In the Blog

Say it with your hair

February 28th, 2008     by Catherine Hayday     Comments

While boots might still be made for walking, we’ve branched out to establish that “lips are for losing weight”, and the newest retasked body part — hair that “tells your story”.

While at university, working on my smrts, I took a course in the History of Advertising. Where I was lucky enough to be exposed to Jean Kilbourne. Specifically Jean Kilbourne on advertising. And her expletively excellent book Deadly Persuasion (also released as Can’t Buy My Love). Get it, get it now. I’ll lend you my copy.

Published in 1999, Jean reprints and analyzes ads as a backdrop to broader discussions about the techniques and messages ads use on/for women. Deadly Persuasion is now almost 10 years old, and sadly I’d say it’s just as spot-on now. Same soul-sucking techniques, sometimes more overt, sometimes honed to be more insidious.

Here’s an example from Deadly Persuasion/Can’t Buy My Love, about an ad for nail polish depicting a woman pulling against a net:

The product that promises to free this girl from the net that imprisons her? Black nail polish. Nail polish. Such a trivial solution to such an enormous dilemma. But such triviality and superficiality is common in advertising. How could it be otherwise? The solution to any problem always has to be a product. Change, transformation, is thus inevitably shallow and moronic, rather than meaningful and transcendent. These days, self-improvement seems to have more to do with calories than with character, with abdomens than with absolutes, with nail polish than with ethics.” (153)

And one more while I’ve got the book open to this chapter (titled “The More You Subtract, The More You Add”):

Most of us know by now about the damage done to girls by the tyranny of the ideal image, weightism, and the obsession with thinness. But girls get other messages too that “cut them down to size” more subtly. In ad after ad girls are urged to be “barely there” — beautiful but silent. … “Make a statement without saying a word,” says an ad for perfume. And indeed this is one of the primary messages of the culture to adolescent girls. “The silence of a look can reveal more than words,” says another perfume ad, this one featuring a woman lying on her back. “More than words can say,” says yet another perfume ad, and a clothing ad says, “Classic is speaking your mind (without saying a word).” An ad for lipstick says, “Watch your mouth, young lady,” while one for nail polish says, “Let your fingers do the talking,” and one for hairspray promises “hair that speaks volumes.” (138-9)

“Say it” with everything but your voice.

So through that lens, I embed the latest Sunsilk ad, featuring Marilyn Monroe, Shakira and Madonna:

Tags: body politics, media savvy

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