#BodyPositivity: How Businesses Corrupted the Body Positivity Movement

Businesses are finally catching on to the body positivity movement. Companies – like Aerie – are celebrating plus-sized and trans models and making conscious efforts to be diverse in ad campaigns. As the public, we praise them by buying their products or punish those that refuse to make the same effort (Victoria’s Secret – we’re looking at you). What the public doesn’t consider, however, is how businesses have turned body positivity and feminism into commodities.

Take Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, for example. Started in 2004, the Real Beauty Campaign has released several videos and photo ads targeted towards women. According to the Huffington Post, Dove executives were searching for a way to revive the company in the early 2000s when their PR agency conducted a survey that found only 2 percent of women thought themselves beautiful. Sensing an opportunity, the campaign was born.

The campaign oozed body positivity. The brand exposed the process of photoshopping models in their 2006 short film “Evolution” and vowed to leave their models natural. They presented natural women in a photo ad campaign and asked the public to consider whether their characteristics were flawed or ordinary. They included women of all sizes, races and ages in their campaign. All of these methods seem to push the body positivity movement, but is it authentic?

Commodity feminism is a term used to describe companies that use feminism to market their products to women. Like Dove’s campaign, businesses convince consumers that buying their products will support the movement or fix a related problem.

In Dove’s example, the company marketed their campaign with the promise that women were supporting a company that didn’t photoshop their models and only promoted body positivity. The issue being, however, that Dove often used their products in ads as a means to an end. These models were beautiful because they used Dove’s products, including self-tanners and a firmness cream that combats cellulite – a completely natural physical phenomenon. 

Dove also created a campaign called the “Dove Self-Esteem Project” in 2004, which sought to provide self-esteem education to young women to fight against the current anxiety about beauty standards. They have educated more than 20 million girls through partnerships with Girl Scouts and schools.

We want to support their body positivity campaigns, but how do we do that? We buy their products and make them more money – money which Unilever, their parent company, uses to fund advertising campaigns full of skinny blondes for Axe.

Businesses profiting from feminism, especially body positivity, discredits the movement bit by bit until it becomes merely a commodity. We, as consumers, have a responsibility to be wary of companies playing on current trends, like makeup brands releasing extensive shade ranges. Most are not doing it because they are socially aware – they are doing it to make money. Either way, it is progress, but it’s up to the consumer whether those intentions deserve their hard-earned cash.