I used to balk at the idea that media played a part in my eating disorder. Somehow an admittance to pop culture’s influence felt like it made me the victim. I didn’t feel like a victim and I didn’t want to be labeled as one.
Now that I look back, I see that popular media did in fact influence my perception of myself at an age when I really didn’t know who I was. Pinned to my dorm room closet door were pages from VOGUE magazine: pictures of models clad in clothes I liked. But it wasn’t the clothes I admired, it was their bodies. I wanted to look like they did. I wanted clothes to fit me, like they fit the bodies of the models in the photograph. I wanted to feel the way they looked.
An Unlikely Match
Last week an ad from Reebok Women popped up in my Facebook feed. Typically I scroll right by ads, but this one caught my attention. The model was thin, beautiful striking a pose that accentuated her frame. The airbrushed, passive pose struck me as uncharacteristic of Reebok. Then I read the caption which finished with the hashtag #PerfectNever and #BeMoreHuman.
The image didn’t match the message.
My interest sparked, I dug into the comments. Most people pointed out the hypocrisy of putting a model as the face of a campaign encouraging women that they don’t need to be perfect to reach their potential. A lot of people criticized her size, saying she was ‘too thin.’ Some criticized her status as a well-known model.
It turns out “she” is Gigi Hadid, the current “It Girl” in the modeling and fashion industry. I’d honestly never heard of her until I read the comments. I learned that she has graced the cover of VOGUE, is ranked as 5th in world by Forbes magazine when it comes to her earning power as a model and has walked for some of the biggest fashion houses in the world.
An unlikely match for a campaign with the hashtag #PerfectNever
Most of the commenters criticized her, which is easy to do: she is thin, beautiful–the embodiment of what our culture has deemed the “Perfect Body.” But she isn’t to blame. She’s taken her natural beauty and parlayed it into a lucrative career. She is simply being her. Sure, she’s not perfect. But what we see is society’s standard for perfection.
The criticisms belongs with Reebok.
You made a major miss-step. And it’s not who you chose to spearhead your #PerfectNever campaign, it is how you chose to portray her.
What if #PerfectNever was really real and raw and imperfect in the way you suggest?
What if there was no hair stylist, no make up artist, no air brushing?
What if instead of photographing Gigi in a passive pose that has nothing to with any athletic or fitness related pursuit, you photographed her working hard?
What if instead of jutting her hip out to the side and arching her back and extending her arm up (all which are meant to elongate the body and create a the illusion of a smaller waist and leaner body), she was squatting heavy weight, skin creased and slightly folded over the waistband of her tights?
How much more powerful would it be if you stripped away the facade? If you said to Gigi: “Forget everything you know and do in all your other photo shoots and show us who you really are.”
What if instead of showing us the icon of female physical perfection being perfect. You showed us the icon of female physical perfection being…imperfect?
What if you gave weight and meaning to #PerfectNever instead of cheapening it with hypocrisy?
It’s clear why Reebok chose Gigi as their spokes person for the #PerfectNever campaign: her social platform translates to dollar signs for Reebok.
If Reebok were really invested in inspiring “women around the globe to reject the expectations and pressure of perfection,” they would have put their advertising dollars into creating a campaign that spoke to women of all sizes, ages, races and abilities. Instead they’ve alienated women who don’t see themselves in the images of their #PerfectNever campaign. And they have proliferated images of society’s perfect female figure, the ideal so many of us are working to prove is wrong and unrealistic. How much more powerful would it have been if they featured the fashion industry’s “It Girl,” the epitome of society’s beauty standards, in completely un-filtered, un-altered images? What if they turned the idea of “perfect” on its head. In all likelihood if that had been their angle Gigi Hadid would never have signed on, she has her own brand to protect and chances are raw and imperfect images wouldn’t jive well with her image. Perhaps they’ll generate the revenue they had hoped to simply because of Gigi’s “large platform,” or maybe women will take a stand against the hypocrisy with their wallet and shop elsewhere.
When I started seeking help for my eating disorder half way through my freshman year, those images came down off of my closet door and I stopped “consuming” print media. The pictures of those models weren’t the cause of my eating disorder, but they certainly worked to solidify my dissatisfaction with my own body. They tapped into deep insecurities I already had about who I was and created a distorted idea that I had to be physical perfect to be ‘valuable.’
Media is undoubtedly influential, even more so now than it was sixteen years ago thanks to the birth of social media. The great thing about social media, however is that we can speak out, interact directly and bring critique against the brands that are perpetuating the un-realistic body images. I have a voice. You have a voice. We have a voice and maybe together we can reject what our society says is perfect and show them what it really means to be #PerfectNever.
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