and ain't i a woman?: The Body Shop fakes it

October 24, 2001

and ain't I a woman?

and ain't i a woman?: The Body Shop fakes it

Sexist advertising really makes me want to pick up a spray can. Sexist advertising by a company that promotes itself as progressive and urges customers to "achieve self esteem" and "protect human rights" just makes me sick.

The latest advertising ploy of the Body Shop is not only demeaning to women, it is downright stupid. In Body Shop windows, you see a woman's face with a halo above it. The caption reads: "Even good girls fake it!". This is supposed to be advertising tanning lotion.

While women are being subjected to an increase in explicitly sexist advertising, as part of a backlash against women's rights, this advertisement is more than a worry, it's dangerous.

Yet again women are being encouraged to care more about how they look, than what they say or think. Have stereotypically "sexy" brown skin — for a man. Have a fake orgasm — for a man. Hey, faking is just part of life. It's cool to fake it, 'cos everyone fakes it anyway — even "good girls".

The Body Shop's advertisement accepts that the "beauty industry" promotes a superficial image of women. But it says, "yes, it's superficial, so you might as well go with it. Fake it."

Well, call me crazy but I'm for living a real lifestyle.

Contrary to its "people-friendly" rhetoric, the Body Shop does not challenge the idea that women can boost their self-esteem by buying products. Rather, it urges, "Buy your self-esteem directly from us".

This illusory self-esteem is immediately shattered by the reality that sexist language, sexist images, cosmetics, the fashion industry and so on are used against women.

We live in a society in which sexuality is prescribed, limited and distorted. Sexuality is used in a myriad of ways which do nothing to promote individual choice or freedom, but which perpetuate intolerance, discrimination, bigotry and repression. Perhaps the most obvious function of a deliberately limited and limiting sexuality is the use of sex and sexuality to sell stuff. Sex is used to sell everything from cars to food, from alcohol to drains.

Under capitalism everything becomes a commodity to be sold for a profit. Capitalism commodifies people's bodies and sexuality — especially women's.

Convincing people that they need to spend heaps of dollars on that new body lotion to get that extra "sexy" smell or buy nail polish (and then the nail polish remover) is a booming industry.

A particular version of sexuality is appropriated by capitalism and sold back to us as a commodity that promises beauty, success, wealth, happiness, enhanced self-esteem, sex appeal, good luck and control of one's own life.

But, no matter how much tanning lotion we smear over ourselves, it will not bring us eternal happiness, love, independence or cause strangers to throw flowers out of cars to us as we walk down the street.

For years women's sexuality has been seen only in relation to that of men. Women have been taught that their sexual role is primarily to please men. We desperately need to discuss issues such as how sexism causes women to lose confidence in knowing and asking for what they want.

We need to encourage women to get involved in organising against sexism because it is being involved in that process that will help women build confidence, express themselves more freely and learn to accept their bodies as they are, instead of trying vainly to conform to some incredibly unrealistic stereotype.

By organising together, women will begin to understand how capitalism imposes limits on their free development — such as the lack of economic choices available to enable women to live independent lives.

These are the kinds of things that will make a difference to women's confidence about their own sexuality. And when women's confidence is more assured, they will also be able to enjoy their sexuality more without worrying if they're doing it "right" or "often enough". In the meantime, chuck that tanning lotion in the bin.


[Sarah Peart is a Socialist Alliance candidate for the Senate in Victoria.]

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