Original Ad and Written Analysis:
When looking at this ad, can you instantaneously tell what the message is? Does it truly convey a message of strength? To me, I had a difficult time establishing what exactly this advertisement was trying to convey to its audience and part of that process was pinpointing who that audience was. First, I looked at the female model in the middle of the advertisement who also happens to be a famous celebrity and TV personality. The contorted position of her body, her physical condition and the expression on her face do not necessarily convey “strength” to me. I looked at that image and saw a societally constructed image of what feminine strength should look like; an extremely thin woman being jostled between two men, apparently seeming to be breaking up a fight amongst them. Are we to assume as the viewer that this fight between the male models is over her? Most likely, but why? Is it because they are in their underwear and there is a sexual motivation or incentive? Probably. Then, I began to realize that this feminine strength is really sexual objectivism of the female counterpart, as she is the object of desire that is “strong enough” to hold back the two aggressively posed men from fighting over her body.
I then thought about the audience that this advertisement reaches. Kendall Jenner has over 50 million followers on Instagram, most of whom are teenage girls who grew up fantasizing over the rich and luxurious lifestyle Kendall and her family have. She regularly posts ads and campaigns she is featured in on her various social media accounts, reaching innumerable volumes of people. When a young girl sees this ad or another similar campaign from one of her favorite stars on the E! Network, what is she to feel? Possibly she will want to go out and buy that exact same bra and underwear set to look like Kendall, or maybe she’ll starve herself a little bit more to find her “strength” to be attractive and desirable to men. It is no secret that youth are extremely impressionable, as the power of social media is alarming strong and carries the ability to start major trends. Even with the hashtag, “mycalvins,” the clever marketing campaign brings immediate recognition to the brand and using celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber to promote it has inevitably created a trend to post pictures of yourself in your underwear with “#mycalvins” tagged.
The clear message here is that “strength” for women is equitable to sexual attractiveness/desirability to men and the ability to control them. Kendall is strong because she shows off her body (and her Calvin Klein underwear) and as a result has to force herself between two unrealistically physically fit men from whatever confrontation is happening. Heteronormativity is overly pushed through various media outlets in our society as well, yet there is often the underlying message that the female body and femininity has to pass a certain standard for acceptance, approval and desirability for men. Unrealistic beauty standards for both women and men are constantly stigmatized and force fed to us, yet we still cannot disrupt these societally constructed norms of beauty, strength and attractiveness and many of us will do anything to try to attain these standards.
Reconstructed Ad and Explanation:
My recreated version of this ad was an attempt to show other potential options that Kendall Jenner would realistically be feeling in this situation. Sure, she may be one of the few women that have won the genetic lottery and naturally look like that. If so, that’s wonderful for her, but I still cannot hide the fact that these types of ads convey mixed messages and often target those in our society who are dealing with body issues and unrealistic expectations to look and act a certain way. If this is the standard of beauty and strength, why should women strive to be like that? Is there not strength in other facets other than physical and sexual attractiveness? I still am confused as to who in the Calvin Klein marketing team thought that this image conveyed “strength.” That might be because I picture strength as a physical and mental ability to overcome obstacles that we deal with everyday, like overcoming stigma and discrimination, fighting for your right to speak against outdated cultural norms and standing up against the various forms of oppression in our society, just to name a few. To me, “breaking up a fight” between two emaciated male models in Calvin Klein underwear simply does not make Kendall Jenner strong, hence why I provided some other, more realistic options.