For almost 20 years, I've sold products (mostly) to women: make-up, pencil skirts, hosiery, mattresses, online beauty services, insurance, face creams, fragrances, bed sheets and duvets.*
As a conceptor and copywriter, whenever I had the chance to impose my own value system on the messaging, I’d weave in something important. I’d send my audience secret gifts – embedded in the copy – ideas that led to a bigger truth. Something that said great hair, magical fragrances and less wrinkles are wonderful but... there is so much more.
I recently read about the advertising for Kotex. It makes fun of all those cliches about feminine hygiene. There’s the cute new European campaign for Dove which is about subverting ads that play on our beauty fears. Love the direction - slightly post-modern, irreverant, positive - but as a war-weary veteran of the fields, I’m disappointed.
A mission to make all women feel sufficiently beautiful is a great start. Telling women they don’t have to hug kittens and wear white and bounce through fields of daisies on their period is funny.**
There’s something so much deeper, something we haven’t reached yet.
Changing the conversation about beauty and vanity and women’s troubles, means we're still talking about beauty. And beauty – at least the version we use to sell and buy things – is a hierarchy. Using the commodified version of beauty (which is NOT, as we all know, the thing that turns heads or even attracts the opposite sex), no matter how good I feel about myself, how much hair dye, mascara, botox or liposuction I buy, or even all the confidence and self-esteem in the world, I will never ever be confused for Claudia Schiffer. She and Kate Moss and Christy Turlington, especially their retouched avatars, are at the top of the food chain in magazine beauty.
In my IRL (in real life) experience, beauty is two things. The first and most obvious: the win in the genetic lottery, some perfect combination of features and height and metabolism one is born with. This is the beauty that is not only used to sell stuff to men and women – and, given our addled little brains – what we consumers demand to see, as I have seen tested and proven in so many focus groups, in order to believe it’s a superior product. What's depressing is how many really smart people fall for it IRL.
The second kind of beauty is more interesting. In the second case, beauty is not a goal but a side effect. It's the beauty we get later, as we grow and love and learn and experience the world. This kind of beauty, an irresistible you-can't-look-away kind of radiance that is not dependent on age or genetics usually comes from people who haven't been chasing it.
To really change the conversation, we need to stop making the wrong kind of beauty important.
Let me put it this way. It’s not that we stop telling our girlfriends and daughters they are beautiful or that shirt looks so great or that mascara really makes your eyes look huge – but that we change the emphasis.
We tell them FIRST they are so smart, talented, great at math, capable and wow - you get SO MUCH done in a day – and by the way, that’s a cute skirt. I'm not suggesting everyone stop wearing lipstick or buying fragrance (because then I would starve) but that we remember that they are purely accessories.
So here's what I am selling to women now. And what's funny about this is – these are all the things I used to use to sell gunk, clothes and scented rubbing alcohol before.
You have it. It's not that airy-fairy Bewitched magic. It's the way you actually do know stuff. It's solid and practical (like Samantha was with her witchery). It’s about stopping and listening to yourself. It's the way you know the relationship with that guy is doomed. You knew it wouldn't work from the first meeting, but you were attracted to him. So you swept away the fact that he spent the entire lunch talking about himself and didn't ask you a single question about you. Somewhere, deep down inside, maybe even after you get engaged, you really know it was never meant to be. All intuition stories aren't that long and complex, but you understand what I mean.
Believe in your ability to perceive the correct path for you. Believe in your sense of self. That means knowing your worth, standing up for yourself when you’ve been treated unfairly. And standing down when you know you’re one in the wrong – that’s a point of strength, too.
Loving it. Living in it. Really living in it. Because when you exercise all parts of it (including your brain) and feed it well, you live in it to full capacity. Your body is your interface with the world. For women, I feel like our bodies tend to reflect our sense of worth and to manifest what we are doing to the planet. The idea is not to smack it into submission. Because when you look after your body properly, it looks gorgeous. Not like a model. Like a luscious, touchable, breathing human. It begins to glow with the radiance that makes other people want to be close to it. It’s not about a hierarchy here. No one’s body is better than your own when you love it. When you eat well, eat organic, breathe, exercise, get enough sleep, sit out in the sun sometimes.
When you are living well in your body, you can’t stop respecting and loving it for all the places it takes you.
This is both a part of your body and your soul, but it also has a life of its own., doesn’t it? Like a wild and love-crazed Tasmanian devil unleashed on one extreme and a seething volcano in the basement on the other. How do you tame it? How do you enjoy it, harness it, ride it to all four corners of the earth without wearing it out? If not loved and respected, I worry that our Divine Feminine (excuse the New Age-yness) is turning into breast, uterine and ovarian cancers. I feel like we have not yet learned how not to chop off our body parts, how not to internalize the ways we don’t feel like women. I feel like we need to have fun with our power – how cool is it that we can create an entire human life inside of our bodies? How cool is it that we don’t have to? We are connected to the planets and the universe in ways we are just beginning to appreciate. We need to remember that it is a strength. Our sexuality is an asset not a liability.
Stop Getting Old
First, before you get all excited - I have no magic fountain of youth. I’ve tried almost every natural method – that doesn’t include injections or surgery – resveratrol, Chinese mushrooms, different kinds of exercise, acupuncture. But what I mean is the figurative sense of the word. How to stop being passee or irrelevant. How to stop being tired.
I do have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. But you know tricks aren’t what you need. Good mascara and highlighter can brighten up your eyes but what it’s really about is changing how you see. That changes how you see yourself and how you live in the world. It’s about staying vibrant and dynamic. It’s about being filled with awe and laughter at the way the world surprises us. I know an almost 70 year-old woman who breezes into a room with the lightness of a teenager. She doesn’t wear make-up and has never had any plastic surgery. Even if you don’t know her, you get the sense of a breath of fresh air. She rarely stops smiling or laughing, but she never laughs at anyone. As for me, I’m in my mid-forties and my business partner just said to me, “Ameena, the thing I love about you is that you still think you are 25!”
I’ve sold (and bought) so many incredible, incomprehensible skin products that plump and brighten and renew and lots of them actually work – but if you are not open and young in your soul – they won’t make you younger. Sorry.
Stop Being Judgemental
Ha! (Cough) Even as I write this, I have to laugh because I haven’t mastered it yet. But every time I manage to overcome a moment of irritation and frustration, I feel a surge of energy that is inexplicable. It is hardest to do with the people closest to you. The people whose behavior you subconsciously feel is a reflection of you. Those people you feel have wounded you or taken advantage of you. Or made you look stupid. Try and think about where they are coming from. Strangely, smaller slights sometimes sting more than bigger ones. If you really can’t get past something, pray. Pray for yourself, pray for the person or group of people you are mad at, pray for greater understanding amongst all human beings. It doesn’t matter what or who you call God, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Brahma, the Universe, just pray because we are all connected.
If you do something hurtful or unkind, even unknowingly, apologize, but then, move on. Don't beat yourself up. If the other person is still angry, there's nothing you can do. The only person who has to forgive you is yourself. Regret and sorrow, self-punishment, take a big toll on you and your body. Learn from it, but don't take it with you.
Every time you let something go, every time you are just open to other people being on their own journeys, every time you laugh and have faith in Universal Intelligence or God or the Divine, you get a moment of flow. This is so unbelievable that I have to tumble on to the New Age wagon. I swear this one thing will make you prettier, younger, happier and more popular. Isn't that what luxury is really meant to do?
Much much more effective than any expensive clothes or make-up or plastic surgery.
Back when I was really an embedded reporter in the beauty and fashion wars, I used to ask my clients to sell me their products first. I needed to believe in something before I sold it. I couldn’t be excited and enthusiastic about a product that no one needed or that wasn’t lifechanging in some way. I refused to work on advertising that was full of false claims.
This is what I am selling now. Only because I believe in it. It won’t make me (or any big corporation) massive profits.
Are you buying?
Let me know. ***
*One of my lowest moments was an ad that conflated filling your home with plastic with protecting your baby. Sadly, or maybe necessarily, almost all baby stuff - car seats, toilet locks, outlet covers, baths, stroller seats - is made out of plastic. With our new awareness of B.P.A., fluorocarbons and endocrine interrupters, I don't know how to think about that.
**We need to address the reason we ad people put in all those stupid cliches to begin with. Wearing white and doing gymnastics or diving into a pool proves that the product is leak-proof and comfortable. Hugging kittens speaks to our desire to be comforted and treated gently when our emotional pitch is high. And the flowers imply innocence and cleanliness, a concern from back in the day when “women troubles” were dark and dirty. People make fun of the cliches but they forget that almost all advertising includes an iconography that is demanded by the consumers because it communicates quickly. What's frustrating is that, when I've run more realistic images through focus groups, the women get irritated. They WANT the cliches, the retouching, the unbelievable bodies, the poreless, wrinkleless skin, the make-up. We can't just change the advertising - because, of course, we need to sell stuff. We need to change our minds.
***Please comment! It is so strange to get 500 to 1500 views of a post and no idea (apart from facebook) of what people really think.