90s, alternative girl bible of keeping it real which was gurl.com, the original xojane.com, the original home for where both the brash and shy girl could come together and ask real questions about sex and sexuality, dating, goals, and family life. Developed as a place for complete honesty, it was one of the loudest forums for girls to express their questions about their dreams and desires, which before seemed embarrassing in the confines of their average readers’ suburban lives. The creators encouraged their readers to have no shame in what they were curious, excited, or angry about it because it was all a part of growing up.
#LikeAGirl doesn’t feel like “faux girl power” (a term actually coined by the anti-social starlet herself Kristen Stewart on Conan O’Brien’s show, and said not in direct connection to but after the release of girls as super heroes in films like Sucker Punch, Kick-Ass, and the declining presence of girl bands and groups), there is an undeniable calmness of Alway’s latest commercial that feels everyday real. The testimonials aren’t abrasive. They are not out of reach or out of the blue. They are common examples of instances in every girl’s lives that was once trapped in the negative ideas of being called “like a girl” when really they were great moments of a girl in progress, like gurl.com had celebrated in the first place. Always presents the commercial not from a place of pity or refuge but as a creative take on an old term that’s getting a much-needed boost of self-love for a new generation. Our younger sisters still might need reminders that being “like a girl” is okay with the amount of noise that gets around in 2014…but really, when are we going to start also decrypting the word “sissy”?