Though Preachy, Female Empowerment Campaigns Make Thoughtful Advertising

Over the past year, feminist motivations have ignited an advertising trend that investigates society’s default evaluations of women’s worth. Always’s powerful #LikeAGirl advertisement, which gained immense popularity following its Super Bowl spot, was one such campaign that hinted at the subconscious devaluing of women in society.

A recent campaign by Terre Des Femmes, a women’s rights organization, breaks down the benchmarks commonly used to determine a female’s worth. Each of these standards corresponds to the manner in which a woman dresses.  For each measure of neckline, hemline and heel, the photo series assigns a negatively connoted label ranging from “prude” to “whore.”

The labels associated with certain types of dress apply mainly to girls and women.  When was the last time you overheard someone on campus calling a boy a “slut” because he wore Chubbies shorts to a party?  The photos demonstrate that any manner of female dress elicits negative judgment, indicating that society’s evaluative standards make it impossible for women to win.

Numerous female-oriented campaigns strive to end the notion that a woman’s worth correlates to her physical appearance.  GoldieBlox, a mission-based toy company seeking to spark girls’ interests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, bashed frustrating standards of beauty with a metaphorical hammer this fall in an ad for their new Goldie action figure.

A spin on Apple’s “1984,” the spot shows dolled-up little girls picking up identical Barbie-inspired toys on a factory assembly line. A “Big Sister” projection repeats the commercial message, “You are beauty, and beauty is perfection,” until one little rebel in overalls and Converse sneaks breaks the machine with a hammer.  The advertisement suggests the toy industry’s role in shaping societal views of women and the need to redefine the term “beauty.”

Dove explores this idea with their new “Choose Beauty” campaign. This advertisement challenges women to enter a building through either a door labeled “Beautiful” or a door labeled “Average.” The campaign received backlash as critics found it manipulative and polarizing.

In an article for, Susan Chumsky wondered, “Might it feel a bit immodest to tell the world, ‘I think I’m beautiful’? Why only beautiful or average—how about fetching or charming or magnetic?” However, Chumsky missed Dove’s intended message, one that is consistent with GoldieBlox’s “Big Sister machine.”

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

The word “beautiful” does not exclusively measure physical appearance, or at least it should not be limited to such.

The women who chose “beautiful” are not deluded by their physical appearances nor do they exhibit a lack of humility. Rather, those women understood that their worth encompasses much more than their looks.

They made a statement to the world that they have desirable qualities. They feel confident because they are intelligent, compassionate and hard working—maybe even “fetching or charming or magnetic.”

Although most of the organizations behind these female-empowerment campaigns are for-profit, their financial motives do not undermine the value of girl-power advertisements in today’s consumer culture.

While often ringing as preachy or even trite, these campaigns draw critical attention to the daily challenges girls and women face regarding self-esteem.

Mass-media misrepresentations of what defines femininity often plague college campuses where young women frequently face double standards.

If college students embrace these ads without feeling patronized or becoming defensive, the confidence of the female student may increase. She may be measured on the basis of her academic achievement, benevolence or sense of humor rather than her bone structure, her clothing choices or whose bed she sleeps in on Friday nights.