People like me?
Sometimes we are not quick enough to react to people when they say ridiculous things. A couple of months back, I was sat with some friends and we were trying to choose an outfit for a lovely lady who was due to celebrate a big birthday. We were passing around a magazine and one of the women said, ‘don’t you hate it when they do that? I mean, I can’t relate to that at all. How am I supposed to imagine myself in a dress that a 6ft tall, black woman is wearing.’ She was referring of course, to the model. Put simply, this is casual racism and I wasn’t alert enough, or expecting the comment enough, to react.
There were two things that I didn’t say, and that I really wished I had:
1. To explain to my friend that there needs to be more representation of black women in magazines rather than less. That per capita, there are still many more pictures of white women across the magazines that we read, our television screens, in the cinema than there are black women. That black women are only the start. We see women from other backgrounds: Pakistani, Indian, Chinese etc even less.
2. You’re five feet two inches tall, a little on the curvy side, have black hair and olive skin, yet you still can relate to Kate Moss?
It was one of those moments that I keep reflecting on. Over and over again.
If you’ve read a couple, you may have noticed that many of my articles focus on the customer, and the need for us to do just that: focus on the customer. And that is also why, as communicators, we need to think about diversity. In our language, in our imagery and most importantly, in our thoughts. Sadly, even in 2019, we live in a world that isn’t equal. We need to make sure that when we speak, we speak to everybody or this will never change.
I believe that when we think about advertising a product, we’re not always thinking of the audience. The likelihood is that it’s white women developing the advertisements and are thinking about the product simply in their own image. In the fashion world, for supposedly global brands, we’re choosing blonde haired, freckle faced women to showcase the product. All this is doing is reinforcing the beauty ideal that this image is best.
I’m tapping this article out whilst sat on my jollies in Hong Kong, where I’ve walked around mesmerised by the global brands touting their wares to women from Asia by sticking billboards featuring not much but white females. And they’re marketing this to women who just look nothing like the models featured.
I spent some time during my trip with the former Chief Operating Officer from advertising giant Ogilvy in Hong Kong, and I asked her why this was. Her response was that, ‘it’s aspirational. Women from Hong Kong and Macao want to be like Europeans.’ My personal belief is that we need to give these women a more realistic ideal. They need to be so accustomed to seeing their own image reflected that they know their culture, heritage and aesthetic is absolutely desirable too.
Next time we’re working together, if I’m super pushy about diversity and representation, it’s because I am trying to put myself in your customers’ shoes. And by that, I mean all of them. Not just the middle-aged white folk.