Why Gillette demonstrates body positivity is still not the norm

Gillette recently released their new ad which featured a larger woman in a swimsuit - it was instantly trolled on Instagram. The plus-size model was Anna O’Brien and the caption “Go out there and slay”. The comments – positively vitriolic. Gillette Venus tweeted, “We love Anna because she lives out loud and loves her skin no matter how the ‘rules’ say she should display it.”

Instagram trolls didn’t think that was the case. The prognosis on Instagram? Women like Anna shouldn’t be out flaunting their flesh, and they most definitely shouldn’t be happy and proud while doing so. The underlying message? Women like Anna should be ashamed.

It’s startling when an ad like this demonstrates an underlying but prolific, vicious and distressing sentiment. Despite all the public narrative about body positivity, when trolls (or really, other people just like you or I) have the opportunity to display their “real” opinion (from the anonymity of their keyboard) they do so.

Gillette drew attention to an invisible undercurrent – the “rules” around how women should behave. Thinly veiled and often systemic these rules lie just below the surface, obscured by a well-versed narrative on how things are changed, on how far we’ve progressed …

But scratch the surface and there it is – the old mentality, the one that might be obscured but is ever present, inscribed in our minds, running through our veins.

Reversed – on the weekend I was captivated by the DNCE Cake by the Ocean video-clip (long story about how it landed in my inbox as something to be viewed). You know the tune - cute, fun, something to dance. The clip features a monstrously large cake set on a beach.  It’s safe to describe it as every heterosexual man’s fantasy - numerous, extremely hot women, in their skimpy bathers flinging cake. The object of their attention, a largish, unattractive man, wearing speedos.


Not scintillating viewing from my perspective, but clearly for some. Men, probably. But, could it be women also?  

It was only mid-way through that I realized the women were swiping their phones on Bumble (the dating app). Was this product placement? Yes – clearly. It then became clear to me that the entire clip had subliminal bumble messaging, the brand colours interwoven overtly throughout, and … wait for it, even the tiny speedos the largish man was wearing emblazoned with their colours.

Clearly a collaboration, or a sponsorship, or a placement.

The initial whah? Degenerated into full confusion – why would they choose to sponsor something which so clearly didn’t align with their ethos?

If you don’t know Bumble’s background – here’s the low down. Its founder is American Entrepreneur Whitney Wolfe Herd, she’s also the CEO, and co-founder of Tinder. Credited as one of the key architects, designers, and even Christener’s of Tinder, she was contacted by the founder of Badoo in 2014 about creating another platform – hence the genesis of Bumble. Wolfe Herd is certainly one badass lady, she was named Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 in Tech in 2014, she’s been featured on the covers of Forbes and Wired UK, and in April 2018 she was named in the TIME 100 list. An amazing set of accomplishments, to sit alongside this equally amazing dating app which focuses on women first.



My marketing mind would tell me the clip, and the brand placement meant Bumble needed more dudes to join the app, but something in the pit of my stomach told me something else. Was this also a recruitment to a particular type of femininity? To a particular ideology … what the “hot” woman should look and act like.

Polar opposites to the Gillette ad.

How do we break the cycle? How do we change the narrative?

We often here, “You can’t be, what you can’t see.” There’s a lot of truth in that. The dominant narrative, which comes to define us, and embody us … is SEEN. We need to change this. We need to applaud Gillette for the beauty of Anna’s image, and frown on Cake by the Ocean. Until we’re all represented, until we’re able to disrupt, disturb and cast off what is perceived as the norm of female beauty, we’re trapped by its discourse.

While we’ve come a distance when it comes to feminism and equal rights, the capacity to express ourselves in ways and forms which might contravene dominant gender norms is still questioned. The fact remains, there are still video clips out there with hot girls in bikinis throwing cake at fat, white guys in speedos on the beach – sponsored by a dating app that supposedly puts ladies first. The subtle recruitment of a particular type of “woman” continues, interwoven into our times, expressed through media and culture, and worse still on the physical form.


Anna, I’m with you. Gillette, I’m with you.

Let’s represent.