How Culture Sells Material Romance

Here’s a banner ad I saw on OkCupid. First of all, not sure why the salesmasters of OkC are showing a single man ads for women’s clothing. (Maybe I checked the transformer box by accident?)

And I don’t want this to turn into Internet Male Syndrome, but I find this model only marginally attractive. She’s in shape for sure, but her pose creates fake angles (knee and hip stuck out) and she doesn’t have much of a waist. Her face is hard and inexpressive. I’m sure all the girls think she’s smoking hot, but that just shows the differences in how women judge other women’s status, and how different it is than what actually gets men to look.

But let’s not forget the caption, “Don’t be afraid of love.” WTF? How is shopping for clothes showing you’re not “afraid of love?” Is buying a burnt-orange top going to make a man fall in love with you? As if a woman’s problem is simply that she’s not dressing right (and if you give Talbot’s money, they will fix it for you). Sounds like a knockoff of the Kay Jewelers campaign, which tells men “show her how priceless your love is…by spending $2,000 on it.” Or maybe they are saying women will fall in love with the store; forget wanting a man, you should love your wardrobe instead.

Five little words, socially proofed by one not-unattractive woman. Repeat thousands of times before age 25. It’s no wonder guys complain about so many entitled princesses, and why so many women are confused about why they don’t have men trying to get into relationships with them – advertisers constantly blare to women that the measure of their lives, and specifically the measure of their love lives, is material in nature. Men will love them if they are more materially “awesome,” and men should buy them stuff to earn their love. They both play the strategy and it predictably fails. Sh** doesn’t make you happy, and giving or getting it certainly doesn’t indicate love.

Unplug from the matrix.

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “How Culture Sells Material Romance

  1. Aldonza

    The weird part is Talbots skews older demographics than OKC. This model has to be in her mid to late 30s, judging by the naso-labial shadows and neck. Hey, I’ll give the mama credit for wearing the skinny jeans and FM sandals better than a lot of younger women who try. But really, after 8th grade, the side ponytail is just silly. And that shapeless top made out of something that looks like it used to be my Aunt Tilly’s curtains? If you’re rocking the young look, don’t ruin it with something like that.

    OK, fashion critique aside, I agree that this society is largely based on the premise that possessions = happiness/fulfillment. When the truth is anything but that. Spending *3 months* salary (as those ads recommended) on a diamond does nothing to ensure you have a happy marriage. Skinny “I’m not a soccer mom” jeans will not help you in your search for a long-term relationship.

    This has some really insightful information on happiness and what causes and what doesn’t: TED Talks: Dan Gilbert, “Why Are We Happy?”

  2. I think Aldonza really hit on something about aging women. No doubt Talbot’s is going for the women with anxiety about finding someone as the clock ticks away. Showing a pic of a woman looking youthful for her age probably has a strong subconscious effect on female viewers.

    I won’t begrudge any woman the right to dress however she sees fit, but if Talbot’s is running those ads for soccer moms it’s a fail. I’ve seen a few dress like this, and they look ridiculous. In fact, a fair number wear low-slung jeans and tight shirts. They look like they’re trying too hard, even when they’ve got awesome bodies. It’s just so much classier (and more comfortable) to lay off the CFM look.

  3. “FM sandals”

    Glad I’m not the only one who saw a bondage aspect to those shoes.

    I for one like the side ponytail. Ponytails are kryptonite to a badger, especially popping out of baseball hats.

    Susan, as women age they get more payoff

  4. I think as women age they get more payoff from “classical” femininity – long hair, dresses, skirts and loose trousers, politeness when called for, and manners. Clown whore makeup, tight clothes and a foul mouth might abide a young HB but that quickly expires beyond a certain age.

  5. 1lettuce

    “Sh** doesn’t make you happy”

    Flipping THIS!

    Too many people value their lives based on what they own. Certainly, it is great to own things (a car, a house, food/clothing, etc), but a life well lived isn’t based on possessions.

  6. Aldonza

    Glad I’m not the only one who saw a bondage aspect to those shoes.

    Pfeh, those are time. Now these: are another thing entirely.

  7. That is weird. I wear a side ponytail a good bit because I find it comfortable really; I don’t give it a helluva lot of thought. As for the model, I don’t find her as hard faced as some but far from “smoking hot”.

    Clown whore make-up doesn’t look good on anyone but you can certainly get away with it in your 20s – not so much later on, when it starts to look more clown than whore, and no one wants to f*ck a clown.

    There seems to be a weird push toward a drag queen look for women – over the top hair (extensions), way too much make-up, androgynous figures, hard faces… Don’t forget, homosexual men run the fashion industry.

  8. Oh, and the ridiculous S&M shoes that seem to be everywhere now… I wouldn’t wear those outside the bedroom, no way no how. Way too much. Yet most people don’t seem to even be aware of how sexual they’re dressing. I always felt I’d be over doing it to leave the house in heels. o_O

  9. Thag,

    Thanks for bringing up a good point – modesty in public is a virtue. In the bedroom, what turns you and your man on is what you should do and no one else’s business cept a counselor or Athol Kay. It’s always the quiet ones anyway.

  10. detinennui32

    Badger points out the beauty of this kind of advertising. This ad is incredibly loaded. it says either
    (1) don’t be afraid to love your wardrobe, clothes and materialism, because you’re a Modern Woman (TM), and you deserve it
    (2) don’t be afraid to get these clothes so you’ll look hot, because looking hot is how you’ll get a man (or men, or the best man/men)
    (3) don’t be afraid to love how you look, because you need to compete with the women around you (but you won’t escape those women’s judgment).

    All advertising aimed at women says “you need this product/service” or “you need to look like/be/do this”.

    Most of the judgment women are subjected to in today’s society is not from men, but from other women. Women judge other women incredibly harshly, and much more so than men. Women are quick to point out other women’s flaws, almost always behind one another’s backs. They subject one another to criticism on their appearance, intelligence, dress, makeup, partner counts, jobs, houses, husbands/bfs, children – everything.

    No, sh** doesn’t make you happy, but minimizing women’s judgment helps.

  11. detinennui32

    Thag:

    “Oh, and the ridiculous S&M shoes that seem to be everywhere now… I wouldn’t wear those outside the bedroom, no way no how.”

    Yeah, but they look good. And we notice.

    And @Aldonza: Looked at that ad you linked. OK, they’re Burberrys. But $400 ON SALE??! And women pay those prices? For shoes that look more like an iron maiden/guillotine than footwear? You’ve got to be kidding.

  12. Passer_By

    @detinennui
    “And women pay those prices? ”

    What are you talking about. They’re FIFTY FIVE PERCENT OFF!! OMG, where else will you find such a great deal?!

    Crap. Now I’m getting flashbacks from my first marriage. Thanks a lot, Aldonza.

  13. *chris rock voice* “WOMEN BE SHOPPING!!!!! YOU CAN’T STOP A WOMAN FROM SHOPPING!!!!”

    smh.

  14. Brian

    detinennui32 said “This ad is incredibly loaded. it says either (1) don’t be afraid to love your wardrobe, clothes and materialism, because you’re a Modern Woman (TM), and you deserve it”

    left unsaid:” and it’s all you are going to get”

    shoes? Why do women care about shoes? not one guy I know gives two $hits about what shoes are on. seriously, not one. Nobody even looks. hair, face, tits, ass, legs. but that’s it. We stop looking and go back to our personal favorite. Wear sneakers for all I care, I don’t see them. NID (not into details)

  15. Man, people are bringing their own baggage to the ad. Bondage shoes? Criticizing skinny pants on a woman who can actually wear them well? Geez, no one can win.

    I took the ad as encouraging women to look their best in their quest for love (obviously by buying Talbot’s clothes). A lot of women are uncomfortable with looking attractive or sexy and avoid love because they keep themselves very plain-looking. The Talbot’s ad is giving these women permission to look good.

  16. Stephenie Rowling

    Had you seen this documentary about consumerism? I totally recommend it

  17. A woman who needs “permission” from an ad in order to dress a particular way is sad indeed. The ad isn’t doing that anyway, it’s selling clothes by appealing to vanity and fantasies about love.

  18. johnnymilfquest

    The top she is wearing isn’t flattering, but apart from that I think she looks nice.

    “Don’t Be Afraid of Love”?

    “Love” in this case = huge rush of emotion and warm fuzzies = female impulse purchase

  19. thankfully, i’ve been fortunate enought to NOT have dated such a vapid, self-obsessed woman as this advertisement pleads to.

    it’s a difficult thing for me to pontifcate. in one sense, i LOVE girly girls. uber feminine. they really makes me crazy. but i also LOATHE superficial , self centered women. espcially those who are so self obsessed that they can’t see past thier own brand name purse.

  20. Blues

    A lot of women are uncomfortable with looking attractive or sexy and avoid love because they keep themselves very plain-looking. The Talbot’s ad is giving these women permission to look good.

    Did anyone say women shouldn’t look attractive or sexy? i think Badger’s point was that what looks “attractive or sexy” for 20yos doesn’t for 30 or 40yos.

  21. “A lot of women are uncomfortable with looking attractive or sexy and avoid love because they keep themselves very plain-looking. The Talbot’s ad is giving these women permission to look good.”

    With regard to general society, I find this comment fatuous. Popular culture doesn’t tell women to cover up, it tells them to be exhibitionist.

    But Haley has a point within her subculture. She did a post about how the evangelical church encourages women to be plain (the same way it tells men not to be virile).

    “The top she is wearing isn’t flattering, but apart from that I think she looks nice.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s basically good-looking, but for a professional model I think I could find five hotter women at any singles bar.

    Susan Walsh did a post a while back about how women can dress sensually without looking slutty. I commented on a particular flaw of the photos Susan posted – all of the women were hot not matter what they were wearing. I predicted that less attractive (less attractive than the models and actresses) women would bypass Susan’s advice because they’d feel they had to make up for their more modest gifts by advertising them more readily.

  22. Reality Check

    Man, people are bringing their own baggage to the ad. Bondage shoes? Criticizing skinny pants on a woman who can actually wear them well? Geez, no one can win.

    I took the ad as encouraging women to look their best in their quest for love (obviously by buying Talbot’s clothes). A lot of women are uncomfortable with looking attractive or sexy and avoid love because they keep themselves very plain-looking. The Talbot’s ad is giving these women permission to look good.

    Tell ya what, “Aunt” Haley – if a woman showed up to church dressed like that tramp – I would hope the pastor, if he has any courage and character, would ask her to go home and give back her daughters clothes and show up to church dressed like a real lady would – not an attention-seeking, narcissistic whore.

    And you call yourself a Christian … sheesh! No wonder the ‘faith’ is in the mess it is currently in now :(

  23. Badger–
    It’s not just evangelical subculture. A lot of women feel that because they’re not as attractive as supermodels and no amount of work will make them even come close, they might as well not even try, or not waste their time trying very hard. The reason you don’t think very many (or any?) of these women exist is because you probably look right past them since they’re not doing anything to draw your attention.

    Reality Check–
    I don’t know if YOU are a Christian or not, but by calling a woman covered in non-skintight clothing from head to toe (with natural makeup) a “whore,” you yourself are contributing generously to our culture’s problems.

  24. “The reason you don’t think very many (or any?) of these women exist is because you probably look right past them since they’re not doing anything to draw your attention.”

    This is a projection. Men basically notice all women. We especially notice those whose natural beauty stands out under modest clothing, there’s a bit of extra mystery there. (Wearing one’s beauty with class is a major factor in getting bumped up to Ladder 1.) Men literally have a piece of their brain hardware dedicated to evaluating the attractiveness of every woman in sight. For the most part, it works no matter what the woman is wearing. Women don’t have to “present” to men or actively draw our attention for us to notice them.

    “Man, people are bringing their own baggage to the ad.”

    Well, it is polite to bring your own ropes to an encounter. :-o

  25. Bad, you’ve just reminded me of that clip Sibby posted on my Geek to Hot post (the one about Jony Ive) of plain Jane superbrain

  26. That wasn’t supposed to say Bad, but Haley, no idea how that happened!

  27. Bb

    “Women don’t have to “present” to men or actively draw our attention for us to notice them.”

    Or just have to wear ponytails under their ball caps? ;)

    So how much more does “extra” grooming, matter, if at all? In my experience, if women wear clothes that highlight their body types (just more fitted and tailored, not necessarily skimpy), they get more compliments than when they’re slouching out in jeans and a baggy t-shirt…but that doesn’t necessarily translate to more “notice”, does it?

  28. Bb

    “thankfully, i’ve been fortunate enough to NOT have dated such a vapid, self-obsessed woman as this advertisement pleads to.”

    Danny, that’s not fortune—it’s evidence of your discriminating taste.

  29. OffTheCuff

    So how much more does “extra” grooming, matter, if at all?

    It matters if you want more approaches and *overt* attention from people who don’t already know you.

    In my experience, if women wear clothes that highlight their body types (just more fitted and tailored, not necessarily skimpy), they get more compliments than when they’re slouching out in jeans and a baggy t-shirt…but that doesn’t necessarily translate to more “notice”, does it?

    Bb, you’re a smart cookie. Haley apparently can’t tell the difference between “noticing” and “approaching”. Just because you’re not being hit on 20 times a day doesn’t mean you’re unattractive. It means guys are being polite and trying their best to, you know, not harass you.

  30. Bb

    OTC, thanks for the explanation. My head just exploded. And so did my idea of the fashion industry. I feel a maxim coming on. I’ve got to process this.

  31. Reality Check

    Reality Check–
    I don’t know if YOU are a Christian or not, but by calling a woman covered in non-skintight clothing from head to toe (with natural makeup) a “whore,” you yourself are contributing generously to our culture’s problems.

    Sorry Haley – but a woman dressed like the one in that Talbot’s ad is certainly inappropriately dressed for a Church, or any other Christian setting. Even though the clothes are, as you put it, ‘non-skintight’, still, they are too provocative and attention-drawing for a time and place where people seek to worship God… and not sexuality (however implicit) … and where they as well seek to come together in fellowship rather than being distracted by inappropriately-dressed women.

    I as well think these principles should apply more broadly to society as a whole, since we have way, waayyy too many women (no matter how objectively unattractive) ‘advertising their stuff’ under the pretense of ‘looking good’. Sorry, but this is Narcissism 101.

    As one Christian writer put it – this, cumitively at least, adds up to a form of ‘ambient porn':

    http://biblicalmanhood.blogspot.com/2010/01/female-sexuality-ambient-porn-and-pink.html

  32. Pingback: manology maxim #2: don’t worry, he’s noticed you « bbsezmore

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