Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Really Chaps My Ass

So I’ve been pretty absent here for a while, but I had an experience recently that seemed worth waxing poetic about. Plus it provided an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use one of my favorite phrases as an apropos title. 

Last week I caught wind of a new Chapstick advertisement that predominately features a woman’s butt in the air in what is supposed to represent a frantic search in the couch for her lip balm. My hackles went up immediately, and as their advertisement encouraged me to do, I visited their Facebook page to “be heard.” I expressed my displeasure with what I found to be an insulting, sexualized representation of a woman in what could have otherwise been a clever ad campaign.

"Drat. If only I had room in these jeans for my Chapstick."

You can imagine how happy I was when I realized two minutes later that not only was my comment removed by Chapstick, but suggestive and offensive comments towards the model made by other visitors were left up. As often happens with me, I got pissed and this became my afternoon activity de jour. I sent an email to Chapstick and posted a few other comments on Facebook. In what was surely a loving tone, my husband commented, “Wow, you’re really outting yourself on Facebook over this Chapstick thing.” (It’s true – I’m coming out as a crazed feminist. Look out.) Later, at dinner, I got into a friendly debate over the issue with some girlfriends who didn’t seem to share my irritation. Shoot. I started to wonder. Am I over-reacting? Answer: Hell no.

I am frustrated to see how many women are buying into the social roles and stereotypes that have been prescribed for us. I am not a pervert, I am not preoccupied with sex, I am not a 'feminazi,' and I am not bored. When I look at this ad by Chapstick, I see a faceless (headless, even) woman with her ass front and center, pushed into the air, knees spread. Her hair is blowing in the who-knows-what, as I presume there is no wind in the house. A hand that must be hers is reaching up from behind the couch in a position that is not physically possible, assuring me that the person creating this image could care less if unimportant appendages such as arms are attached (also a subtle nod to dismemberment). And in case there’s any question of what the focus of this ad is, if you download the image from Chapstick’s site you will find the file name is ‘ass.’

For those that think this ad is no big deal and this outrage is nonsensical, I am just as perplexed by you as you are by me. Maybe if I step away from this ad in particular I can make sense to you. This type of portrayal of women is a death by a thousand cuts. Our young girls – and we as grown women – are exposed to THOUSANDS of messages a day that help shape our perception of ourselves and our place in the world (see here for a refresher). Perhaps this ad or that commercial isn’t so bad; harmless, really…and you talk that way until you’ve been exposed to 10,000 headless, sexualized, super thin, silenced, submissive, stereotyped images of women.

What’s normal and acceptable in our minds is based on what we have been shown. I choose to show my daughter something different. In an attempt to let her develop her own sense of self, without being told what that looks like, I limit her exposure to commercials, media, advertising, violence, and other images I feel would sway her developing psyche. As has been mentioned before, if not-so-subtle racism was being used (which it often is, by the way), we wouldn’t be having this argument. Just as white folks (myself included) are able to enjoy the privilege of seeing our race represented daily in positions of power and influence, in history books, in popular culture and in toys, etc; men enjoy the daily privilege of seeing themselves in these roles. Women have to look harder. The spell checker on my smart phone wants me to correct “Congresswoman” to “Congressman”. Death by a thousand cuts.

After throwing out all the Chapstick I could find in the house over the weekend and buying some Carmex, I got distracted and moved on to other things. So imagine my pleasant surprise to find the following email in my inbox this evening:

Thank you for your email. Our new Chaptsick (sic) ad was not intended to offend anyone. We are dedicated to listening to the views of our customers. To that end, we are removing the image from all of our properties.

Thank you again for your feedback.


Raymond Kerins

Raymond is the VP of Corporate Communications at Pfizer, and I’m sure he is unlikely to misspell “Chaptsick” in an email after today. Typos aside, the ad got pulled. No, it’s not well written. But I don’t care. What I care about is that I had the courage to speak up about something that bothered me and I was part of affecting change. What I care about is that I am setting an example for my daughter: have ideals, stick to them, and don’t apologize for it. What I care about is that the company got the message, and it’s one less degrading image that young girls will see.

What does a 13 year-old girl think who saw this ad by Chapstick? I bet you could show it to 100 of them, and 90 would tell you they wish they were thin, or had a butt like that. Because it’s in their face. All. The. Time. I choose something else for my daughter, and myself. And it’s not this.

You may have already seen a shorter version of this rant (full of horrible misspellings) in a discussion on Melissa Wardy’s Pigtail Pal’s blog. Her site educates and promotes discussion on body image, gender stereotypes, marketing, and media literacy. Check her out at