“Brûlez vos soutiens-gorge.” It’s French for “beauty culture sucks.”

I was in Paris last week and against my better judgment, I went into the enormous Sephora on the Champs Elysées. It is huge, and overwhelming, and I’m convinced that after just a few minutes inside, my brain was totally addled by the smell of perfume.

But I’m pretty sure that, Dior-deranged or not, I would have been appalled by this ad for breast-firming cream:

The copy reads “Burn your bra.”

I stood there open-mouthed, staring at this thing, until other shoppers started staring at me. I motioned to my mother – a bad-ass Second Waver, someone who was actually around when the stuff of bra-burning legend was taking place – to look at it. We both uttered variations of, “you have got to be fucking kidding me,” and I was able to hold off an impending brain explosion long enough to take this photo.

I’ve written before about the use of feminist words and concepts – “empowerment,” “confidence,” etc. – to sell products to women. Often, those words and concepts are used to sell beauty products and fashion, the very industries that feminists believe exploit women’s desires to live up to gendered and unrealistic beauty standards. And it’s not just the beauty and fashion industries: feminism, or feminist-sounding rhetoric, at least, sells. Just last weekend in the New York Times, Peggy Orenstein wrote about “a trend [she has] noticed across a whole range of sectors over the last several months from big-box stores to high-end fashion to wireless-phone services to politics: all have discovered the sales potential in female pride.”

But this? This is a step beyond “empowering” clothes. This is a spectacular exercise in turning a feminist message on its head and exploiting it. This is beauty culture appropriating our words, our criticism, and using it to sell bust serum. This… Is making my brain explode.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    Ah, the joys of co-opting for the sake of profit. I suppose in a way we ought to be flattered, if the matter at hand wasn’t quite so serious.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kaelin/ Matt

    It seems that using political/progressive slogans is a common tactic. We had a post on a similar issue a few weeks ago, and I had commented regarding some car companies had done the same with their advertising/literature.

    We may need to develop a different kind of reaction to these sorts of exploits. We want to understand the methods businesses and leaders may use to manipulate us and others, and we want there to be negative consequences for these businesses and leaders, but we don’t want businesses and fringe leaders getting publicity in the process (the philosophy of “negative attention is still attention” can be effective when one only needs to do business with a small portion of people to be successful).

    What sort of approach can we use to best deal with these stunts?

  • http://feministing.com/members/adamantine/ Adamantine

    I remember maybe two years ago, French furniture store Castorama had an online campaign about the “rights of women.” Rights to do what? Well, to redecorate their house. Just plain disgusting.