What’s the right question?
Recently we had a brilliant discussion following the blog post of Victoria Contreras, Dear media: stop misrepresenting us. Vicky encouraged us to look closer at what is behind Unilever’s Dove Evolution and the Axe Apollo commercials.
I decided to check that out, and I found Unilever has indeed done meaningful research in creating the Campaign for Real Beauty. I did not, however, find similar research in producing the more than 60 Axe commercials including “Boom Chicka Wah Wah,” “Axe Apollo” and “Axe Black Chill“ to name a few. That’s disturbing.
I even found teaching notes titled “Dove and Axe: Examples of Hypocrisy and Good Marketing?” for ethics classes. I came across a blog post with this intriguing title— Raising daughters to have high self-esteem and the problem with that? where the author quotes Jessica Valenti whose article “The Upside of Ugly” appeared in The Nation.
As my friend writer Jaclyn Friedman once said to me, the problem isn’t that girls don’t know their worth—it’s that they absolutely do know their value in society. Young women know exactly how ugly the culture believes them to be. So when we teach girls to simply “love themselves”, we’re implicitly telling them to accept the world as it is. We’re saying that being beautiful is something worth having when we should be telling them a culture that demands as much is toxic.
The words “we’re implicitly telling them to accept the world as it is” keep me thinking: are we asking the right questions?
Another 17-year-old, when asked what she thought about the whole self-esteem conversation, supported the commenter. She rattled off a ton of reasons why the conversation is one-sided then asked me, “is anyone concerned with the self-esteem of boys?”
Shifting our thoughts to Women of the ELCA’s health initiative Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls, the question I have is this: can we raise healthy girls by avoiding how we are raising boys?
Valora K Starr is director for discipleship.
Photo by Colin Kinner. Used with permission.