It was the ad from hell. A supercut of all the lockdown measures in the past year is read by a booming voice from the television as a young woman grows noticeably worried. As the minute-and-a-half video barrels on, dark circles began to appear under her eyes. Angry acne spots emerge, and body hair sprouts. Her weight balloons and her friends don’t recognize her anymore. Juxtaposed against the horrors of the pandemic, it seems that the Belo Medical Group is asserting that the biggest tragedy of all is a woman “letting herself go.” The ad, which has since been pulled out due to the enormous backlash, was created by Gigil—the same agency responsible for the RC Cola ad that made waves last year. If they wanted to be thought-provoking, this was not it.
Belo Medical Group said that the ad simply wanted to send the message that “if you’re ready to make the decision to take care of yourself again, we are here to help.” I couldn’t help but wonder, why does taking care of yourself mean spending money on beauty treatments? Why can’t it simply be surviving in whatever way we can in the onslaught of the pandemic? Considering the economic recession and the loss of lives we’ve endured in the past year, choosing to focus on guilting women for their looks instead is just a myopic and insensitive approach.
It’s no mistake that the ad targeted the myriad of insecurities all women can relate to. We all know that story: the mother of three who just isn’t trying hard enough for her husband anymore; the post-breakup girl in baggy sweats and no make-up on. It’s a cautionary tale to scare all girls with the thought that their worth has an expiration date. Because God forbid your body change; God forbid you age. God forbid you stop trying to be pretty for your boyfriend.
An ad like that isn’t just ridiculously out-of-touch during the pandemic—it’s a symptom of a larger problem. It’s yet another cog to the billion-dollar machine of the beauty industry that is built off of the commodification of women’s bodies. Yes, God forbid you age. But also, we don’t want you to try too hard—we don’t want to see you in too much makeup or too tight clothes. We want you to put in the effort without looking like you put in the effort. It’s a cleverly designed torture chamber for women: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Some would say that it’s still women’s choice to get cosmetic treatments. Yes, but that’s not the point. Structures and conditions inform these choices, and they aren’t just made in a vacuum. The movies you watch, the culture you grew up in, the books you read, and yes, the ads you see all shape your relationship with your body. It all feeds this culture that polices women’s bodies and women’s choices. And so, it isn’t fair to merely stop the discussion at a woman’s choice to put on make-up or get cosmetic surgery—we must also analyze how that choice came to be.
So, where does this leave us? The backlash and the succeeding course correction spell a promising start to changing this toxic culture. We can celebrate and empower bodies of all shapes and sizes and demand better from beauty brands and companies.
But above all, I hope we stop equating loving our bodies with capitalistic notions of self-care—after all, we are more than just products. If there’s anything this pandemic has taught me about my relationship with my body, it’s that I stopped hating it when I also stopped viewing my body as a thing to be looked at by other people, as something that I can offer. My body is a body; it does what it needs to do, and I am thankful that I continue to survive. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be parking myself on my couch and rewatching Modern Family—to hell with everything else.