Women’s history month is here and we’re celebrating women’s contributions to history, culture and society. Women have been fighting for hundreds of years for equality for themselves and for each other. One of the earliest ad campaigns to feature this idea of women’s empowerment is “Torches of Freedom” from 1929. The campaign aimed for gender equality by encouraging women to smoke in public, despite the social taboos associated with doing so. To go back even further in the 1920s, the female suffrage campaign aimed to give women the right to vote. Activists argued that women deserved to vote because they were different than men. They could create a purer, more moral maternal commonwealth.
Jumping ahead to the early 21st century where in recent years, major brands have started acknowledging women’s voices and making them the strong leads in their advertising. No longer is portraying women as passive, incompetent or sex objects the norm. Replacing those stereotypes is a theme of female empowerment.
Over the last five years in particular, there has been an abundance of female empowerment ads emerging. This could be because women are increasingly becoming the heads of their households and controlling those purchasing decisions. Whatever the reason, advertisers are shifting their focus dramatically toward women, creating a change in the subject matter reflected in the ads. That change has a name. It’s called “femvertising”. And it’s the idea that advertising can celebrate and empower women. In 2015, “First Moon Party” campaign by HelloFlo, took a hilarious look at a mom celebrating her tween daughter’s first period with an over-the-top party. Naama Bloom, founder and CEO of HelloFlo, aimed to normalize the conversations we have about women’s bodies so we can live healthier lives.
Nike’s #BetterForIt 2015 campaign focused on empowering women trying to reach their personal fitness goals. The ad captures the inner dialogue of a woman stuck behind a row of models during spin class; a runner through a half-marathon; and a beginner yogi unsure of her surroundings. However as much as they keep saying they can’t, the women push through and make their I can’ts into I cans. Emphasizing the message that while all women have insecurities they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. When you think about the first Barbie commercial and how it set an unrealistic definition of beauty, you realize that women have come a long way, baby! Over the past few years brands such as Nike are breaking those stigmas, creating new empowering images for women to aspire to. Strong is the new skinny. And following that trend, Mattel recently transformed their iconic Barbie doll with new body shapes, skin tones and hair. The changes give Barbie a range of diverse looks that better reflect 21st century America.
Dove’s #ChooseBeautiful 2015 campaign also challenged the beauty stereotype. The campaign asked women to choose ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Average’ doors to walk through. Taking on the challenge of how women are taught to feel about themselves. Women are bombarded daily with unrealistic expectations of beauty. Filling their heads with self-doubt and insecurity. This simple concept, choosing between “Beautiful” and “Average”, gave women a voice in what they think beautiful really means. Empowering them to decide for themselves and not let society’s standards make the decision for them any longer.
Women’s history month is about women being accepted. Women being beautiful. And women being empowered. Our society has made great strides and advertising is a strong indicator of how our culture has changed and continues to change. This month is a reminder to pay tribute to that. But it’s about more than just celebrating how far women have come. It’s about cheering them on as they keep moving forward, and leave those shattered stereotypes in their wake.