woensdag 18 februari 2015

Gender construction in fashion advertising

The controversial Dolce & Gabbana campaign from 2007
Advertising is a mechanism that makes people want to buy things, we all know this. Advertising still feels the need to photoshop the most physically blessed people in the world, we all know this. Advertising makes everything look magical. Everything is the best thing ever. Every dog on earth is a cute labrador. Men are always driving cool cars, drinking with their mates or receiving loving care from their hot wife. Women are usually complaining until this new magical product fixes their problem, unless it's a tampon commercial, women are always happy when on their period. Advertising constructs an ideal reality different from ours that contains all the things we need, we all know this, that's why we keep buying things in stores, the gateways to that perfect world.

Erving Goffman, an American sociologist, was the first to do research on gender in advertisement in the eighties. The analysis he makes in his book Gender Advertisements (1979) is still the foundation for research being executed today. He argues that men and women are both portrayed in a stereotypical manner. In general, the men are depicted as strong, protective, grasping something firmly and with a strong look, aware of their surroundings. Women on the other hand are shown as being inferior to the man, gently touching something, lying down, with dreamy and unfocused faces. Goffman coined the term “commercial realism” to refer to advertising when it uses something real like the relationship between a man and a woman, but tries to portray it as something different as it really is. This way the viewer is looking at a distorted image of a reality without realising it.

Although Goffman's research was done on general advertising, later researchers like Sheridan Hathaway and Vickie Rutledge Shields found out that his findings are by extension also true for fashion advertising. Fashion adds some characteristics to the female list like playfulness, appearing sexually available and self-touching. Ever since the famous Calvin Klein ad where a 15 year old Brooke Shields posed with a buttoned down shirt and the tagline “You know what comes between me and my Calvin? Nothing”, the marketing dogma “sex sells” entered the fashion industry. In the next thirty years (1980-2010), the percentage of fashion advertisements showing women in a sexual manner increased. This is an odd evolution since the female social and economic roll grew notably over this period of time.

Editorial for Vogue Japan 2009
The effects of this commercial realism are not to be overlooked. The objectification of women in image culture has had a strong impact on their self-image. Not only is the fact that women are portrayed inferior to men counteracting the fight for equality. The standardization of the male and female body and characteristics is setting an impossible perfection as example for people in general. Fashion advertisements don't reconsider the complexity of sexuality and gender. Because of their visual dominance, they should have certain responsibility but they haven't really taken any because their main goal is selling products and a global inferiority complex will make that happen. It's only since a few years that a small but steady shift is starting to occur.

It started with the 2004 Dove – The Real Beauty-campaign that showed a much wider diversity of women in shape, size and color. But this is not even a fashion company, the fashion industry jumped on the bandwagon a few years later. From 2010 onwards, Hathaway noticed that women were starting to get depicted dominantly over men in multiple campaigns. In 2010-2011 the androgynous look was an overall trend in campaigns. And in a few years, they're gonna say that 2015 was the year in which strong, confident women (and men) took over fashion advertising. We're starting to see the rise of plus size models together with the abolishment of the name “plus size”, these women don't think they are plus size, they prefer “curvy”. With Candice Huffine starring in the 2015 Pirelli calender and Robin Lawley gracing the editorial pages of the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, it seems that these prestigious editorials-made-cultobjects are setting an example for the rest of the industry. Another example of this fresh breeze is ALDA, a movement consisting out of five curvy models that are making it their quest to empower all women to love their uniqueness and to promote diversity in the fashion industry. They were immediately signed to IMG Models in New York.

DKNY spring/summer 2015

Other recent campaigns that started paving a different path are DKNY's spring/summer 2015 campaign in which Cara Delevigne is sporting both the womenswear and menswear collection. Although Cara is usually perceived as a tomboy, she's not made to look like a man but just as a woman who likes wearing men's clothes. This is a strong message to send. It shows that DKNY makes clothes with a certain gender in mind, but that aren't meant to be exclusively worn by the corresponding sex. The new & Other Stories ad for Valentine's day is also a new take on stereotypical (Valentine's) advertisement. By showing a same-sex couple and letting them take the pictures themselves, & Other Stories shows us something loving and tender that is often missed in traditional advertising. Model Eden Clark and her partner Lizzie Tovell are a real couple and have taken the pictures in their own setting. Using a LGTB-couple is a clear statement and making them both model and photographer shows women under a very different light than the helpless pretty woman still reigning the world of advertising.

Eden Clark & Lizzie Tovell for & Other Stories
Valentine's day campaign for & Other Stories

Written by Nicky Cremers.

3 opmerkingen:

  1. I loved your article! It is sometimes unbelievable what stories are hidden in ads. I looked at fashion and gender from a different point of view, read it if you like :)

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