“At POND’S we believe the world would be a better place if we stopped idealizing beauty…and started celebrating it instead.”
What does it mean to be beautiful? While definitions on paper would explain beauty to be something aesthetically appealing, society often holds the definition of beautiful to other standards. More specifically, the media portrays beauty as white, skinny, and flawless. Thankfully, more awareness has been recently raised with regards to the way we should view what is beautiful. The new realization is that beauty falls on a continuum that expresses our human diversity. The company PONDS, which produces face cream products has the above quote as their website motto. Although at face value this quote seems to support the beauty in diversity, the messages of their ads convey messages quite opposite to this. In fact, the moral of their ads reinforce negatively focused ideologies of beauty instead of “celebrating” it.
One ad in particular is a commercial for POND’S lightening cream. To begin, the product itself goes against the concept of celebrating beauty. The fact that the company produces a face cream whose purpose is to lighten skin explicitly implies that there is an issue with the colour of your skin the way it is naturally. Furthermore, this reinforces the ideal that white is the ultimate form of beauty, supporting the idea of whites being superior. The commercial begins in an airport with a couple saying goodbye as the male leaves to embark on a new journey. As the male leaves, he rips half of a heart necklace, symbolizing him breaking the heart of the female character. The scene zooms out, showing the woman stranded and alone in a crowd of people, feeling heartbroken and lost as a result of her loves departure. The commercial then flashes three years into the future where the female character sees the male character on a magazine cover in the arms of a new lover. In the next scene, the female character is shown walking past the male and his new lover. The male recognizes the female as his old lover and takes off his sunglasses to take a second look at her. However, his current lover soon draws him back. This ad is problematic as it reinforces convoluted ideologies involving gender, whiteness, and class.
The gender messages conveyed from this commercial portray women to be powerless and dependent on their male counterpart. The opening break up scene is shown to have little to no effect on the male. The female, however, is detrimentally impacted and is shown to appear lost and heartbroken in the crowd of people. This shows women to be dependent and in constant need of a male to provide a source of strength. In addition, when she sees the picture of him on the cover three years later, she is shown to still be pinning over him. While the male has been shown to be strong and independent, the female character has only been viewed as weak and dependent. It also appears that the only focus this woman has is the male. In contrast, he moves on and continues his life, being successful in other things. Another factor to consider is the music chosen. The music is another way to reflect the woman’s mood and convey a somber tone.
Whiteness is the key message of this commercial. The conceptualization that white is the ultimate form of beauty and anything other than this is not good enough can be seen many different ways in the advertisement of this product. The white male is linked to power and success. He is seen getting out of an expensive car, with an expensive suit and sunglasses on. He also has an equally white and beautiful woman on his arm. All of these things equate to power the male has in contrast to his prior female lover who is seen as powerless. Although his second glance of recognition towards his old lover does depict some longing, it is clear that something is missing, as his attention is quickly redirected back to his current love. Another interesting factor contributing to whiteness is the wardrobe choices in this commercial. The main female character’s darker skin is emphasized by the white dress with light pink sweater they dress her in, which also cleverly links her to the product colours. In contrast, the new white lover is dressed in a stunning black dress, which accents her skin, making it appear a purer ivory colour.
Lastly, instances of class can be seen in this advertisement. This is intersectionally linked with the gender roles previously discussed. The male character is shown to have moved up the socio-economic ladder, now associated with only expensive things. This indirectly infers that while he was with the other girl, she was what was holding him back. Now he is successful and rich with a new white lover by his side. However, by also applying gender to this concept it is noticeable that the male defines the female’s status. Even with his new lover, although she appears to be of the same economic background, she is still depicted as an addition to the male character, hanging off of his arm as an attachment rather than an independent. Overall, the portrayal is that there is a gender distinction within classes.
The commercial ends with the two females walking past each other. This once again contrasts their skin colour, reinforcing the different lives they live as a result. The caption on this final scene is “to be continued…” which gives the opportunity for more commercials to be made following the same story line. This line alongside the image of the two women walking past each other is symbolic of the constant war between diversity and the flawless white individual. It implies that this will constantly be a struggle faced by women and further sells the product by making it something to help any non-white woman become partially equivalent to the white woman in society.