Swedish fashion giant H&M released an ad for its Autumn 2016 collection, based on the 21st century definition of a “lady.” The one minute video portrays women of various body types, ages, and ethnicities, challenging the usual beauty standards portrayed in the ever-famous Tom Jones song “She’s a lady.”
Over the last couple of years, a new trend of fashion commercials has started emerging on the market. Promoting self love and a positive body image, brands such as Dove celebrate the diversity of women by showing models that stray away from the typical beauty ideals of being white and skinny. Sara Mallat, a professor of Media Literacy at AUB, sheds light on this “snowball effect, where other companies are taking cues from such ads and changing their approach or trying to mimic such strategies.”
For their upcoming collection, H&M also decided to play the feminist card by redefining what it’s like to be a woman. Based on Jones’ song, as well as society’s standards, in order to be a lady, a woman must “behave herself” in public spaces. Or in other words, be discrete yet not invisible, such that she must “always know her place.” She must be feminine and take care of herself, but without being too self-conscious.
Those are some of the many stereotypes the ad denounces, portraying women acting very “unlady like,” sitting in the subway with legs spread open or picking their teeth at a restaurant. Instead of choosing traditional top models from the same generation, H&M included juvenile red heads messing around, as well as more mature business-women, embracing their gray hair and expressive wrinkles.
All these women, of different body shapes and ethnicities, are portrayed in everyday situations. We see them at work, in public transportation, or checking themselves out in the elevator, instead of standing in a forest with leaves falling in slow motion on their perfect hair, like most fashion commercials.
Such an ad is a step forward in the fashion world, but there’s still a long way to go to break the stereotypes fashion ads promote. Although the effort of changing the media industry is visible, the motivation behind it is unfortunately profit related most of the time. Yet there is no denying that whatever the motive behind it is, the ad is still gaining speed and catching attention, which aids in H&M’s profits and helps shatter stereotypes at the same time.
“Whether brands use this kind of ‘feminist, all shapes and sizes, inclusive’ approach because they actually feel pressure from consumers to abandon their historically restrictive portrayals of women and body types, or [because] they are just trying to be clever and use the approach as a marketing stunt to get a PR boost and gain buzz around the brand, is still a blurry issue,” admits Mallat.
People have been more aware of the truth behind the too often altered and retouched pictures, and with the wave of feminism sparking up recently, many companies are trying to change their image to adapt it to the changes of the 21st century.
Mallat concluded by stating that “each ad or campaign of this sort, that challenges narrow and/or stereotypical portrayals or objectification of women in the media, is one small drop in a huge bucket that is the global media landscape, but change has to start somewhere, right?”