Through the Lingerie Addict I found out about Braless in Brasil’s Diversity in Lingerie movement and I wanted to add my few thoughts to the mix as marketing and diversity are truly something I am passionate about.
First off: a little about me. I am not a visual minority. I have pastie white skin, sandy blond hair, green eyes, stand around 5’3 and am overweight. In the last eight years I have fluctuated between 145 and 230 lbs and thus have terrible stretch marks that no one but my husband will ever see. Generally I hold my weight well so if anyone ever hears how much I weigh (around 180 currently) they genuinely are surprised. I measure on an average day a 45″ hip, 33″ waist, and a 41″ bust. It makes finding clothes that fit a pain in the ass (and the thighs) but I am still not a visual minority. I can fit into a size 14 most the time which most stores max out at and I wear a 36E (36DD US) bra which most stores max out at so I am just at that cusp of being too big and not big enough. I am not plus sized, and I am not regular sized. I am a religious minority but that is another story. In the spirit of diversity this post will feature pictures of me – complements of my husband’s photography skills – from the last 14 months. If anyone has my shape, my ‘in-between’ status or anything, know you are never alone.
It is difficult to figure out how to start this post – so I will start it off last night. Last night while lounging in the bath tub I was listening to ‘Under The Influence’ which is a CBC Podcast on marketing. This particular podcast was on the creation and use of shame in marketing. Shame is socially based: you are fearful that society will look down on you and perhaps ostracize you for ‘insert item here’. Marketing created the shame of underarm odour, the shame of bad breath, and the shame of showing signs of aging all to sell products.
What does this have to do with lingerie? One of the main disputes I hear to diversity of models, especially plus size models, is that it promotes unhealthy body image. I will continue to use plus size women as an example for now. If other girls see women happy and confident in their larger body size, then society and marketers loose the power to shame them into starvation diets, anorexia, bulimia, and poor self esteem. Society as a whole still sees being fat as a lack of self control and SHAMEFUL. Marketing could change that – if it wanted to. But think of how much money it makes off of Tread-climbers, Bowflex systems, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craigs, Green Tea, etc. Shame is based on creating a judgmental societal pressure towards some behaviour or state of being and then presenting ‘the solution’. For some reason we, as a people, have also bought into the idea that we have a right to judge other people based on their appearance.
This applies to other aspects of diversity other than weight: people of different skin colours, ages, those with physical deformities… etc. Did you know that skin-whitening solutions outsell Coca-Cola in India? The ads used to sell the products use shame marketing to show how with darker skin you are not attractive to your mate, but when you use the skin-lightening product you suddenly will get lavished with attention. Whitening cream for a woman’s genitalia has actually spread to the US and is selling well… thanks to shame marketing.
Lingerie marketing is not immune to this. Smoothing bumps? Make your breasts look two cups size bigger? Nip in the waist? All this is based on the idea that the current is not good enough, pretty enough, young enough, prefect enough. Many companies also do not sell certain sizes because they do not want that ‘type’ of person representing their company. They also present the ideal, or the dream, like the VS Angels which creates this idealized body shape which women are to strive towards. Often when women buy lingerie they are not buying the actual lingerie – they are buying the dream.
I’m not sure exactly where I want to go with this… most these thoughts are still jumping around in my brain. However, there are a few things I do want to point out. Marketing might be well invested into the power of shame because happy customers do not need fixing (and thus don’t need new products) – but as customers we can make a conscious choice whether to buy into this. I think that is where the power of diversity in lingerie really comes in. I think lingerie should be about empowering the wearer no matter what. For lingerie marketing to do that it has to not participate in shame marketing and embrace diversity. The message should be: it is okay to be yourself whoever you are. That is fine, that is wonderful!
However, if we are going to ask lingerie marketing to be more diverse we really have to change our own mindsets. If we continue believing we have the right to judge people based on their appearance then we have just asked the lingerie industry to embrace a diversity we are unwilling to. We also will have to de-program ourselves from buying the dream and giving in to shame marketing. As Cora noted in her post, lingerie companies that do embrace diversity often suffer sales. That is OUR responsibility. It is troubling if companies are willing and yet their own consumers who are supposedly being given what they want (more diversity) turn away when they receive it.
So we as consumers have a responsibility. If you want change then embrace it when it comes. One of the fundamental concepts of economics is supply and demand. As consumers we are the demand that drives the supply. Use that power wisely.