A frustrating weekend shopping trip ended up providing me with perfect examples of the ways post-feminist consumer culture upholds the societal expectation that women are expected to be both beautiful, but real, and sexy for the benefit of men. On the Friday before Halloween, I went to Dallas & Company and Spirit Halloween to try and find a last-minute costume for a party I was going to on Saturday. The sexy/sexist women’s Halloween costume has been discussed at length by so many friends, thinkpieces, magazine article, etcetera, but this is because it holds true every year. To be fair, there were some versions of men’s costumes that were a “sexy” version, but those were few and far between instead of a majority. What’s interesting is that the Spirit Halloween website has a lot more less revealing women’s costume options than were in the store. Maybe they don’t sell as well, so they’re limited to online-only. I ended up leaving without buying anything and making my own costume. If someone feels comfortable in those costumes, that’s awesome for them, but I definitely don’t. Dallas & Company had a lot more general costume accessories, but the full ready-to-buy costumes for women were also the “sexy” versions of all the men’s costumes. It’s kind of my own fault for waiting until the night before the party to get a costume, but it’s also really frustrating that there are so few ready-made costumes I would feel comfortable wearing.
After my failed attempt to find a Halloween costume, I went to the mall to get some yoga pants from Aerie. I wouldn’t describe the actual interior of the store as something particularly feminine- it was mostly white and clean. It’s the products inside the store, all the bras and underwear and yoga pants in floral patterns and bright colors (and boxers with these ruffles on them so it looks like a cute fairy skirt), that make it feel “feminine”. Aerie strives to be known for its “Aerie real” campaign, where they supposedly don’t retouch any of their models. While the models in their advertisements don’t seemed obviously photoshopped- you can see their tan lines, tattoos, moles, and cellulite- I think it would be naïve to assume they never use any editing software at all. To their credit, their website does feature some body types besides the typical extremely thin body, which is unusual for a company of this type. It’s exciting to see bodies that look more like mine. That being said, the majority of the models, though, are still extremely skinny, with jutting hipbones and visible ribs.
The “Aerie real” campaign makes me think of when Banet-Weiser and Portwood-Stacer say that there is an “explicit suggestion that accessing choices and individual pleasures is enabled by consumerism” (260). Buying from Aerie, a brand that prides themselves on celebrating the “real” girl/woman, is supposed to make the consumer feel “real” as well. On the one hand, it’s difficult not to applaud the message that Aerie is trying to get across. On the other hand, the message is there for the sake of marketing. Empowerment has been used as a marketing technique so often that it now feels like pandering instead of authenticity. For example, the Dove campaigns (one of which has the slogan “Real Beauty”) have been doing the positive, post-feminism feel good ads for years. Dove is owned by Unilever, a company that also owns Axe, which has been heavily criticized for its ads that objectify women. Dove ads also focus on non-traditional ideas of beauty, or telling all women that they’re beautiful, but this just reinforces the idea that beauty is what women should be aspiring to. They are still trying to sell a product, like Aerie is.
In the textbook, post-feminism is described (in the context of the Wonderbra ad) as something that can make images or advertisements seem “ironic and harmless; an advert that only a feminist puritan from the 1970’s could find offensive” (Storey 165). As a GWS major, so basically everyone’s idea of a feminist puritan, I don’t like the ad featured about (which coincidentally has a lot of similarities to the Wonderbra ad). It’s not that I find it offensive, per se, it’s more than I find it juvenile and an overplayed idea and maybe a little bit demeaning in a way that’s kind of hard for me to explain. Comparing breasts to fruit is something I’ve also seen in a billboard in town advertising breast implants- it says something to the effect of “turn your lemons into melons”. I just don’t appreciate my body being compared to food, whether it’s “ironic” or not. The costumes are what frustrate me more, not just because they’re eye-roll inducing, but because there were so many of the “sexy” costumes for women that there was barely any room for the regular costumes. Even if some of these costumes were a little tongue-in-cheek, are these costumes for women who want to feel sexy for their own benefit, or for the benefit of men who are seeing them wearing the costumes? Why can’t a costume just be cut in a way that’s more suited for many women’s bodies, and be the same version of the men’s costume, instead of charging an outrageous price for a cheap costume with barely any fabric?
Here is my costume. I was literally garbage and my girlfriend was a raccoon (with raccoon accessories from Dallas & Co). I was so annoyed at the sexy costume situation that I decided to dress as one of the least sexy things I could think of.
Banet-Weiser, S., & Portwood-Stacer, L. (2006). ‘I just want to be me again!’: Beauty pageants, reality television and post-feminism. Feminist Theory, 7(2), 260.
Storey, J. (2015). Gender and sexuality. In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction (7th ed., p. 165). New York City, NY: Routledge.