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.
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.”
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. 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).