Anti-frizz cream, cuticle moisturizer, pore minimizer, eyelash growth treatment, cellulite cream, shampoo featuring vitamin X and protein Y, vaginal deodorant, armpit whitening cream…
We are bombarded with advertising and a universe of beauty products when we go to the drugstore, open a women’s magazine, surf the web, or simply walk down the street. It’s crazy to see how far the industry goes to sell us things we do not need.
And Generation Y was born into this world where from the beginning, women are bombarded with ads and messages of all kinds that almost always say the same thing: you are not beautiful or healthy enough. This message, which comes hand-in-hand with a solution (a product) that you can buy at a click of a mouse, turns us into easy prey.
This happens because we are thrown into a never-ending race for the ideal appearance. From the earliest age we are taught (openly or with subtlety) that beauty is our greatest attribute, our greatest contribution to the world. We also learn that there is a right way to be beautiful, a standard that must be achieved. Difference and the diversity of possible body types are not naturally represented or embraced.
We grow up chasing what for the vast majority is unattainable: bodies that are not and never will be ours.
Today, a new generation of girls has been born with internet access, and naturally browses this distribution network in which all kinds of information is available with only a few clicks. This includes high-quality texts, videos showing events around the globe, forums, and people exchanging valuable information in real time and setting up offline meetings to learn together.
These girls are consuming content and becoming increasingly connected at an earlier age. Unlike their mothers, they have known a lot since they were very small children. They already understand that feminism means gender equality, and that living under the dictatorship of diets is synonymous with suffering, not health. They have more criteria to evaluate a new aesthetic procedure to remove localized fat, and the courage to question the dermatologist when he hands them an endless list of expensive skincare products. They know which substances are good and which are bad for their bodies. They don’t buy into everything that is offered to them. The daughters of the internet are consuming much more carefully.
Non-consumption as an expression
The message is loud and clear: we can’t keep manufacturing and consuming to maximize profits and brutally expand supply chains, taking what is possible from each part only to keep final product costs low. Natural resources are running out and life as we know it on this planet is at risk. The human and social impacts are gigantic. There are plenty of news, TED videos, and inspiring essays on the subject.
For many girls today, consuming less is a way of expressing oneself in the world. It means participating in the work that needs to be done, and building a more purposeful and meaningful life. Unlike the life experience of their parents, for these girls ownership is no longer a synonym for success and security.
Sustainable consumption and health
The change in patterns of consumption is also related to the resurgence of a more careful look at our health, which is intrinsically connected to the fact that we cannot maintain current levels of production and many things we need can be made in a healthier, artisanal manner.
The internet is a key player in this game, providing information and shared experiences and knowledge between girls. The web is full of information on organic, and fair trade products and certifications. In addition to sites and blogs, there are Facebook groups and forums discussing the subject, as well as marketplaces and brands offering natural products and a wealth of relevant information on the topic.
Non-consumption as a political stance
Consumption (and non-consumption, through boycotts) also works as a political weapon for this generation of girls. Our consumer habits give hints about who we are, what we believe in, and what causes we are willing to fund.
This movement of identifying with and disassociating from brands is taking us far beyond giants like Coca-Cola and Monsanto and the controversies that surround them. The movement is no longer limited to the products a company sells or its operating logic. It also has to do with the movements it supports, the advertising it chooses to produce, the content it generates on the web — in other words, the company’s stance in the world.
Many brands shoot themselves in the foot with their female target audience by reproducing troublesome social patterns or showing that they are not engaged with key cultural discussions, such as:
— Campaigns that reinforce chauvinist attitudes and gender inequality, like Risqué’s “Homens que amamos” (“Men we love”) nail polish campaign that supported sexist conceptions and behaviors; Novalfelm’s hashtag #semMimimi (“noWhining”) that labels menstrual pain as trivial whining; and an ad by Fastshop showing a Samsung washing machine as a special offer for International Women’s Day, along with the phrase “have more free time.”
— Campaigns that objectify and stereotype women, which is common in beer advertising like Skol’s “Seria assim” (“It would be like this”), which places a pretty woman in a variety of revealing position; the campaign by Always discussing “leaks” of intimate photos; and Vono’s humorous ad stating that women don’t know what they want. And then there are campaigns that perpetuate rape culture, like the famous case of Skol’s “Esqueci o não em casa” (“I forgot my ‘no’ at home”) campaign.
Meanwhile, some brands stand up for relevant issues and create a friendlier and more intimate relationship with girls. This is the case with Lola Cosmetics and their campaign featuring a transsexual poster girl, Heineken’s “We all love beer” campaign; and ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry's, support of diversity and homosexual marriage.
The web has revolutionized the panorama of female consumption. More media resources are appearing up to demonstrate the strength of the new content directed at women. Brands must face this strong empowering wave and accept change, in both their products and production processes as well as in how they communicate through advertising. The daughters of the internet are feminists (whether they know it or not) and do neither take insults or oppression home with them– and they certainly won’t buy it in a product.