Love Advent: Empowering Or Objectifying?
You don't need an Advent calendar to know that Christmas is coming, but opening a little numbered door to reveal a prize is an idea that everyone can get behind. It might be rather hard to believe, but once upon a time that prize was as simple as a Bible verse. But now that the internet is our religion, celebrities are our gods, sex is our currency and instant gratification is our vice, the run-up to Christmas has become something different entirely. Enter Love Advent.
Thanks to Love Magazine's phenomenally popular coopting of the time-honored festive tradition – which saw 84 million views last year – instead of scrambling to open a little window of Jesus wisdom, or to breakfast on a sickly little excuse for a chocolate (not gonna lie, cold, hard nostalgia can be strangely tasty), we are rushing to Instagram and Facebook in droves to feast our eyes on the latest in an impressive lineup of scantily clad it-girls. And this year – the year which has been dubbed by some as a “watershed moment” for female empowerment in the wake of the Weinstein scandal – it's all in the name of female strength.
2017's series of short films, directed by Phil Poynter, stars the likes of model royalty, Kendall Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski boxing, bouncing, sweating and, well, writhing in various states of undress. We've zoomed in on Ashley Graham's cleavage as she crouches to pull a tire down a city street; we've been voyeurs to Emrata's own bizarre softcore spaghetti porno; we've watched Kendall shadowboxing in sweats and a sports bra and we've seen the ever-G Slick Woods squatting and twirling at the ballet bar. Whether the videos are full-scale raunchy or simply suggestive, they are all decorated with the same two words: “stay strong.” There's no denying that it's a commendable concept. But is its confused execution really female empowerment, or female objectification neatly wrapped up in the ribbons of strength and fitness to look like female empowerment?
Of course, pin-up girls in calendars are nothing new, but with even the iconic nudie Pirelli calendar choosing to forego female objectification with a new focus on women's brains, talents, power and achievements rather than their oversexualized bodies, one has to ask, is Love Advent's approach missing the mark?
The Pirelli calendar has always managed to capture the zeitgeist of female beauty since its inception in the early '60s, being described as a “time capsule” for society's changing beauty standards. It's telling, then, that in 2016, in a complete sea change from its traditions, Pirelli tapped Annie Leibovitz as its photographer to bring out a real sense of strength and unsexualized empowerment. The 2017 calendar, shot by Peter Lindbergh continues where Leibovitz left off, with the photographer choosing to present his subjects as nude, not in undress, but in spirit; stripping them “down to their very soul” by refusing any kind of digital retouching or makeup. The Pirelli calendar, once solely intended to titillate a heterosexual male audience, couldn't scream any louder that we are no longer living in a man's world; that women are worth a whole lot more than superficial beauty and sexualization.
But what if sexualizing yourself makes you feel empowered? What if to you, strength is having the courage to stand up and do whatever the fuck you want, regardless of how you might be perceived? True to form, the ever-vocal Emily Ratajkowski, whose extremely suggestive carb-heavy video was perhaps the most controversial so far – receiving many disapproving comments like “yuck” and “disgusting” – has come out in defense of Love Advent:
“In the wake of the Harvey fallout and women coming forward with incredible amounts of sexual harassment cases, I have been so disappointed to hear women talk about 'modesty' and 'our responsibility,' as if we need to, yet again, adjust to make it 'easier’ for the rest of the world.'” She continued, “I don't care about your reaction or what you do with my expression of self. In fact, it has nothing to do with you at all, and that's the point, which is why it feels good. Ultimately, if a woman wants to wear a burqa or nothing at all, it's great — if it's what she wants and feels good about.”
We totally advocate women having the freedom to behave and present themselves however they choose (obvs), but when women are brought together and portrayed as gifts to be unwrapped and labeled “strong” nonetheless, we can't help but wonder if all Love Advent is really doing is feeding the misogynistic Weinstein types and perpetuating the stereotype of women as objects to be gawped at, whilst negating our deeper value. Imagine how much more inspiring Love Advent could be if it were to harness the power of the female gaze; if it took Pirelli's cues and offered something less vapid and superficial. It's allowed to be sexy and it's allowed to be daring, but what we want now, more than ever, is diversity, authenticity and ingenuity.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
For more on the topic of female empowerment, read our interview with hijabi boxing champion Zeina Nassar.