March 31, 2013

Is Victoria’s Secret Targeting Tweens?

What we consume matters. It matters in the same way consuming a salad instead of a cheeseburger does.

This week Victoria’s Secret came under fire for its latest marketing campaign for their Pink product line. The campaign is called “Bright Young Things,” and features underwear printed with phrases such as “feeling lucky” and “call me.”

Early reports stated that the new campaign was geared toward tweens and teens, sparking outrage from parents across the country. One father penned this letter to the company, expressing his concern for the message being sent to our young women. It went viral and has received, as of March 25, 2.7 millions views. In it, he writes:

“I want my daughter to know that she is perfect the way she is; I want my daughter to know that no matter what underwear she is wearing it does not define her.

I believe that this new line ‘Bright Young Things’ thwarts the efforts of empowering young women in this country. ‘Bright Young Things’ gives off the message that women are sex objects. This new line promotes it at a dangerously young age.”

Victoria’s Secret denies that it is targeting tweens and teens, and said the campaign is in reference to the “Spring Break tradition” in college.

According to CNN.com, some people think the problem is parents who allow their daughters to buy the items. One commenter said, “Parents, if you don’t like it, don’t let your kids wear it.”

I can understand this point of view. I’ve spoken the same platitude often. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it; if you don’t like the way something is depicted, don’t watch it.

But I’m wondering if in this case that argument is a cop-out.

It’s probably true that Victoria’s Secret is marketing to college age women rather than teenagers. (Although having Justin Beiber—the object of every 14-year-old girl’s desire—perform at their fashion show does introduce doubts.)

Regardless, does it matter whether the campaign is targeting 12-year-olds or 20-year-olds? Isn’t the marketing campaign equally questionable either way?

Saying that it’s up to parents to forbid their daughters to buy and wear such items takes the responsibility off of every single one of us. Instead, we need to be mindful of the messages we are putting out there and the messages we are consuming.

As a former teenage girl, it’s really hard to be a teenage girl. Insecurities and issues with body image are abundant.

I know what it’s like to be 13 years old and feel like you don’t look right. Not only do you have the awkwardness of puberty, but you are bombarded by images of what society says you are supposed to look like: Be thin, but not too thin. Be tall, but not too tall. And if you don’t have the right sized breasts, here’s a bra that makes it look like you do.

This is the message that crept in: I’m not okay as I am. It didn’t matter what anyone told me, because society told me differently.

And those messages never crept back out.

Though I’m more comfortable in my body now than I’ve ever been, I still partake in negative self-talk that could rival that of any teenage girl.

For instance, last week there was a story from ABC News about the growing teen obsession with “thigh gap.” It’s “a clear space, or gap, that can be seen between the thighs when a girl is standing with her knees together.”

Runway models have it. And apparently teenagers want it.

You know who else wants it? I do. I never knew there was a name for it, but I’ve been seeking a bigger gap between my thighs since I was a teenager. Just last week in a conversation with a friend about our thighs I realized my own distortions are still there.

That shit never goes away.

When I’m being kind to myself, I know that my body is lovely. I’m lucky to have it.

But when I’m not being kind, well, as my friend said last week—those thighs I hate—they hear that. Every time I wish for them to be shaped differently, they take in that message. These are the thighs that enable me to walk, to do yoga, to travel with ease. And yet I curse them.

I know I’m not alone in this. I know many women who obsess over imagined flaws and who don’t feel worthy because of them.

Which is why I think the advertising by Victoria’s Secret, and others, matters. It’s part of the increasing objectification of women. Lately everyone and everything is being “sexed up.” It’s in commercials, magazines, television, music—even the nightly news. Is it just me or is the clothing of the female newscasters getting tighter, and more revealing?

I’m not a prude—it takes a lot to offend me. And I believe it’s important to dress in such a way that makes us feel our best, and that is an expression of who we are.

But what we consume matters. It matters in the same way consuming a salad instead of a cheeseburger does. It matters because we live in a culture where women and girls don’t love themselves. We are dieting and starving ourselves. In some cases, we hate ourselves so much that we cut ourselves.

I don’t think that our media’s portrayal of women and our lack of self-love are unrelated.

We learn early on that we aren’t enough. There are messages everywhere about what is sexy, how we should look and in what behavior we should engage.

In the following video Katie Makkai illustrates in spoken word how from birth, a woman’s worth is tied into her appearance rather than the countless other things that really matter. She says:

“This is about women who will prowl 30 stores in six malls to find the right cocktail dress but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy.”

She’s right. We are invested in the wrong things. And we have been for a long time.

But it’s not just the fault of marketers and media. We are all to blame. We consume it. We accept it. We pretend that it’s not that bad or that it’s not really happening.

We all buy the magazines and wear the clothing. Some of us are wise to society’s manipulative ways, and know when we are being tricked into believing we are not enough. But we are adults.

What about our kids and teenagers? They are more susceptible. Their inherent search for their identities leave them vulnerable to whatever will make them feel good about themselves. And right now our culture tells them that what will do so is being attractive.

So what can we do?

The first step to changing anything is awareness. This is a good movie to watch to increase our awareness of how flawed our portrayal of women is. It’s a documentary that details the prevalence of the objectified female.

We can vote with our money, and stop buying the products that blatantly put out these messages.

We can consume less—less physical things, like clothes and shoes, but also less media. There’s value in turning it all off and going outside for a while. There, we can go inside and hear our own messages.

And most importantly, we can become aware of the messages we send to our little girls and our teenagers, and we can set the example. We can stop talking badly about ourselves in general, but especially around them.

Whether we know it or not, they are watching us, and looking at us to tell them whether or not they are good enough.

Like that father’s letter to his daughter, and like Makkai’s video, it’s up to us to change the message. It’s up to us to change our emphasis, and put our energy toward creating a more mindful media.

Consider this quote from the March 25 edition of Adweek. It’s from Alex Blimes, an editor for Esquire U.K., on the magazine’s portrayal of women:

“I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not. They are objectified.”

I know we are better than this. It’s time to act like it.




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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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