Join The Revolution!: Or, What I Received in the Mail the Other Day

16 Apr

A couple weeks ago as our spring term classes began, I received a very interesting package in the mail. It had a radical feminist textbook on women’s health issues, interesting in its own right to be sure – but it also had an unsolicited sample pack of peel-and-stick nails? I turned the bag over and was greeted by “JOIN THE REVOLUTION” written in bold letters across a hot pink background.



The author is slightly unimpressed.

What’s more, the hand holding the nail polish bottle in the advertisement picture is clearly reminiscent of the classic feminist/revolutionary icon of a fist (pictured below).


Also, when I went to their website to investigate further, I was able to watch this very interesting video ad that is part of their “join the revolution” campaign. I highly recommend watching it unless you’re the type of person where too much pink will make you nauseated.

What does this all mean? Something is clearly bothering me about the juxtaposition of this tagline with the product that is actually being sold. It reminds me of the last few chapters we read from Peiss’s Hope in a Jar – once upon a time, when the beauty industry was still primarily local businesses run by women entrepreneurs, as in the late 1800s/early 1900s in America, this sort of product may actually have been revolutionary. But after the industry was taken over by white men and beauty culture became increasingly mass-marketed to women starting after World War I, as Peiss writes:

“ironically, a period that began with cosmetics signaling women’s freedom and individuality ended in binding feminine identity to manufactured beauty, self-portrayal to acts of consumption.”[1]

Are peel-n-stick nails so revolutionary when the only people saying so are large corporations trying to get your money? I actually just had a reading for my other class (the one my women’s health textbook was for!) yesterday about the power of advertising, which talked about how advertisers often co-opt the language of rebellion or dissent to sell things that are most definitely promoting dominant norms of beauty and/or other cultural values.[2] Once you start looking for it, it’s so true.

I believe that is what’s happening here. I have nothing against nail polish, but I am suspicious of how this one is being advertised. What’s more, the revolution that the ad implies is not even wearing nail polish – it’s being able to quickly put on this ‘fake’ nail polish, as it were, in seconds and have it look perfect. This ties into our class discussions about ‘natural’ vs. ‘artificial’ beauty. What is the significance of using artificial means to accomplish a ‘natural artificial’ look? (i.e., colorful nails are generally not seen as natural, but I think that most people when seeing them would assume they had ‘naturally’ been painted on as opposed to premade and stuck on.)

There’s certainly a lot to be unpacked in just this one free sample I received. (Also, why did they put it in my textbook package? Did they know I was a woman somehow and assume I would want this free sample? Did they put it in because I had ordered a women’s health textbook? And more.) Do you have thoughts to add?

1. Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar (1998), page 135.

2. Jean Kilbourne, Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising (1999).


Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Join The Revolution!: Or, What I Received in the Mail the Other Day

  1. vanduymr

    April 16, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    That commercial makes a new form of nail polish seem way too much like a part of the women’s rights movement. The scene with the three women waving flags, marching to the chant “Revolution!” reminded me of suffragettes waving banners. It is very distressing that the new form of women’s “revolution” has to do with no-chip manicures. Enclosing the sample for the nail polish with your radical textbook on women’s issues also seems to imply that this product is ideal for a woman who wants to participate in a revolution.

  2. victoriadan

    April 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    It’s interesting that you point out the “ease factor” of applying the nails. I feel like a lot of women (and men) that choose to primp are often criticized for spending so much time on something as trivial as artificial beauty (doing one’s hair, makeup, nails, et cetera). If beauty practices took less time to complete–if they were instantaneous–would this make a difference for the legitimacy of beauty? If I could put my hands in a magic contraption that applies a base coat, nail polish, and a top coat all in one step, and then have it bone dry in two seconds, I think we could at least reconsider our idea that beauty as a time-consuming burden. And fake nails like these are basically that solution.

    In the same breath, instant nails undermine what I think is a very important aspect of beauty practice: the process. OK, I will admit that not everyone enjoys painting nails, and not everyone is very good at it, but there is something to be said about the pleasure that derives from getting creative with your nail polish, or even from just getting an even, bubble-free coat. And there’s also the social aspect. When was the last time (if ever) that you and your friends painted each other’s nails?

    I don’t necessarily agree with the ad’s assertion that using their product will initiate you into some sort of revolutionary group (what revolution, I’m not sure). It’s not even a very new idea–it’s just fake nails with adhesive on the back as opposed to needing glue. But I wonder what fake nails in general have done for the people who use them–are there women who genuinely feel like their lives have been changed by such a simple product?


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