I was pleased when I saw a Nationwide ad campaign rolled out in September last year, using the tagline, “You do need a bank account, but you don’t need a bank.” About time too!
Banks have been haemorrhaging popular support for quite some time, but it was not until Nationwide’s recent campaign that they played their strongest card: selling the fact they are not a bank but they can do your banking. This seems a stronger angle to pursue than their other campaign ‘here for you’, which did too little to distinguish itself from other financial forces, and as a result was less likely to sidestep the snowstorm of consumer cynicism that has engulfed the financial sector. Anyway, well done them. An obvious but beneficial and well-timed campaign –even if it could have appeared a few years previously– as it appeared shortly after the latest fixing and Libor scandals last summer.
Now it seems that banks want to follow suit. Enter Santander with, “I wanted a bank that didn’t act like one.” A smart move if it works, but seeing as they don’t have the USP that separated Nationwide in the first place, I can’t help but ponder the effectiveness. It’s a funny marketplace to operate in if one of the only strategies you can use to re-gain customer confidence, is to deny your fundamental identity. I’m also wondering if this will prove to be the perfect opening for other lending platforms, such as peer-to-peer finance, to step onto the stage and highlight this distinction in their advertising campaigns. They would, after all, only be pointing out the truth.
Does it still pay to be a bank?
Here’s a good article from Marketing Week, on the ‘ethical advertising’ push started last year by Nationwide, Co-op and other service-led financial outfits.
It’s worth noting: Nationwide has done a good job of distinguishing themselves, without slinging dirt on banks themselves. This can only serve them well, as nobody likes the politician who spends all their time focusing on the mistakes of the opposition…
What has aid ever done for anyone? Save the Children.
There are some topics that aren’t funny and never will be. Poverty and disease are two of those things. When creating advertising campaigns charities have a requirement to highlight the gravity of the situation. This is serious stuff, and how do you get people to understand and consequently donate to your campaign if not by relentlessly hitting them with the facts and the inescapably poor prognosis?
The newest ad from Save the Children’s aid campaign may have found just the way. In the guise of an ‘anti-aid’ campaign, they provide the best defence for aid and charitable giving that I have ever seen, completed with some Monty Python-esque, tongue-in-cheek humour.
That is very important. While, you cannot ever make the subject funny, nor perhaps should you, the way in which people respond to advertising is ultimately the most important thing. People can be fairly adept at desensitising themselves to the shocking visuals and facts in charity advertising, and once they have done that it’s much less likely they will donate. Charities can either respond to this by making campaigns even more heartwrenching and bleak, or trying a different approach. After all, look at the response the Kony 2012 social media campaign had last year. Shame it turned out to be based on very little fact and a good deal of controversy, but the creators tapped into something –the elusive zeitgeist of a global social community– that so many charities would love to do. Save the Children’s approach may not work for every charitable advertising campaign, but it is definitely worth taking note.
Since spending some time in South Korea I have become a fan of Korean cosmetics. Korean women spend serious money on cosmetics and skincare and the industry has responded by developing technologies and products that are often more effective and better value than western counterparts.
BB cream, although it originated from a clinical product used on cosmetic surgery patients during recovery in Germany, was used by Korean women and over time transformed into the product we know today. When I was in Korea in 2011-12, BB cream had barely hit the shelves in the UK, and the commercial launches only started coming thick and fast about 14 months ago. In Korea, BB cream has been big news for a decade. One of the earlier products to appear and one of the most recognised and trusted brands in Korea, is Dr Jart.
I was delighted when I saw Dr Jart arrive in Boots during the summer of 2012. The UK market has been flooded with BB creams and derivatives, few of which are anything like the BB creams found in Korea. The BB product has lost a lot of its purchasing power due to cynical customers now unwilling to shell out on another not-quite-next-biggest-thing.
On closer inspection of the Dr Jart line in most Boots stores, I was a little confused. Here is a genuinely great product, with great pedigree and the ability to sell really well, but I feel like something is being lost in translation with the UK launch. Of course, I don’t have access to Boot’s sales figures so I may be barking up the wrong tree, but I think this is a good example of a product with fantastic sales potential and so here are some things I’d do differently:
The product copy needs to be looked at. One product in the range is named ‘Up-Tighten Serum.’ Not only is this awkward English, it conjures up an uncomfortable experience for the consumer, akin to a mechanical process and doesn’t sound like something I’d want to put on my face!
The BB cream is situated along with the rest of the Dr Jart range in the skincare section. BB cream is make-up. Putting it in the skincare section may confuse consumers.
Make a point of emphasising that the one shade suits all. Few consumers will buy a foundation product without knowing it matches their skin tone first.
Furthermore, product swatches/testers should be a given for foundation products.
This is one of the top BB creams from the home of BB cream! Currently there is no mention of Dr Jart’s history or brand story. Emphasise their expertise as a brand and use it to distinguish from the other BB creams on the market.
This is just what Boots are doing with a more recent launch of a Japanese moisturising cream called ‘Yu Be’. The product has its own stand in a highly visible location. A brand story has been created, explaining its history and popularity in Japan. It is being marketed as an ‘expert’ product and is part of the Boots’ ‘Latest Finds’ campaign which is targeted at helping consumers discover the latest beauty secrets.
Just like some previously neglected London boroughs, there is something strange happening to cinema’s favourite snack: popcorn is being gentrified. It is the snack au fait of yummy mummies and office workers throughout the nation. I’m not sure exactly where or when it started, maybe with Heston Blumenthal’s quest to scientifically reinvigorate the tired snack during his Mission Impossibleseries in 2011. Perhaps that helped widen the reach of Metcalfe’s ‘Skinny Topcorn,’ launched back in 2008 through Julian Metcalfe’s Pret a Manger chain and now stocked in supermarkets nationwide (even my work canteen has it!). In the last 12 months we have seen a real explosion of posh popcorn products, from Tyrells (the classic posh crisp), Propercorn and G.H Cretors, to name only a few.
It is a classic example of repackaging and up-marketing a tired old product. All these brands focus on one key message: “this isn’t the popcorn you know, this stuff is tasty and oh look, it’s good for you!” Except popcorn was never bad for you, it’s just corn after all. The cinema version was certainly heavy on the salt and sugar levels, but the calorie count was still relatively low. However, the key marketing message of ‘New Popcorn’ is how healthy it is and how little fat it contains. Huzzah! Metcalfe’s even lists the Weightwatcher’s points for each flavour on their website. This is all good news; desk grazing needed a new champion and it is the perfect response to a guilt-free snacking desire craved by those with a sedentary lifestyle.
It is a textbook example of the endlessly cyclical nature of consumer products and trends. I object to paying £4 for a soulless tub of popcorn at the cinema, so…I don’t. I also had no intention of buying ‘Skinny Topcorn’ the first time I saw a packet. Yet now, I see it as a non-threatening snack to indulge upon a few times a week. What changed? Briefly put: branding and exposure. That first packet I encountered was seen as an unreasonable extravagance, but when the same product appears across multiple supply chains and through different brands, it starts to seem normal. The inclusion of the everyman supermarket, Tesco, as a stockist was particularly significant.
Additionally, a distinction has been created between popcorn at the cinema –often seen as low-quality junk food, not to be entertained by the discerning consumer– to New Popcorn’s emphasis on handmade, high-quality ingredients and ‘gourmet’ flavours. The transition is complete and before we know it, we are adding another non-essential item to our shopping list, one which would not have been there five years ago let alone two. While I ponder that, I may just munch on this bag of G.H. Cretor’s Premium new Mature Cheddar popcorn…
Anti-ageing products are nothing new, and neither are vampires for that matter. But a recent trip to Boots the chemist made me think about both of these things and a connection started to form. The steady release of anti-ageing products, each launch more ambitious than the last, is impossible to miss. Every major brand now has at least one anti-ageing line, most have several. The advertising is far from subtle and the effect created is pretty striking when each product is lined up next to each other. As for the link between the two, well, stick with me, but they are both symptoms of a wider picture that is our society’s obsession with ageing.
Trends in popular culture and media are supposed to reflect society’s preoccupations and there’s no denying we’re pretty caught up with vampires in recent years, women in particular. Jumping on the vampire bandwagon now is almost passé and there have been many attempts to figure out just why we have become so obsessed with vampires, but the interest shows no sign of abating soon. Last year saw the final Twilight release Breaking Dawn: Part II, the latest Underworld film, Awakening, season 4 of Vampire Diaries and series 5 of Southern Vampire sexfest, True Blood. So what does that say about women’s preoccupations in our society? First, look at the way the portrayal of vampires has changed in recent years. The portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 and 1958 films is like a different species to the modern vampire; the latter is much less blood sucking fiend and rather more Abercrombie and Fitch. In some aspects, the ‘vampire’ is irrelevant as it is a part of a wider trend involving all things supernatural. But there are recurring themes displayed by this vampire of popular culture: beauty, immortality –endless youth, more specifically- and material wealth. American high schools also feature heavily, but that may not be so relevant here!
To me, this trend seems to mirror something in skincare and cosmetic advertising. With the incredible advances in medicine, we have lost touch with our mortality. More illnesses are consigned to history books every year (at least in this part of the world). The one certainty in life is becoming harder to talk about, as our medical technology and cosmetic innovations make us look younger and live longer.
It seems to me that women from the ages of 16/18 onwards aspire to look as if they are 25 (often the age of actors portraying so-called teens in many of the aforementioned high school dramas). From then on it seems acceptable for women to have a ‘target age’ of 30, regardless of their actual age, but that is the limit. Women’s faces are expected to be frozen in time for the next couple of decades as a picture of endless youth; rather like a vampire in fact.
In terms of brands, I have collected some of my favourite, rather forceful, product names:
Elizabeth Arden- ‘Daily Youth Restoring Serum’.
YSL- ‘Forever Youth Liberator Serum.’
L’oreal- ‘Age Perfect Cell Renew’ and the ‘Youthcode’ line (repeat offenders, apparently).
There have been real scientific advances in skincare in the last few years and no doubt, we are on the cusp of further innovation. There’s nothing wrong with women learning to take better care of their skin. Furthermore, brands wouldn’t be fulfilling their purpose if they didn’t capitalize on this concern, although it is hard to draw the line between that, and creatinga concern/desire. Indeed, the purpose of looking young is to emulate health and physical prime, who can be blamed for wanting that?
But, clearly, we can’t all be 25-30, all of the time. It cannot be right, or healthy, for several generations of women to aspire to look like such a narrow age range, at the exclusion of all others. We are not vampires or supernatural beings, we are human. To be human is to age, with the hope of acquiring wisdom and experience as we do so. A society that goes to increasing lengths to hide any evidence of this experience and appears not to honour the signs of this wisdom, is probably not such a healthy one.
The relationship between advertiser and consumer is often complex and by no means harmonious. This is particularly true when looking at examples of food and dieting advertising targeted at women. I will be attempting to show the overall lack of consumer power that this demographic displays by illustrating the overwhelming success of the advertising industry in persuading women to buy food and dieting products. Ultimately, I am arguing that although there are examples of consumer power in this context, the extent of that power is very limited and the influence of advertising is so pervasive that consumers are often powerless against it, if they even realise it is happening.
I will begin by looking at examples in the U.S.A. throughout the 20th century, which were instrumental in setting the standard and style of advertising prevalent in the West today. This will help me understand why food advertisers have had an overwhelming tendency to focus on women, specifically those from the middle and upper classes and the approaches they believed to be most effective when doing so. However, advertising and consumer culture has become such a ubiquitous part of most modern Western societies that it is often difficult to identify the causal links between advertisements and consumer response, as there are often other influences at play.
Because of this, I will be focusing the body of this essay on the advertiser-consumer relationship in South Korea; a country that has experienced a dramatic modernization process in the last forty years and has consequently provided many opportunities for sociological study. For the last thirty years South Korea has experienced unusually high economic growth, (and the economy has continued to grow in 2009, albeit at a slower rate, despite a reversing global trend), and has embraced some aspects of Western consumer culture enthusiastically. For example the annual advertising spend within the country increased nearly threefold between 1986-96. Of course, it is still problematic to isolate the stages between the advertising of a product and consumer spending, but by analysing examples I will attempt to demonstrate how food and dieting advertisements directly influence the body image and eating habits of South Korean women.
The 20th century began with an explosion in advertising culture throughout the West, but primarily the U.S.A., enabled partially by the continual advancements in media and technology (billboards, radio, increasing numbers of newspapers and magazines, and of course television). The food industry in particular was notable for its attempts to cultivate a newer, assertive style of advertising and it became part of an intense discourse on how best to catch the attention of the consumer. Furthermore, ‘the rhetoric in [this] popular discourse remained located in the traditional values and expectations about gender.’ Women were seen as the primary consumers of food and household products, as they were responsible for taking care of and feeding their families. They were also seen as much more predictable than the male consumer and more easily influenced by ads. In addition, the vast majority of advertisers, at least throughout the first half of the 20th century, were white males. Because of traditionally conservative attitudes at that time, it would have been second nature for many men to connect women with the housewife role. All these factors shaped the way women were portrayed in food advertisements.
Throughout WWI, as men continued to be drafted, reports began to surface that a third of men were actually ‘unfit for service’. Food advertising campaigns responded by starting ‘a crusade against malnutrition’ and encouraged women to believe the solution to their husbands health problems simply lay in the consumption of these so-called health foods. Ads would even encourage women to ‘diagnose’ whatever health problem a family member may be suffering from and find the ‘treatment’ in the advertised food product. Furthermore, advertisers did not just appeal to a woman’s desire to care for and please her family with their portrayals of a ‘super housewife’ ideal, but they also sought to appeal to a woman’s own vanities. ‘Advertisers wanted women to connect their product with a woman’s appearance’, for example ‘a 1926 Grape Nuts ad which featured an attractive woman draped in a nightgown…made broad promises about the food’s properties and its ability “to protect health and beauty by properly nourishing the body.”’ Taking this idea even further a Coco malt campaign in 1947 attempted to focus on a mother’s desire to have attractive children by asking them, “when she grows up, will your little girl have lovely legs?”
However, as society began to change there were protests about this style of advertising. Following the Suffragette movement and a temporary increase of women in the workforce, which then continued to grow after WW2, women often became very dissatisfied with this portrayal of themselves. A growing movement of female consumers began, that fought for increased respect and honesty from food advertisers. ‘Many [advertisers] found themselves awakened to women’s power as they staged boycotts, pushed for stronger laws and exposed fraud.’ This consumer movement was partially responsible for encouraging the government to impose much stricter legislation on the meat industry and more transparency in the production process.
Despite a small number in the advertising industry who expressed a need to ‘recognise the consumer movement as a legitimate effort…and cooperate in the solution of the problems it has given rise to,’ the vast majority did not wish to. Consequently, the industry affected very little real change in their advertisements or their style of marketing. In fact, in response to women’s protests about the unrealistic portrayal of women in ads, many in the industry saw an opportunity ‘to speak to and perhaps exacerbate angst that women felt about their inability to be “superwomen.” This is crucial as it illustrates how advertisers were able to not only survive an example of consumer power, but they were even able to turn it to their advantage, ultimately rendering the intentions of such consumers largely ineffective. Moreover, this trend in advertising of promoting products to combat the very insecurities in women that advertisers were exacerbating, (and sometimes even creating) is a common part of advertising culture in the U.S.A and much of the West today.
I will now consider the significance of food advertising in South Korea. What initially interested me in the Korean industry was the unusual paradox of the country’s very low obesity rate; to wit, it was placed 52nd (last) in an international meta-analysis of national obesity rates and yet it is also home to a dieting and health food industry worth approximately £522,603,352.04. With such a high capital value, this indicates it is an important industry. Couple this with the findings from a study on the dieting attitudes of college women -‘among [the] 22 countries surveyed, Korean college women were the most zealous about dieting, despite being the slimmest,’- and it raises the questions – what is different in Korea, and what is the root of such contradictions?
I have already discussed the tendency in advertising for women to be seen as easily manipulated and persuaded and therefore perfect targets for the advertising industry. This stigma is now being challenged in a lot of Western countries, partially owing to increasing numbers of women in the workforce and advertising industry. In contrast, the number of Korean women in the workforce is low, let alone those in the advertising industry, and thus the traditional representation of women is only just beginning to be challenged.
I believe there are several main factors that facilitate the direct influence the advertising industry has on the body image and eating habits of South Korean women. Firstly, although to explain all of Korean culture through its’ Confucian roots would be highly simplistic, it nevertheless plays a large part in the shaping of contemporary society. Confucian ideals first came to Korea from China in (date) and are a crucial influence on the strongly patriarchal and conformist tradition in the country. This conformist ideal essentially makes the advertiser’s job that much simpler. If a food or drink is promoted by a famous celebrity who, in the ad, espouses slimness, continual dieting as an accepted (and even normal) eating method, and one accepted body ideal, then this is what consumers will conform to; thereby increasing the likelihood of sustained sales for that product. As this is the ideal for women, then those in the spotlight, singers, actresses etc, will be the first to pursue this image, especially as they are the women being used in advertising campaigns in the first place, and then women watching at home may associate having such a slim figure with wealth and success, becoming even more likely to succumb to the ideal. As the beauty ideal becomes more standardized, there will be very few other representations of the female figure for women to see. Thus the pressure to conform becomes even greater; it becomes a vicious circle. I am not arguing that this model only applies to Korean society; we see examples of it every day in the West with products endorsed by celebrities, and beauty magazines which feature mostly standardized versions of the female body (the ‘Perfect 10’ in American and British culture). Indeed, the West is where modern celebrity culture began. However, I am proposing that a society such as Korea provides the perfect cultural framework for this style of advertising to be successful. The above factors, combined with the tendency in the Korean school system to descry critical thinking, in line with the patriarchal tradition of never questioning one’s elders, may mean that the average Korean woman can be highly receptive to what she sees in advertisements. All of these factors help to provide an environment where consumer culture can really flourish, often undermining consumer power and lessening the likelihood of the public going against advertising trends.
Conversely, following this logic, if there was an example of an advertising campaign being publicly condemned because it did not espouse cultural norms –it was too racy or sexualised for example- then the resultant consumer backlash could be huge and it would undoubtedly be hard for any product to be successful under such conditions.
Next, there are some instances of dieting and health food advertising. A good example is the many black tea-drinks and black bean tea-drinks which have become a common feature in the Korean market over the last few years. An early example was Donga-Otsuka’s ‘Black Bean Terra’ drink which started a trend of ‘pleasant blended tea-drinks marketed to women in their 20s, who naturally have a lot of interest in dieting and their appearance.’ For their advertising campaign they featured Lee Hyori, an extremely famous singer in Korea, often compared to Britney spears (perhaps in her earlier years!) Later products included ‘Namyang’s ‘Make Your Body Lighter Time 17 Tea’ and Gwangdong’s ‘Gwangdong Corn Cob Roots’ drink. All of these products, and many others on the market, contain a substance known as, “L-Keratin, which helps to burn fat, … giving these drinks a very strong appeal to young women. Each company is putting a lot of effort into using famous stars to market their products, such as Jun Ji-hyun for Namyang and Kim Tae Hee for GwangDong… and each hopes to have them and their images firmly associated with their brands by consumers.” This is in line with the model proposed in the previous paragraph and highlights the importance companies place on the ‘celebrity role’ in the advertising process.
Now, consider an advertising campaign for the popular alcoholic drink, soju (similar to vodka and widely consumed in Korea). Obviously, no alcoholic drink is really going to provide many health benefits, and it certainly will not benefit the waistline, but that doesn’t stop it being advertised to the contrary. Once again, singer Lee Hyori spearheads the campaign for Lotte Liquor BG’s ‘Cheoumcheorum’, it is worth mentioning that part of the reason Hyori is famous in the first place is because of her fantastic figure and slim waistline in particular. The ad features Hyori posing with a bottle of Cheoumcheorum in one hand, the other on her hip, whilst wearing low-rise jeans and a cropped top, all causing the viewer to focus exclusively on her navel region. The nuance of the ad seems to be equating lower alcohol content soju brands such as Cheoumcheorum, with the acquisition of a slimmer waistline.
So what are the consequences of ads such as these and what is the consumer response? Cheoumcheorum is a popular brand and its sales appear to be continuing well, although available data does not point to any rise in sales since this ad was shown. Likewise, all of the tea products I mentioned continue to sell well, but not outstandingly. However, it is a highly competitive market; and in any case I would argue that unless these products were obvious market failures, their sales are not the only aspect to consider. The products I have mentioned are merely examples and there are many others in the market with very similar advertising campaigns. The relevance of this is that it results in these types of images and messages in ads being the standard -the images that women will be seeing in magazines, and on TV and billboards etc. The advertisers are effectively controlling the way women are perceived, by women and men alike, and they are becoming extremely influential in doing so.
Although I consider advertising to be a highly significant factor in explaining women’s attitudes to their bodies in Korea and a crucial aspect in explaining the scarcity of consumer power displayed by women, there are other factors that contribute to the situation. These factors are not the focus of this essay so I cannot analyse every aspect but I shall attempt to determine their significance. The role of the traditional diet in Korea cannot be ignored. As is the case with much of traditional Japanese and Chinese food, the fat content is considerably lower than that of many Western foods, and rice is a staple of the diet in all three countries. This may play a big part in explaining why Korean women are normally so slim. However, it most certainly doesn’t explain the presence of a multi-million dieting industry, in fact it makes it even more puzzling. Why else would Korean women be so concerned with dieting if successful advertising was not at least a significant influence (if not the most) on them?
Nonetheless, there is another factor that is instrumental in explaining women’s body images, something that is an intrinsic part of contemporary Korean society; namely, the significance of the body in representing a person’s internal character. It is not only women who feel the need to control their body image, men do it too. As Kim Eun-Shil discusses in The Politics of the Body in Contemporary Korea, ‘with modernization, the body became an object of political control.’ The meaning of this is that the body can be used as a form of expression; be it of shame, penance, protest or defiance. Furthermore, in Korea, a woman’s identity ‘is inextricably linked to her appearance’ and, to acquire ‘feminine subjectivity women often begin to modify their appearance through diet and exercise.’
This provides a useful insight on the Korean character and yet, I would argue, it only adds to the significance of advertising. As advertisers exacerbated women’s fears over their ability to be ‘the super housewife’ figure in America, so advertisers in Korea can constantly emphasise the importance of external appearances and play on the insecurities of women to match up to the standardized body ideal. This is not a new concept in itself, but if the external appearance of a person plays a particularly significant role in Korean society, then it is much easier to sell products on this basis.
In conclusion, I have observed theories of advertising prevalent in the U.S.A throughout the 20th century in an effort to better understand the relationship between advertiser and consumer. I have seen that there is a strong tradition among food advertisers to focus on women, and the tendency advertisers have to exacerbate the insecurities of the consumer to increase sales of a product. This tendency is also present in South Korean food and diet advertising. Furthermore, I think when looking at the Korean industry it becomes easier to identify some direct links between advertisement and consumer response. It can certainly be argued that advertisements in Korea have a highly significant influence on women’s body image and eating habits. Moreover, I believe the ‘perfect cultural framework’ of Korea that I proposed is instrumental in decreasing consumer awareness and thereby reducing consumer power, (perhaps to a greater extent than in America.) Ultimately, although examples of consumer power do exist, they are severely limited, and not able to compete with the highly structured and pervasive nature of the food advertising industry in both America and South Korea.
In addition to the references below I would like to acknowledge one author in particular, James Turnbull over at The Grand Narrative http://thegrandnarrative.wordpress.com whose in-depth knowledge and insight into South Korean consumer culture provided much of the inspiration for this essay.
Food Is Love, Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America, Parkin, Katherine. Pg 12.
 I should point out this lack of critical thinking is a result of always learning by rote and not questioning, it is NOT an insinuation that Korean school children do not work hard, most of them have school days from 7am until at least 9 or 10pm.
Ultimately, if Pole is to become an example of how women can be empowered through the expression of their bodies AND their impressive skill, grace and strength, then perhaps dancers should start dressing the part.
So to christen my blog with its first post, I’ve decided to write on a slightly unconventional topic, one that may catch the eye of some guys around here… Pole Dancing. Yep, that’s right, Pole Dancing, but not in its original G-strings and dollar bills incarnation, but ‘Pole fitness dancing’. That’s right, Pole is coming out of sleazy strip joints and making its way into many mainstream gyms and studios in the form of a fitness class! It is becoming very popular in both the UK and the US, many European countries and even as far afield as Japan, indeed the next world Pole Championships are being held in Tokyo. This phenomenon is probably new to most people so I’ll attempt to enlighten you. What better way to start, than with some pretty pictures?
This move is often known as the ‘Scorpio’ and requires considerable upper body strength, strong grip and flexibility to achieve. However, this is nothing compared to what some ladies get up to…
And I couldn’t possibly introduce this new era of Pole Dancing or ‘Vertical Dance’ as some like to call it, without directing you to a video of the world champion, Felix Cane, in her winning routine back in February of this year.
I challenge anyone, regardless of whether they have knowledge of gymnastics, dance or sports, to stop their jaws from dropping at her incredible air shoulder mount at (0:46) and the breathtaking series of transitions from (2:00 to 2:20). She displays a degree of strength, grace and flexibility worthy of most Olympic gymnastics.
Now, I hope you’re impressed with what you’ve seen but you may also be thinking ‘Um, what’s the difference? They still look a bit like strippers.’
Well yes, that’s kind of the point of this post. Although I do challenge anyone to pull off those high-octane tricks while wearing 7 inch boots, it aint easy! However, what message is this sending out? If, despite displaying a high level of skill, these ‘pole fitness’ dancers are sporting the same lack of clothes as strippers and often intersecting their moves with similarly provocative dancing, ultimately what’s this new ‘Pole revolution’ about?
Before I go any further, I should point out that I have nothing against strippers, nor am I insinuating that strippers can’t also be talented or even that Pole now belongs to non-strippers and they should find something else to grind up against when they’ve been making a living from Pole for years..that would hardly be fair would it?!
I will also mention that there is a very important reason for not wearing much on the pole, no really! Virtually every advanced move in pole relies on some part of the body being on the pole to maintain grip, which would be next to impossible if you didn’t have your skin on the pole to cause friction and maintain that grip. And any moves that only involve contact on the pole from the legs or feet just wouldnt be possible if the legs were covered up. Similarly, a lot of moves utilise an under-arm grip or the abdomen against the pole so a fair amount of skin on show is necessary for those too. But this still doesn’t equate to a need for G-strings and bikinis.
Some girls also claim the reason why they wear such high heels is because it protects the foot when they’re climbing the pole or hanging from the foot (yes, some moves do involve hanging from just one foot!) Now, this is where I start to get annoyed. Yes, you will bruise your feet when you start to learn Pole, but there are a number of sports/types of dance that involve conditioning and strengthening the foot, there is no reason why this can’t be done with Pole.
But more to the point, how can wearing shoes like that ever benefit someone when doing such a demanding type of exercise? I can’t think of any other legitimate form of exercise that involves wearing heels, and for good reason. Wearing high heels shortens the hamstrings considerably not to mention how easy it would be to slip in them and really damage your ankles. …Just to put it out there, I’m as capable of getting a shoe fetish as the next girl, but there’s a time and a place people, and this is not one of them!
So, to get to the point of why I really object to ‘the stripper uniform’. Well, for whose benefit did strippers start dressing this way? Alright, it may make some of them feel sexy too, but by and large, strippers dress that way because the men watching want them to. And even if it makes some girls feel sexy dressed that way, I would argue that a huge part of that is because it fits the male-perpetrated definition of female sexuality.
And that is the root of the problem, while it would be nice to even see the odd stripper representing a different ideal of female sexuality, the huge majority of consumers in the exotic dance industry are men, so the appearance of women working in it will be defined by the male consumers. But if Pole is moving out of the strip clubs then surely there is no reason for women to still dress the same way. It’s about variety. Women after all, come in many shapes and sizes and I object to any standardization of female beauty ideals especially if it is mostly perpetrated by men.
But, this does not mean that I am saying Pole should never be sexy, or perhaps sensual. I don’t think some people are ever going to get away from the associations that come with Pole or even the unavoidable phallic symbolism of a girl dancing on a pole. Oh well. However, I have seen performances of talented Pole Dancers on YouTube who look just as in touch with their self and their sexuality while still looking tasteful and making the distinction between stripping on a pole and using it as a form of dance/exercise obvious. (I’d point readers in the direction of http://www.poleexercise.co.uk for some very talented ladies (and men!) showing just what can be done on a pole without high heels to weigh you down.)
I also think it’s hypocritical for some women to be calling Pole a sport ‘that empowers women’ when they are dressed in a way that, im sorry, just does not bring empowerment to mind. And how can we expect Pole to be seen in a new light if the emphasis is still on how sexy a woman looks when she is on the pole, instead of how talented her performance is. Again, I’ve already said that there is nothing wrong with looking sexy or attractive on the pole, it is a visual performance after all and aesthetics play a big part in it, but the focus is ultimately supposed to be on what the woman is doing not how she looks when she’s doing it. What’s more, I think a woman looks no less attractive with artistically pointed toes which takes much more skill to maintain throughout a performance anyway.
To be honest, I don’t think it makes any difference if women see Pole as a fitness form or an art form, as Felix Cane herself does, there is still no need for the standardized definition of female sexuality that a bikini and high heels provide, and I have presented several reasons as to why it actually places Pole Dancers at a disadvantage.
To sum it up, there are so many dancers out there showing just how versatile Pole can be; the many different styles on show, the vast repertoire of moves and the different things that inspire women to dance on the pole (if you don’t believe me, prepare to be amazed by ladies such as Studio Veena, Mai Sato and TaraKarina ) that it seems such a shame that the ‘stripper uniform’ is so widespread. Nor do I have any right to get up on my soap box and say that women shouldn’t be allowed to dress that way on the pole, even if they’re not strippers, but I would hazard a guess that a lot of women dress that way because that’s what they see other dancers doing and maybe they haven’t completely thought through the implications of dressing in such a manner. Unfortunately, for some people it is going to take a lot to convince them that Pole has a purpose, and a totally different one, from the one seen in strip clubs.
Ultimately, if Pole is to become an example of how women can be empowered through the expression of their bodies and their impressive skill, grace and strength, then perhaps dancers should start dressing the part.