The consumer market has been flooded with beauty products, aiming mainly at women and their desire to look picture perfect. Now, what according to these advertisements and promotional activities define the phrase ‘picture perfect’? The first thing that strikes our mind when women and consumerism are put together is that of a fairness product. All of us must have come across advertisements flaunting how a fair and flawless skin can be the easiest and the most suitable way for a girl to claim success. Now in a country of 1.2 billion people like India and in other African and South-east Asian countries, majority of the people are brown-skinned. Now the fad that is spread in a country like India is that white skin is the only accepted and illustrated skin colour that can eventually lead you to dazzling heights of glory and fame. A certain fairness product which promises to make you glow like a neon bulb also tells you how you can gain confidence on using it. It makes teenagers and women who are young adults believe that their dark skin tone is a condemnable thing and a remedy should be found to cure it as if it were a disease. Most of the products that aim at luring women to purchase them are concerned with enhancing their beauty and physicality. This often leads to commodification of women and subjugating their identity as mere props or objects to ogle at. Our television sets run campaigns advising and guiding us as to how we can attain the perfect hourglass figure by eating a spoonful of nutritious honey of a certain brand or by eating cornflakes and oats at breakfast. The question that arises out of it is whether eating oats and cornflakes, made especially for women, can help only women to stay fit and slim or whether men too can reap in the benefits of such products. The Ad world is flooded with Ads prescribing methods on how women can remain healthy and desirable by maintaining a proper diet but very few of them seem to bother about men and the necessity for them to stay healthy.
In recent months and years, there have been fairness creams about men with taglines running that discourage men from using fairness creams generally used by women as it may pose a threat to their manhood. Hence in order to prove their manliness, they should use creams and products assigned to their nature and personality. Thereby these advertisements make already existing gender discrimination and gender binaries even more explicit. They prove the age old adage that men are known for their brains with some beauty perhaps being sprinkled over for decorative purposes. On the other hand, women have beauty and grace as their biggest tools to get recognized and the gray matter is of ornamental significance. In the process, the woman gets doubly-marginalized. One is on account of her skin tone and the second on account of her sexual identity. Fairness creams in a way undermine the caliber of dark-skinned women and treat it as a malaise.
On moving away from fairness creams and beauty products, we come to deodorant advertisements. In most of these commercials, there is a man whose intention in putting on a deodorant or a perfume is to lure and tempt girls. The number of women you manage to have as company will indirectly underline the popularity and quality of the product you use. Also the value of the latest model of a very enviable high-end car experiences a manifold increase in its desirability if it is endorsed by a curvaceous and sexy female model. There are even car companies that tend to compare the shape of a car to the perfect shape of the woman who is flaunting it, with billboards of such comparisons being flashed all over our cities. Thus the basic point of the argument is that whether women are projected as a prop for a consumer or whether women themselves are the targeted consumers for a product, it is their physicality and beauty, measured in terms of a conventional and normative yardstick that seeks precedence.
Now coming to the issue of household or domestic items like detergents, utensils, household item cleaners and healthy food items for toddlers and teenagers, it is always a mother or a housewife who is portrayed to be taking care of such domains. This further highlights that the responsibility to think of the well-being of children is solely and squarely vested on the shoulders of women. These Ads show that domesticity and the household is only the sphere of the woman and hence the items that cater to her specified role should be shown in the way the world has perceived her for a long time. She is the superwoman who comes up with the newly launched washing powder brand to clean the stains from her husband’s or her children’s dirty linens. Is she really a superwoman in that sense when her role is limited to this extent in the day-to-day affairs of her existence?
This article has then put across the perspective that the woman as a consumer is either a glamourous figure, who needs to maintain her hourglass figure to make a mark or she has to cater to the needs and problems associated with the domestic sphere. Thereby the advertisements on print or in visual media provide fodder to all those gender stereotypes that have been associated with women in many south-east Asian countries including India. Choosing a much traversed tried and tested route for them is always more suitable than projecting something out-of-the-box.