(This is part 2 of “The beauty deception” article. Part 1 appeared on April 2).
PROBABLY the worst kind of deception is the one cloaked in what should be the more respected labels of media and journalism. In the Philippines, a media organization commits the worst beauty deception. Because while it wants to discuss gender equality and women’s issues —which certainly it should—it does so with the help of . . . tadah! a beauty product.
It would be hilarious if it weren’t so irresponsible.
From product commercial to media project
This decision of Rappler to partner with the multinational shampoo brand Pantene in a #WhipIt series is highly problematic especially because it fails to discuss the more complex issues related to beauty and advertising, and being Pinay at this point.
This is not to say that a media enterprise and a beauty product cannot come together to cooperate on a project. But a purportedly critical and objective media enterprise cannot and should not do it, because it’s a finger pointed at its own biases for a particular product, its own perception of what is important given its partnership with a given shampoo brand.
Which is to say that were Pantene, in fact, a shampoo brand that celebrated diverse hair types and styles, that spoke not just of long straight shiny hair as the ideal, then Rappler giving it mileage by working with it wouldn’t be so bad. That would make it a media enterprise that intervenes in the dominant discourse of beauty, instead of reinforcing the unkind because un-natural look and feel of hair for a majority of Pinays.
Of course, Rappler might have been confused for a moment about Pantene. After all, they were kicking off from a commercial advertisement that got such mileage online and globally because it dared talk about how men and women continue to be treated differently, as proven by the condescending or judgmental labels against women when they do what men do: bossy versus boss, pushy versus persuasive, vain versus neat. In the end, the commercial asserts: Don’t Let Labels Hold You Back, Be Strong and Shine #ShineStrong #WhipIt.
That’s some ad copy. And that is all that it is. But Pantene will have us believe otherwise, and Rappler is just complicit in this product’s reconfiguration of woman power, all of which remain premised on its task of selling shampoo and the long shiny straight black hair that rarely exists naturally for the Filipina.
From shampoo to women’s movement?
There is a way of making sure that media partnerships with beauty products—or any product at all!—will not mean sacrificing integrity and credibility. One might say that the task is to strike a balance between media responsibility and product endorsement. I say: the task is to intervene in the discussion that’s already being had, that’s already dominating the discourse on women’s issues and gender equality.
That is, there is no striking a balance here: the beauty industry dominates the discourse. Put THAT into question.
That would mean a partnership between Rappler and Pantene, for example, where Rappler goes beyond the limits of #WhipIt as defined by Pantene, and reconfigures it into a concept that will allow us all to forget our hair, forget our looks, and just talk about issues.
Alas! While there were some good stories here, there was too much information and too many images from dominant discourse—complete with Pantene’s blond hair locks!—that put into question whatever intelligent discussion there was. And, yes, there were some good analysis mostly courtesy of Libay Linsangan Cantor, along with some feature pieces by Krista Garcia; and yes it was great that the women featured in these articles are those whose voices we rarely hear.
But these features stories that actually deal with the over-determination of the Pinay – or any human being at all!—are trumped and overshadowed and dominated by Pantene imaging and discourse. Where these pieces all end with motherhood statements about the Pinay “continuing to push the glass ceiling” and imploring her to “make your voice—and actions—count” and to “be strong and shine!”
Any article at all also ends with: “#WHIPIT—A challenge for women to be empowered and shine boldly by defying beyond <sic> labels and stereotypes.” Empowered and shine boldly? This is obviously Pantene copy, because we don’t know these terms to stand for anything else. “Shine” is a word Pantene uses to sell itself; its ad is about the image of a woman with long black shiny hair, with the sheen and luster of a mestiza, her fancy clothes speaking of the glitter of her social class. She is shiny like no real-life Pinay can be.
And this is really what this #WhipIt partnership between Rappler and Pantene ends up doing: it privileges the voice of the already privileged, it points its video cameras (literally!) on fully made up women who are the same image as the shiny mestiza in that original #WhipIt ad. That these images are oppressive is of course not something to be discussed.
One wonders how we can even talk about competence and true beauty, if we do not take a stand against a beauty and advertising industry that equates whitened armpits with kutis mayaman and equates long straight shiny hair with success.
Words words words
I am re-listening to the talks and re-reading through much of what’s been written for #WhipIt. What offends me most about it really is the carelessness, the lack of vision, in having these discussions at all. There is a survey upon which all of this is based, yes. But the survey in itself and the discussions had were so limited by the fact of a shampoo brand being part of it at all.
It was a waste. Because there were plenty of opportunities to go deeper into issues, especially with someone like G. Toengi, who had dared talk about the superficiality of the showbiz industry, or given audience members who raised the question of class differences at that first #WhipIt talk.
But having deeper discussions is not the point here. It cannot be the point. This is advertising for Pantene through and through, the discussion on gender equality and woman empowerment is secondary. Pantene is the sponsor. The sponsor is king. Woman empowerment comes after brand buzz and product sales if at all. Rappler proves yet again how it does not know to care for being a credible media institution.
And its greatest undoing: the recent advertisement for #WhipIt has Kris Aquino, front and center. In her Met-tathione and Olay age-defied and whitened skin, her Belo-fied body, her fully made-up face and glittering outfit. The Presidential sister talks about being opinyonada, and equates this with “her right to speak her mind” and woman power.
Rappler.com is the byline for a sponsored piece on this advertisement, where they talk about how Kris “is called opinionated as if having opinions and speaking them is disgraceful for a woman <…>.” They miss the point entirely. Aquino uses her opinions to sell every beauty product that is about being white and thin, with shiny hair and expensive clothes. She raises people’s needs, by selling every home product imaginable. She is the queen of endorsements, and as such can only be the queen of superficiality.
This #WhipIt advertisement, and Rappler’s series itself as context, empowers Kris as opinionated, conveniently forgetting what she earns from these opinions, and how she makes money off a Pinay audience that is uneducated, a mass audience that cannot know better.
Rappler should have been able to intervene in this discussion. Apparently that’s expecting too much of too little.