Well & Good
OPINION: My husband opened his new headphones. "Check it out!" he said happily, gesturing at them.
I peered into the box. There they were, and directly below them was a glossy photo of a naked woman, wearing the same headphones.
He followed my gaze. "Is she totally naked?" he said, only a little surprised.
"Yup," I said.
"Is that a nipple?"
"No, but almost."
"Phew," he said, grinning. "Wouldn't want to see a nipple or anything."
"Awesome," I said.
"Now I REALLY want to wear these," he said, teasing me. "Naked ladies LOVE these headphones."
"Yeah, yeah," I said. "But seriously? I mean, seriously?"
"Seriously," he said.
We got off the subway, my six-month-old daughter on my husband in the frontpack. It was the weekend, life was good, the city [New York] was muddy and cheerful and the cold felt like the right complement to hot chocolate and wool. I glanced up, waiting to cross the street, and there, covering the side of a building, was a butt.
A mostly naked, young woman's butt, the cheeks round and glowing and tanned. The panties being advertised were a blushing pink afterthought.
"Seriously?" I said.
My husband, Bear, looked up. "Nice underwear," he said. "Looks like a great product!"
I rolled my eyes and pointed at the baby girl on his chest. "See that?" I said. "She's going to see that." I pointed at the giant butt.
He looked more serious.
I keep telling myself that it's not that big of a deal. I don't want to be offended. Offended people are too serious. They get picky. They waste their time. They are distracted by things that don't have to matter.
And at the same time, I can't shake it. This feeling that something isn't right. I'm not even looking for naked women and I'm seeing them everywhere. I can't avoid them if I try.
I can't shake the feeling that there doesn't have to be a naked woman in the headphones' box. It isn't necessary at all. It tilts in the direction of insanity. Why does she need to be naked to wear headphones?
I don't want to say this out loud. I think it's uncool. It's a rant. No one cares.
I don't even really want to say it to Bear.
I feel a little lonely, noticing the naked butts of New York's advertising.
I feel strangely excluded from the world of consumerism. I can't be who these ads are for. And yet, the literature disagrees. It says: HA! You would think they're for men, because of all the sexy naked women. But no! That's the trick! They're secretly for YOU!
HA! says the literature, it's actually women who buy things that are displayed on the seductive lithe bodies of other women. It's aspirational, it's compulsive, it's some social psych thing that normal people can't fully understand, but we keep responding to anyway. All of these campaigns are tested a million times first. There's a million hours of market research here. And all of the market research agrees: sexy naked women are the way to go, for everything!
So these ads are for me, then. That's what the research says. Then why do I feel disturbed and put-off? I must be malfunctioning. It's me. Something's off-kilter. I have to figure out how to shake it back into obedience, into obliviousness, into the cool of not caring. I have to learn to be a better liberal -- I sense that being a good liberal means embracing all of the nakedness. It's just bodies! Bodies are beautiful! Don't be a prude about it!
I think I'm supposed to ignore the fact that they are almost always the same bodies. That they are so much always the same bodies that they seem to implicitly ban the contemplation of other naked bodies. I think I'm supposed to ignore that they're almost always young women, and that they are so sexualised that they seem to implicitly instruct that young women are for sex and only for sex.
Maybe my daughter will be more normal. Maybe she'll just buy the underwear and move on with her day.
Only, I can't help but think I don't want that for her either, even though it sounds more emotionally efficient (although probably a waste of money).
On our way to the baby's six-month doctor's appointment, crossing near the park on a snowy sidewalk, I am confronted with a bus stop advertisement for "European" waxing services. A woman's long, bare legs stroll along beneath a gleaming, lean torso. The waxing was thorough, you can see, because only a faint slip of her vagina is covered with cloth. Again, she is headless.
I look at Bear. He looks at me.
"How am I supposed to raise a daughter?" I ask him.
He shrugs, obviously not wanting to think about it. She is only six months old. She is deliciously fat - right now, everyone thinks it's perfect.
I try to imagine myself walking in this city with my older daughter. Maybe she's 10? Who the hell can imagine that far ahead? I try.
I see that she's looking at the huge naked butt.
"Isn't that ridiculous?" I say. "What a stupid ad, right?"
We laugh a little. We agree. It's very, very stupid. We go on with our day. At least she knows: this isn't just normal. It's not creatively liberated, either. It's listing towards insanity. It's laughably, seriously absurd. It may be right in front of us but we know there's something wrong.
A version of this piece appeared on Kate's blog, Eat the Damn Cake
- Daily Life
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