This issue of Advertising & Society Review focuses on one of my favorite areas: the fashion and beauty industry. We begin with two new academic articles, then have an industry interview, and end with one of our "Classic Campaign" features, this time on Cover Girl makeup.
Suzanne Schwartz's piece, "Girl Power Through Purchasing? The Urban, Young, Educated, Working, Indian Woman and Aspirational Images in Personal Care and Beauty Aid Advertisements," is the result of an extensive ethnographic project conducted among the women who produce the advertising for Lakmé cosmetics in India. This is a rich, nuanced account of the interaction of gender, modernization, traditional practice, and communications strategy in the dynamic Indian environment. The viewpoint is well grounded in the cultural and historical context, yet underscores similarities between these circumstances and other instances of cosmetics campaigns production in different, especially modernizing, circumstances. As a result, it stands in important contrast to quite a lot of the feminist literature on advertising, while at the same time giving us an important window into a particular part of the way women in commerce interface with feminism. Much like the early 20th century women's creative groups (documented by Jennifer Scanlon in Inarticulate Longings and by myself in Fresh Lipstick), these women see themselves as occupying an important place in the push for women's freedoms. They very clearly try to use their power over a major advertising campaign to reflect more modern and progressive ideas about women's roles in their society. The very fact that this phenomenon not only can but does occur, stands in stark opposition to the way that earlier writers such as Diane Barthels, Naomi Wolf, and Jean Kilbourne have inferred a nameless, faceless, masculine author for beauty ads. Further, this ethnography extends the work done by Weinbaum, Thomas, Ramamurthy, Poiger, and Yue Dong in The Modern Girl Around The World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, which demonstrated the global origin of contemporary beauty practices in a vision of a "New Woman," who cared about beauty but also about freedom and pushed the comfort level of patriarchs everywhere. Thus, Schwartz's piece is not only a fascinating example of ethnographic work, but an important counterpoint to a receding, but still powerful view of how advertising "works" against women.
Sunny Tsai's paper, "There Are No Ugly Women, Only Lazy Ones: Taiwanese Women's Social Comparison with Mediated Beauty Images," also stands this literature in some ways, though it ultimately validates key points that feminist critics of advertising have made for many years. For instance, in the end, the author comes to a conclusion that enforces previous arguments: that beauty advertising reinforces women's acceptance of a "duty" to beautify themselves, while also enforcing acceptance of a pre-existing template for what is considered beautiful. The difference here is that this study takes the consumer seriously as a reader, one with an intelligence, a cultural context, and an active engagement with the text. The conventional critique has always implicitly assumed an extremely passive, easily manipulated reader—one who could hardly be trusted to mind a child or cross the road safely, never mind vote intelligently or manage a company. More respectful treatment of readers—or even the attention to real readers at all—is an important contribution of studies like this one.
I met Marc Rosen in the Palm Court at New York's Plaza hotel, within easy sight of the portrait of "Eloise," the iconic character created by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. Sitting there, talking to the most respected designer of perfume packaging of the past fifty years, I felt I was living out a girlhood dream. I have been, as many women are, fascinated by perfume bottles for many years and feel that the advertisements for the important fragrances of my youth—Charlie, Norell, as well as Aramis and English Leather—are as much markers of the period as were the songs of the Beatles or films like The Graduate. It was fascinating to listen to Marc talk about the stories behind important fragrances, to hear his opinions about key campaigns and fragrances. We are also indebted to Aishatalé Mitchell for collecting...