The Boundaries of Beauty; L’Oreal, Can You Be Worth It?
What, or rather who defines beauty? The common, well known phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ suggests that beauty is defined as something different for each person but is it really? Beauty is hegemonic, reflecting the dominant or ruling thoughts found in the confinement of race, gender, sexuality, appearance and being able-bodied. In this way hegemony separates bodies into what is accepted as beautiful despite the vast genetic diversity reflected in the multitude of shapes, sizes and appearances of people. Looking at life experiences and positionalites through an intersectional analysis I will identify and analyze the power of hegemony applied to beauty in L’Oreal’s ‘Beauty for All’ campaign illustrating the deceptive subtleness and social conditioning of these influences to remain practically invisible.
Week three’s lecture focused on the power of advertising highlighting it’s control over changing perceptions, enforcing ideologies, educating and imparting subconscious material into popular culture. The presentation of Jean Killborn’s video “Killing us Softly” reinforced that the majority of people are unaware of the subtle yet consuming power of advertising imagery. According to Killborn, advertisements have become more aggressive over the last forty years selling more than just the advertised product with the target audience being white women more often than any other recognized group.
As I watched the L’Oreal ad for the first time I thought finally a company has made a beauty ad aligned with the multicultural diversity of Canada’s population based on the opening images of individuals who are not white (Pearson 85). However, armed with knowledge learned from class, the phenomenon of white privilege and the notion that the ad adheres to whiteness is not apparent to white viewers because hegemonic influences have conditioned members of the dominant race to be oblivious to its existence (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack – McIntosh). The impact of whiteness in the ad is only revealed when it is viewed through the lens of race acknowledging that nine of the seventeen individuals portrayed are white. The damage inherent in the sublimity of this lies in the ads unequal representation of races combined with a benevolently generated message that L’Oreal offers beauty for all; “whoever, you are, wherever you’re from, beyond all frontiers and cultures…believe[ing] in the power of beauty for each and everyone of us.” L’Oreal sets the white individuals apart from the others identifying them by name and attaching to each a specific life event compared with the unified identity of other racial groups as discussed in week eight’s lecture material. I believe this form of racial construction of hierarchies reinforces notions of superiority and dominance subjected subconsciously into the minds of viewers. Hegemonic influences continue to permeate the ad through the images presented and those omitted with respect to gender and sexuality.
By focusing primarily on women, the ‘Beauty for All’ campaign complies with naturalized gender hierarchies illustrating differential treatment that women are subjected to daily in regards to appearance (Pearson 8). In addition, the women share a connection through the portrayal of distinct feminine qualities; their femininity exacerbated by the attachment of specific female roles including mother, expectant mother and bride. Defined as beautiful according to hegemony, these images of emphasized femininity reflect the media version of womanhood re-calibrating social norms that women are subjected to through advertisement control (Oxford University Press 10).
Interspersed between the images of the women are five males exuding their masculinity expressed as a muscular torso, a child, where the foundation of gender identification begins and man who portrays his masculine role in a heterosexual relationship. These expressions of culturally revered masculinity known as hegemonic masculinity uses advertising as a source of social, cultural and economic influence to perpetuate the boundaries of beauty (Oxford University Press 10). L’Oreal’s total lack of reference to the gender spectrum reinforces the binary mindset of two genders; male and female, excluding all other identities reinforcing norms of heterosexual relations perpetuating ideas of homophobia as beautiful (Gender Spectrum). Imagery selection highlights the intended target of defined beauty, namely emphasized femininity, hegemonic masculinity, and heterosexuality leaving many individuals within society questioning their positionality as hegemonic boundaries delineate the confines of beauty.
L’Oreal’s ad reinforces the social response to disability and ableism as discussed in week six lecture. Images of physically attractive, able-bodied individuals with blemish-free skin inundate us daily through multiple media forms establishing parameters of beauty and L’Oreal’s ‘Beauty for All’ campaign is no different. Many individuals find themselves outside these artificially constructed boundaries; the reflection they see daily in the mirror looks nothing like the images in the ad (Tolmie Week 6 Lecture). Reality is a stark contrast to the hegemonic manufactured definition of beauty; people come in all shapes and sizes and lets be honest life isn’t just about physical perfection. Ableism abounds in L’Oreal’s ad even in the image of the woman who appears to be dealing with cancer, whose face does not attest to the wasting effects of the disease on her body. Reinforcing and celebrating the perfection of beauty through appearance and ableism exacerbates the point that hegemonic boundaries exclude the vast majority of the population and may lead to negative associations connected with appearance generating stigmas and stereotypes because many don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold (Pearson 69).
L’Oreal’s slogan “because I’m worth it” is in many ways false. Analyzing the ‘Beauty for All’ campaign reveals that beauty really is not for all, it’s for individuals who fit the hegemonic standards, adhering to boundaries within race, gender and sexuality, appearance and able-bodiedness. The images portrayed in this ad deceptively overwhelm the subconscious using subliminal advertising to define what beauty is, who is beautiful and how beauty should be classified. In truth this ad is destructive, offering little insight into how beauty should look. Sitting in quite spaces, watching people pass by and embracing the parade of genetic diversity showed me how important it is to break down the boundaries of hegemonic beauty standards and see people not as walking advertisements but as humans who in and of themselves are beautiful.
– S entry.
– L’Oreal Advertisement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McCUVz-5Ygc&feature=youtu.be
– Tolmie, Jane. “Lecture #.” GNDS 125. Bioscience Auditorium. January – March 2014. Lecture.
– White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (McIntosh) Link on Week 2.
– Gender Spectrum Link on Week 1.
– Eitzen D. Stanley, Maxine Baca Zinn, and Kelly Eitzen Smith. Gender, Race, and Popular Culture GNDS 125: Custom Edition for Queen’s University. Toronto: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014. Print.
– Aulette, Judy Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds: Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
– Picture #1: http://media.edusites.co.uk/images/uploads/music-magazine-collage-495w.jpg
– Picture 2: Screenshot from ad- 0:43/2:00
– Picture 3: Screenshot from ad- 1:08/2:00
– Picture 4: Screenshot from ad- 1:34/2:00
– Picture 5: Screenshot from ad- 1:38/2:00
– Picture 6: Screenshot from ad- 1:23/2:00
– Picture 7: Screenshot from ad- 0:51/2:00