Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 3 comments

Exactly how stupid do the people who make and market Diesel jeans think young women are?

The simple answer is real stupid and real gullible if Diesel, an Italian fashion company, believes its advertising campaign — Be Stupid — will attract female buyers who use their brains to think with when they’re buying clothes.

This is not idle indulgence. Young women willing to spend upwards of $200 for a pair of jeans aren’t a target market any company can ignore.

The company’s attempt at cutting-edge advertising appears in Lou Lou, a six-year-old Canadian shopping/ fashion magazine. The ad posits that: “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls. Be Stupid.”

There may be enough young women without any brains at all who think this ad — accompanied by a grainy black-and-white picture of a woman in jeans standing on a ladder, flashing her bare breasts at a security camera — says something to them, enough for them to buy Diesel jeans. The company is right on one level — if you buy these jeans you are, indeed, stupid. Worse than that, you are telling anyone who has seen the ad that you wish to be seen as stupid.

Where’s the attraction in that? Being stupid is not a route to achievement, satisfaction or happiness. It’s just a route to being, well, stupid. Hello, stupid! Want that posted on your Facebook page? Do you really want employers to think you’re stupid, or are you among the legion of young women who refuse to believe there are consequences to their actions?

No one is suggesting that buying a pair of jeans will turn you into fodder for a Girls Gone Wild episode, but by the same token, the company isn’t suggesting keeping your top on in public is a smart move. Which it is. Who knows these days where the cameras are? (They’re everywhere, as anyone with a cellphone can attest.)

Marketing campaigns aren’t designed to protect the consumer, but to attract her. Dove’s so-called Campaign For Real Beauty is designed to attract the ordinary woman into buying the company’s products through using “ordinary” women in their advertising. What, then, does the Diesel ad say to young women? Something along the lines of “hey, stupid, buy our jeans and flash your tits at the world.”

Why am I so angered by such an appeal? Because being stupid is nothing to be proud of.

Forrest Gump — a paean to stupidity — was a movie I loathed. It was based on a giant falsehood — that regardless of one’s abilities, anything is possible. It was the big-screen version of Robert Fulghum’s best-selling book of aphorisms, All I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.

The movie’s premise is based on a lie. Not just any kind of lie, but the sort that makes people believe that equality of opportunity is the same as equality of ability; that form and substance are identical.

Tom Hanks deserved the Oscar for his portrayal of the naïve simpleton who became a hero, but despite the 1994 movie’s multiple Academy Awards — Oscars for actor, picture and director — its premise was one of those core American values that lull ordinary people into believing that all they have to do is work hard, pray and believe and they can accomplish anything.

I don’t know how the so-called “disabled community” regarded the movie and the notion there is nothing that can’t be achieved if you believe in yourself hard enough. It’s a positive message, but there are limits to what an intellectually challenged person can accomplish, regardless of how much he wants something. Frankly, I’d like a rocket scientist to actually design the machines that take people into space.

But that’s not the point. When Forrest Gump’s mother tells him that stupid is as stupid does, it resonates for everyone. The most brilliant person is capable of stupid actions.

Therefore, I’d like to know what imbecile designed the magazine ads for Diesel jeans, what simpleton approved them and what nincompoop actually printed them. Because they — there’s more than one — are offensive, sexist, ignorant and just plain wrong.

They tell young women their bodies are nothing more than fodder for Peeping Toms, their selves little more than currency on the flesh marketplace and something not worth protecting.

Cornell University professor Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes in her introduction to her 1997 study of American girls and their relationship with their own bodies, entitled The Body Project: “The female body poses an enormous problem for American girls and it does so because of the culture in which we live. . . . Although girls now mature sexually earlier than ever before, contemporary American society provides fewer social protections for them, a situation that leaves them unsupported in their development and extremely vulnerable to the excesses of public culture and to pressure from peer groups.”

One of the sons of friends who has grown up to become a husband, lawyer and the father of a six-year-old daughter ranted on the phone to me when he saw the ad. He ripped it from his wife’s copy of Lou Lou so his daughter wouldn’t see it.

The reason he would do so, is that as an adult he can recognize the dangers that lurk later in life for young girls who are growing up in a society in which privacy is a forgotten concept and exhibitionism is considered part of being “free.” Brumberg writes about the “projects” on which young girls embark to remake their bodies into whatever form society demands of them.

And why I would be so interested is that in trying to get fit and get healthy, there is also an underlying thread of social pressure to not look old, flabby and unattractive. None of us, at any age, are unaffected by such social pressures. At least when you’re my age you can recognize them for what they are.

As society demands more exhibition of the body, more internal control and self-discipline becomes necessary. Writes Brumberg: “By the 1920s, both fashion and film had encouraged a massive ‘unveiling’ of the female body, which meant that certain body parts — such as arms and legs — were bared and displayed in ways they had never been before.” It doesn’t take much to chart the path in less than a hundred years from bare arms and legs to bare breasts, to the piercing of nipples and genitals in an effort to keep some part of the self private.

Even as the narcissists and self-absorbed exhibitionists flash their breasts, the argument is made that it is their choice to do so and the act is a form of liberation.

Okay, honey, but don’t come crying to me in ten years when you don’t get the job you wanted as a teacher or a lawyer or in any other profession where a modicum of discretion and some smidge of self-respect is demanded.

Those of us who are offended are not just old fogies trying to clamp down on your self-expression. We are the employers and investigators who are now using social media to check up on what an applicant has posted on his or her site. Bare breasts don’t get you into the boardroom except as a paid companion, and unless that’s your goal in life, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

What seems fun and daring now, as the Diesel ad is trying to promote, won’t seem so much fun when your application for employment is tossed out because you’re not “suitable.”

As Jeremy Phan writes on his Sync blog: “As someone with a widespread online presence, I’m always very careful to control what I post. It’s a delicate balancing act between living in a connected, online world and maintaining personal privacy.”

Megan Griffith-Greene, writing in last October’s This Magazine: “Never before has so little been kept private; now everything is published, and every inch of women’s bodies scrutinized.”

Even as I spend this year writing about myself and my personal campaign, about my family and some of the influences that have marked my life, there is much I choose to keep private.

Privacy, like virginity, can only be squandered once.

NEXT: Red wine and chocolate a recipe for healthy living.


Written by Catherine Ford

April 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Bravo!!
    Thank you Catherine.

    Kim Flanagan

    April 12, 2010 at 4:12 pm

  2. Catherine,
    I too am appauled by the jean’s ad!!! Each of us needs to let “that company” know that we are “appauled”! It is up to us to voice the concerns – otherwise, just “shut up” and experience the results of our silence. As Justice Roselie Abella so appropriately stated: “Indifference (in action) is injustice’s incubator! It isn’t what you stand for; it is what you STAND UP for.”

    Red wine and Chocolate–yikes! Can’t wait for permission!


    April 14, 2010 at 8:38 am

  3. Thank you for voicing what most of us are thinking. As a bit of a tomboy myself, I never understood the girlie stuff in life and this just scares the heck out of me for girls growing up now.



    April 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm

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