The image above is the winning entry in the 2011 Love Your Body poster contest held by the National Organization for Women. It was created by college student Kyla Hollis of Colorado, and will be used in the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body campaign to promote self-esteem in school-age girls.
The image below, which uses the same empowering, feel-good language, is something altogether different. It’s part of a summer marketing campaign by Victoria’s Secret to sell push-up bras.
In fact, there’s a sly double meaning in the VS campaign: the “body” in the slogan isn’t just your body, it’s their Body by Victoria® brand of bras. If you click the button that says “I ♥ My Body”, you’re telling the world you love VS too.
The NOW project, which we’ve written about before, is an important educational effort but it can appear puny in comparison to the unrelenting parade of advertising messages that girls are exposed to daily, and which can breed lifelong body-image issues, eating disorders and health problems. And ironically, despite the similarities in these two slogans, the NOW campaign was set up to counter the influence of brands like Victoria’s Secret, which promote highly idealized, and largely unattainable, standards of beauty to their eager customers.
If you take a closer look at the VS “I ♥ My Body” campaign, you’ll see there’s not really much to it. You click the Facebook button (and allow VS to post advertising messages on your wall!), then you are asked to browse through their Body collection of lingerie. There’s a contest you can enter to win a spa trip and, if you feel like it, you can post a comment on the VS wall to “tell the world” how you “love your body”. About 500 people have done so, with varying degrees of lucidity, occasional crudeness and a few self-loathing grumbles. That’s 500 out of Victoria’s Secret’s nearly 15 million FB followers.
Has Victoria’s Secret done anything wrong here? Not at all; it’s just a harmless marketing campaign. And that’s the problem.
At its best, it’s a feeble and perfunctory effort to promote a self-esteem message. At its worst, it’s a mildly cynical attempt to use self-empowerment language to piggyback on the more socially responsible efforts of health agencies, educators and other corporate citizens to promote healthier body image perspectives for women.
My question is, why isn’t Victoria’s Secret leading that campaign instead of coasting along in its wake? They have enormous resources, an incalculable influence on the lives of young women, and a tremendous vested interest in promoting healthy life choices among its consumer base.
And there are many, many precedents of similar companies that used their profile and riches to promote social change. Who can forget Anita Roddick and her Body Shop‘s aggressive campaigns against domestic violence? Or the soap company Dove‘s exceptional and inspiring “Campaign for Real Beauty”?
Of course, I should point out that Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, is a generous corporation that plows millions into charities and community projects, and it has earned the respect and gratitude that comes with such exceptional philanthropy. But I’m not talking about giving, I’m talking about leadership. There’s a broader, more important role that Victoria’s Secret can play which, if pursued with the right amount of commitment, could literally change lives.
The “love your body” message is more than just a slogan or a marketing tie-in. It’s a critical issue affecting the lives of all young women today. With their appropriation of this message, Victoria’s Secret missed a golden opportunity to assert itself as a pro-active force in educating their customers.
It’s not asking too much to ask them to do more.