#LikeAGirl and Empowertising Campaigns

This post originally appeared on June 17, 2015 written by Kerri Lyn. This was Kerri’s first post for Hashtag Feminism.

There’s a new trend of empowerment-focused advertising that’s challenging sexist stereotypes, sparking conversations, and igniting social media participation. Andi Zeisler calls it “empower-tising.”

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was launched in 2002 “to celebrate the natural physical differences personified by all women and to encourage them to have the confidence to be comfortable and happy with themselves.” Nancy Etcoff, a Harvard psychologist, who evaluated the campaign then and now “found that more women today describe beauty on a wider variety of qualities outside of just looks, such as confidence.” Dove’s parent company Unilever sends a different message, being one of the biggest sellers of skin-whitening cosmetics. The ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ video, released in April 2013, attracted strong reactions from the public and media. The video shows women being their own harshest critics, while holding up beauty as the standard to achieve. Some felt the video “enforced our very narrow cultural perception of beauty: young, light-skinned, thin” and criticized the lack of diversity “in race, age, or body shape.”

#LikeAGirl Facts and Figures

Always released their #LikeAGirl campaign in June 2014 and it went viral after airing during this year’s Super Bowl -the first time a feminine care ad was shown during football’s biggest event. The ad questioned why throwing, running, and fighting “like a girl” is used to denigrate women. Ann Friedman wrote in New York Magazine that “the #LikeAGirl commercial was such an emotional call to consider the implications of casual sexism that we forgot Always was selling us maxi pads.” According to Proctor and Gamble, the video has been viewed more than 85 million times in 150 countries and shared by more than 1.5 million people around the world.  In a survey of 1800 people, after watching the video, girls 16 to 24 demonstrated a 57% increase in positive association with the phrase “like a girl”, and 2 out of 3 men said they would stop or think twice about using the phrase as an insult. Andi Zeisler wondered if “the people who buy what Always and the others are selling can also get on board with the more complex heart of the movement — the place where true equality is almost never an easy sell.”

Twitter reaction was predominately one of enthusiastic embrace.

Although not everyone felt positively about it or seemed to get the message:

@samdek1: Packers are best team in the league. Better than both teams. And I'm confident on that statement. :(” quit crying #LikeAGirl

— Bailey Scheich (@b_scheich) February 2, 2015

Chevrolet followed the lead of the Always’ campaign, celebrating Mo’ne Davis, the 13-year-old pitcher who made headlines and history as the first girl to pitch a shut-out inning in the Little League World Series. She proudly proclaimed she throws #LikeAGirl.


Other vendors, seeing that women everywhere have been interacting through social media and adding their own hashtags to shape the conversation, have been eager to recreate the success of#LikeAGirl. Dove’s “Choose Beautiful” commercial was released in March of this year, encouraging social media discussion with the #OneBeautifulThought hashtag. In this ad, women are confronted by their self-criticism when they overhear condemning thoughts they’d journaled being spoken aloud. The women discover that hateful speech is more easily recognized when directed at others. It ends by encouraging women to have one beautiful thought about themselves.

Some perceived this as yet another attack on women, this time for being self-critical. Jessica Valenti wrote in The Guardian that “beauty companies now want women to feel insecure about our insecurities.” Other reactions were more positive.


Pantene’s “Sorry- Not Sorry” ad was a bit more controversial. It asks a valid question (why are women always apologizing?) and promotes taking up space without guilt, using the #ShineStronghashtag. Its message is on-point; even when they feel confident and self-assured, many women still find themselves succumbing to internalized oppression and patriarchal norms by saying they’re sorry.  Pantene is part of the beauty industry, where messages to women are typically about not being good enough or pretty enough, so embracing women’s right to be who they are without apology is a new and welcome change.

so there's this Pantene commercial about women saying sorry and idk it makes me emotional bc feminism

— lauren (@hellaskeleton) July 15, 2014

Valenti was again skeptical that “giving women one-liners and happy endings (and shiny hair) will not solve the problem of workplace gender roles, body image or domestic inequality – that requires a fundamental shift in how we talk and think about women’s roles in society. But maybe I will take a cue from Pantene, after all, and “shine strong” by saying that I think their ad is garbage. And I’m not remotely sorry.”

Dodge Ram, whose ads are the usually male-centric, has even joined the fray. This ad breaks new ground in that it doesn’t include a single man. The Ram ad specifically mentions breaking stereotypes and finding the courage inside. In this commercial, women are the only people shown, yet the message could apply to anyone.  Since women are typically the invisible, included-but-not-mentioned part of “mankind,” it’s refreshing to see the opposite.  Female representation is advancing, a requirement for all marginalized groups before acquiring equal rights. In the Ram commercial, women are the new symbol for humanity.

Dodge Ram celebrates women for being strong to the core – "Because the courage is already inside" http://t.co/Y38J0hoELH

— Esteban Contreras (@socialnerdia) April 28, 2015

i love it that brands are now recognizing women in male-dominated fields! Ram Trucks | Courage Is Already Inside https://t.co/zUCCELIubV

— erin harbaugh (@eharbaugh) May 5, 2015

Do these ads have enough diversity? No, not yet. There are a few Black or Asian women in the AlwaysPantene, and Dove ads, but the vast majority are white women. There are no plus-sized or disabled women in the Ram ad – apparently only athletes drive trucks.


Lane Bryant launched their #ImNoAngel campaign in response to backlash about the “perfect body” represented by Victoria’s Secret Angels. The #ImNoAngel hashtag generated over 7,000 tweets in the last 30 days alone. Many argued that thin bodies should not be pitted against the plus-sized. Amanda Kate Richards, a body-positive social media blogger, created a social media campaign by adding #ImNoModelEither to the #ImNoAngel debate, calling it “a self-directed call for more body diversity in fashion and advertising.”

Body-positive activists are uniting to combat the fashion industry’s ideas of what defines a “plus” size. Just in the last year, Tess Holliday created #EffYourBeautyStandards and Ajay Rochester created#DropThePlus, which have both gained traction in social media. Holliday became the first size 22 model by MiLK Management and just landed on the cover of People magazine.

Not everyone feels enough progress has been made. Jes Baker, a body advocate and self-love enthusiast, felt the #ImNoAngel campaign was not diverse enough, so she launched the#EmpowerAllBodies photo series. Baker posted an open letter to Lane Bryant’s CEO, criticizing the ad’s presentation of “the ‘ideal’ plus body: hourglass, perceivably ‘healthy’, cellulite-free, able bodied, cis-gender, and ‘conventionally’ beautiful.” In Baker’s series, inclusion is key – we see disabled and tattooed women proudly showing their bellies and cellulite.  In her letter, Baker argues “when we, as a society, fail to include diverse bodies in our media, the message becomes clear to those excluded: you are unworthy of taking up space.” The #EmpowerAllBodies hashtag has been gaining momentum, with over 900 tweets in the last month. Reaction to the #EmpowerAllBodies campaign has been almost overwhelmingly positive.

There were still a few people who felt it was not diverse enough because the photo series did not include thin women.

Challenges to traditional beauty are not new. A year ago the “What’s UnderNeath Project” highlighted the attractiveness of atypical models. And eleven women in particular are redefining beauty standards for the advertising industry.

In accounting firm KPMG’s TV ad, golf pro Stacy Lewis literally shatters a glass ceiling. Hopefully this trend continues and more companies begin to agree with KPMG Global chairman John Veihmeyer, who said their goal is to “sustain and continue to build a solid culture of inclusion.”

What’s your take on #Empowertising? Do you agree with Ann Friedman that “modern feminist-tinged advertising…is high in calories but low in nutritive value, to put it in Super Bowl snack terms”? Or is Laura Jordan Bambach right in her assessment that “ads such as Always’ ‘#LikeAGirl’ must be applauded”? If the message is empowering to girls and women, does it matter that corporations are using feminism to sell a product? Laura Jordan Bambach, co-founder of SheSays, summarizes: “is #LikeAGirl a great piece of work? In my opinion, yes. Am I cynical about the fact it comes from P&G? You know, I just don’t give a shit.”

Personally I concur with SheSays: “the fact that advertisers have finally recognized that feminism is here to stay is a very good thing indeed.” Yes, the slow pace of attitudinal change can be very frustrating. But in my opinion these ads are progressive steps in the right direction. Share your thoughts on the new trend using the #Empowertising hashtag!