Repeat after me: I am not an object. I am not an object. I am not an object. Seems strange, doesn’t it, to really consider what that phrase means. Objects are inanimate. Actions are directed towards them. They are material, lack agency, and constitute, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a goal or purpose. Yet, on a daily basis, we are told, constantly, that we are objects. The advertisement on the train on the way to work, the billboard on the neighboring building outside the office window, in the magazine, and on the television, phone, or computer screen. Buy this and you’ll look like me, or attract the perfect partner, or feel better about yourself. Life’s problems will disappear and you’ll feel fulfilled. You’ll be happy. But this freedom from insecurity and the general nature of day-to-day malaise is momentary. That’s the trick and the nature of the hyper-commercialised world we live in. Implicitly, we are taught we will never be happy. There is always the better car, the bigger house, the more youthful appearance, and more fashionable clothing.
As a fashion model, I know this narrative well. Our bodies are sometimes reduced to things in order to sell other things and this then begs the question: what does this constant objectification of self do to the mind? The mind is immaterial. It acts as a bridge between the body and if you believe in one, the soul. Are we corrupting our minds and our souls by the constant desire to consume? In wanting that new smartphone, the latest boots, or the newest skin care product or kitchen appliance, what do we really want? A more efficient way to get from home to work, to make a nourishing meal, or to be more like James Bond, to have wrinkle-free skin, or the right clothing or aesthetic to fit in? What are we trying to fit in to? To whose rules and values are we ascribing? And what impact is this constant desire to consume having on those around us and the environment?
These were some of the questions that came up during a recent evening in New York with advertising executive Maddona Badger and hosted by New York Women in Communications. Badger has been in advertising for over thirty years and was instrumental in creating the Calvin Klein Jeans campaigns. You know the ones, with Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg: unapologizing sexy. Cue a generation of adverts, and consumers, selling and buying sex. Is this necessarily problematic? Perhaps not. The survival of the human race depends on the fact that we procreate. But what does sex and the survival of humanity have to do with the consumption of goods and services, and what does this relationship do to the gaze or the way we look and see?
Does it create a new kind of relationship: the body is an object, and it is for sale? Does this mean that we are prostituting the self for a burger, a beer, or some lipgloss? Often, these images are inspired by great artists and are the result of hard work done by talented individuals and creative teams, such as Badger. But her new campaign, #WomenNotObjects, is a rallying cry urging the advertising industry to stop objectifying women. Her argument: that women’s bodies are often reduced to sexual objects, or objectified, to sell products. Perhaps, in the spirit of National Woman’s Day, you might take a moment to consider what else exists — beyond what you are meant to see. Advertising is a modern visual language and it is fluid; it can be altered and changed. Might we need to re-invent how we re-imagine the body as its used to sell goods and services, and really consider what impact our purchasing power is having on the environment and those around us? Perhaps, and by virtue of this, we will begin to re-define our relationship to self and the world we live in. We should celebrate women — we should celebrate everyone — every day.