“In a society that profits from self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.” – Caroline Caldwell.

Did you wake up this morning and look in the mirror only to find no flaws and go on to have a perfectly normal day? If the answer to that question is yes, you could easily give this one a miss. If the answer in fact is a no, then please do read ahead, for these “imperfections” you found are the gift (not so much) of the advertising world you’re definitely much better off without.

Gone are the days when Nima, Rekha, Jaya and Sushma would take up 30 seconds of television screen time to confidently flaunt their sparkling white dupattas. Detergent companies now capitalise on the class divide by subtly hinting to the economic stats of a person as determining their entitlement to the luxuries and privileges that come with dining at a five-star restaurant, or riding in a high-end sedan. Of course, the end message is, no matter what your bank account may say, if your shirt says sparkly white, there’s no shaming you about not being “upper class”.

The advertising world feeds and profits on insecurity, especially that of women, the collateral damage it entails not being accounted for. Not only does it capitalizes on these insecurities, but adds to them by setting unrealistic beauty ideals to which we must conform or at least die trying. “Bole Mere Lips, I love Uncle Chips” has made way for “Do Bowl, Do Meal, Do Hafte”. Every second advertisement today seems to utilise the 30-40 seconds of screen time to make a person question every aspect of their physical appearance as not being up to mark for the standards of society. And then there’s the sexism!

Also Read: How Advertisements Perpetuate Sexism & Gender-Based Violence

Bollywood Actress Radhika Apte in a recent panel discussion said that nudity on-screen was never an issue for she was always comfortable in her own body and skin that these things really didn’t matter. What Sonam Kapoor responded to this got me thinking. The actress, who is known for her impeccable sense of style, revealed that the beautiful clothes she adorned with such ease and glamour were all but an armour to overcome body image issues that she has for long struggled with. She brought something essential to the table, something many women in a trial room have subconsciously thought;

The fit of this dress is perfect to hide my legs, the sleeves on this blouse will conceal my skinny arms, or this top will help make my breasts look bigger, the list is an endless one.

While the former actress has always been vocal about her views on the sexism and bias that women face; be it in her choice of movies, or advertisements, the latter is new on the bandwagon to shatter beauty myths and promote body positivity amongst women. The same however, cannot be said for some of their counterparts.

When it comes to reinforcing stereotypes; television and print advertisements seem to have adopted a one step forward, ten steps back approach. 2016 is over and you’d think that fairness creams would no longer be determinant of a woman’s worth, personally or professionally. While they may not be the one step guide to success anymore, they still continue to be an essential tool for the self-esteem of a woman. Every time Bollywood actress Yami Gautam appears on my television screen, I dread the Fair-o-meter that is going to try to convince me that just a few shades lighter and I’d be on my way to eternal glory, and if not that, be confident enough to make life decisions like, “When would be a good time for marriage?” Funny how a fairness cream could help you figure all of that out!

And if Fair & Lovelyor the other numerous fairness cream advertisements do not make you cringe, there’s always Clean & Dry Intimate Wash. Taking the cleansing mission a step further, these advertisements would like to let women know that the road to happiness involves white-washing your privates, for only then is the ultimate destination (read: be the object of a man’s desire) an achievable goal.

When they’re not busy trying to shame you for the colour of your skin, advertisements like to give you fitness lessons. The underlying message of these is somewhere along the lines of, “If you have the slightest bulge around your stomach, one that is visible when you sit, stand, walk or do anything that a normal human being would in the ordinary course of a day, you have no business being in public places lest you find a way to go unnoticed.” 

The people behind these advertisements come from the same team of Lipton Tea’s ingenious marketing team that gave us Shraddha Kapoor’s “Lose 2 Kgs” ad where a visibly artificially bloated and prosthetically enhanced Kapoor is seen dancing merrily in the first few seconds but then goes on to ruin the fun with her Flab to Fab story, resorting to blatant fat shaming to drive home the point.

I, for one, hoped the ad would be a woman dancing without a care for 10 seconds, spilling the damn tea on the dress for the next 5, and spending the rest of it advertising a detergent brand for No more stains! She also features as the face of Veet Hair Removal Cream, telling women not to use razors because well, “You’re not a boy.”

If Shraddha Kapoor wants you to hate your stomach, Deepika Padukone wants you to change everything about your body in all of two weeks. Be it a sari or a short dress, you’re always dressed to show off those washboard abs and perfectly toned stems that are the result of two weeks of starvation.

Because ladies, you’re worth a whole lot more, but that selfie in a saree with the girlfriends is definitely worth it.

“Wazan Ghategaa, Confidence Badhegaa!” (the loss in weight will be a gain in confidence). It doesn’t stop there. Let alone fat, the people behind these advertisements want you to fear something as natural as ageing. Beauty isn’t timeless or ageless, it’s the end result of hard work that involves creams and concoctions and magic potions that ensure your face never really gives away your true age. What good is a woman with a wrinkle on her face? Or a pimple for that matter. When it comes to your skin, the younger and brighter, the better, for more men will lust.

The reason these women want you to do the opposite of love yourself is summed up perfectly by this Dabur Honey ad. A slimmer, “fitter” woman will not only find acceptance for the radically vibrant, self-confident version losing those ‘extra’ inches may have transformed her into, but will also manage to attract her jealous husband’s attention, who will now think twice before letting her step out without her mangalsutra. She would have thus succeeded in the ultimate quest to be reclaimed by the man of her dreams, for what is life but a series of incidents where the husband displays his love and affection by reducing his wife to property he proudly owns and flaunts at pleasure.

In a recent episode of the Television Talk Show Koffee With Karanon being asked what was the worst rumour she had heard about herself, Parineeti Chopra said it was the time when she was compared to a hot air balloon. She then added it by saying that the statement was true at some point in time. It is the latter half of her statement that illustrates how easily women give into these pressures and live by these standards forced upon them by a narrowed understanding of beauty, so much so, that even when the host of the talk show introduces the actor as a guest, he does not forget to lay emphasis on her ups and downs on the weighing scale. It is there that these advertisements succeed and we as a society fail womankind.

There are, of course, a fortunate few who escape the clutches of these 30 seconds (not so subtle) reminders of the need to change all that doesn’t find acceptance on the beauty spectrum, courtesy the advertising world. I call them fortunate for they possess a degree of confidence, a comfort in their own skin that sets them apart from those of us who are lost in a world of self-doubt, led into believing that our bodies define our worth.

It is the latter that become easy targets of these marketing strategies that forcefully find flaws where there are none, create imperfections where there isn’t room for any, and in doing so, somewhere have led women to believe that no matter what they do, they will always fall short. The concept of a “perfect” woman both physically and otherwise that is being sold to millions by the media as an ideal to live by is reflective of the patriarchal values that have come to define social relations, where a female’s role as a homemaker defines her worth and her aesthetic beauty is a virtue to be treasured and protected, for no one wants to marry an independent, dark-skinned, self-confident woman who doesn’t seek validation from the males in her family. Lets not forget we had an entire, rather successful television series based on the subject.

https://youtu.be/U8FmBxFrPwU

While some have tried their hands at more socially responsible advertising (and failed miserably) or tried to make empowering advertisements, the real message of which may have ultimately been lost in translation, there are those that aren’t even trying to do anything out of the ordinary; reinforcing unrealistic ideas of beauty and femininity – a petite, fair, significantly dependent, and not to forget, overly self-conscious woman is the embodiment of ideal “Indian Values“.

Also Read: A Feminist Rant on Empowering Indian Sexist Advertisements

advertisementsIt is the latter that could do with a few lessons in marketing. Age is just a number, but it is a certain number after all. Women (or men for that matter) aren’t porcelain dolls. Human bodies come in all shapes and sizes. You really do not have to indulge in fat shaming to sell Tea. Razors for all. Abs may be made in the kitchen but so are fries and you’re free to choose either or both. The easiest guide to have a bikini body is to simply put one on.

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