Sometimes, late at night, when I’m weak-kneed and looking for a reason to abuse myself, I scroll through Facebook. And because of my industry, my feed is always either mom ads or fitness ads. And everytime I look at the fitness ads, I’m like WAIT, HOLD UP, how does this person have 1.3M views? Like, what? “She’s not even doing a squat well,” I think. “And, holy shit,” I say to myself, “those push-up things are a terrible idea for 99% of women.” Alas, though, she’s got her beautifully tanned tummy out, her glossy lips shining in the wind, and her punchy outfit loudly saying, “Nipple or Cheek May Appear, Keep Watching.”
And, so, even I click on these ads. Even I do. It’s akin to slowing down at a car wreck to take a horrified look that will then haunt you for decades after. Why do we do that? Eh. Because we’re human and we have sexual and morbid curiosities. Period. And, these ads are brilliantly schemed to get us at those weak moments of our human, messy lives. Our brains say, “Gimme a quick dopamine shot.” We respond, “Eff it” and we click.
And, unknowingly, we add one more brick to the foundation of How Female Strength is a Sexual Object.
Here’s the nitty gritty of why this “click” impulse is so important for us as women to understand: Nowadays, in 2017, the number one most important part of being a viable company is, get ready for it, “vanity metrics.” In case you didn’t know, vanity metrics are number of views/likes/followers you have on social media. And, nowadays, vanity metrics are more important for your business than even your bank account or projections or even product quality. It’s devastatingly true. Why? Because vanity metrics equal the one thing that is still working for sales: Exposure.
So, when you click on one of these posts, you’re actually helping to support the idea that we as women want to be objectified and want to be strong so that we can wear bikinis and that the most important thing in the female experience is how we look, not how we function. Like I said, though, it’s not your fault. It takes a lot of discipline to halt the impulse to check out that wreckage, right?
Yes, it does. But, you can do it. You can stop clicking on those posts by reminding yourself that your click matters. And that by clicking it, you are helping the female experience stay stuck in a weird antiquated subjugation of value. Brands will develop products that respond to consumer demand. This is a fact. Marketing will continue to objectify the female experience as long as those ads continue to go viral. Is it the fault of the brands? Is society to blame? I mean, partly, yes, but also, we have a huge amount of power here.
If we start to collectively get smart and focused about where we put our attention, even in our teensy tired fingertips, we can start to shift the availability of our basic human rights available in every regard, from technology to healthcare to maternity leave to equal pay to physical strength. Why? Because these big brands will follow our fingertips and start to see that they need to develop products and programs and institutions and benefits that serve the function of women, rather than the object of women.
Let me drive this point home by ushering in a little necessary fierceness and anger in you: Most of what is available to women in terms of our function is completely stunted at a Victorian-era level, mainly because we have not adequately and effectively challenged companies to provide better products and because we have not abstained from companies that compromise our full personhood. [Hint, Dove campaigns do not count, as they also exploit the female body, even by showing a body positive message]
Consider these aspects:
- Postpartum belly braces. WHY THE HECK do we only have available to us either an immobilizing, uncomfortable corset-like brace or a pair of, um, Spanx after we've given birth? If men had babies and their bellies were all blown out and they needed a medical-grade, technological solution to that problem, I guarantee there’d be a product on the market that would both be comfortable and effective. Why? Because we assume that men have stuff to do. Well. Women have stuff to do. We deserve a better product and if the designs were focused on function and we demanded that, they would exist. Period.
- Postpartum physical therapy. Same argument as above. I’m just highlighting this for the fact that it’s completely insane that women don’t receive automatic, insurance-covered physical therapy after giving birth. It’s only sane, however, if the assumption is that a woman no longer needs to be fully functional after having kids.
- Maternity Leave benefits. I mean, what if we all simply refused to buy from companies that did not provide maternity leave to women here in the US comparable to every other industrialized nation? Companies would change fast and provide necessary benefits without too much hassle, to be quite honest. Again, though, the focus has to be on innovation for the full function of the female, not just her object, and we have to be aware of the power available to us via our buying power. [FYI mothers are THE most powerful demographic in online consumerism]
- Strengthening programs. Why oh why are we still inundated with programs and challenges designed to get us bikini-ready? Why oh why is the six pack STILL a sign of value and beauty in a woman when the six pack muscle definition has ZERO to do with her function? Because the market still sells there and we still click there, even if we won’t admit it.
You see, if we didn’t just demand products that help with our function, but we simultaneously abstained from all that objectify us even in the slightest as well, then we’d have innovations we deserve and we’d have them fast. Brands aren’t out to oppress us, they are out to survive and to make money. Trust me, after 5 years as a brand who refuses to compromise it’s mission, I can tell you right now that I understand why these brands go for the “low hanging fruit.” It’s literally not feasible to grow a business easily and sell these days otherwise. Unless you’re completely mad like myself.
And, yeah, I can tell you that as I approach the 5 year mark in MommaStrong’s existence, I am worn the eff out. It’s been one member growth at a time and while we are thousands and thousands of mommas strong around the world now, it has taken a toll on me and MommaStrong. And getting “vanity metrics” is a science that requires skilled humans and skilled humans cost more money than most brands like myself can afford. Why is that MommaStrong’s message of function over appearance is considered an “outlier message” or a “complex mission”? Why is it not mainstream?
I’m telling you, it’s exhausting and often paralyzing. I sometimes wish I could just quit, dip into obscurity, and sign up for something more secure. But, then, I wake up and I get messages like this, from Mary in Chicago:
I mean, function. FUNCTION. Click AND vote for function. Help me out. Help me prove that women need innovations, technology, services, and products designed to help them do the hard things. If we do this, then our kids will grow up with marketing and ads that reflect these values. They will see women being rested AND being powerful all at once. They will watch movies with women of all shapes and sizes and ages and it not be a “brave” moment, but a normal one.
And, I will end with a statement that I am endlessly proud of what goes down here at MommaStrong. That no matter how poorly I have handled stuff and how much I have messed up, the thing that has remained is that I have not and will not objectify myself or female strength ever. Not even when I was struggling to buy my kids groceries. Not even when I was sleep deprived beyond imagination. Not even when shit was real.
Imagine if I could walk into a meeting with big time executives at big time brands and say, “THIS is what women want. See how many clicks I have? See how many likes? See how much activity? Produce for them. Innovate for them. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t have to market to them, they arrived here because of the referral of another mom.” They would be all over it and they would start to create, support, serve, innovate, pitch, share, and publicize for our function over our object.
That’s how easy it is. Truly. Show them. Take back your body with me. Do the hard things.
How can you help MommaStrong and similar outlier brands?
- Like/follow/view them on all social media - If you're like me, you might despise social media, but it’s so important for traction. As annoying and odd as I find it, it's a fact that these days that your vanity metrics are number one for brand viability and all sponsorships, partnerships, funding, meetings, etc.
- Buy their products loyally over others - Did you know that the average monthly cost of an adequate social media firm and a PR firm (ones that will actually get outlier brands playing at pro levels) is $15,000 a month? Every single penny counts for us.
- Share the company and their products with your friends. Brands like MommaStrong don’t usually have a staff of marketing experts and we literally rely on your hand-to-hand referrals.