The Beauty Trap: The Contradictory Message of PBS’ MAKERS

The Women of Makers

By Elizabeth Ganley-Roper

When I first heard about the launching of the new initiative, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America,” by PBS and AOL in late February, I was thrilled.

A new platform for highlighting and sharing the stories of powerful and inspirational women across American through video interviews, MAKERS is yet another way of emphasizing the importance of intelligence and ambition over beauty and external appearances. The online archive will continue to grow and expand throughout 2012 and will culminate in a 3-hour documentary to be broadcast on PBS in 2013.

Sharing her hopes and goals for the project, CEO and President of PBS, Paula A. Kerger said, “I hope that the MAKERS project will become the seminal record of women’s achievement, and inspire a new generation of leaders.”

I spent hours browsing the video archive, in awe of the wide range of women who have participated in the initiative. The project highlights groundbreaking women who have made a difference in the arts, science and technology, sports, business, politics and education.

My favorite section is the “Organizers”, a group of powerful feminist, health and anti-racism activists. Eve Ensler speaks of her journey to creating “The Vagina Monologues” in order to prevent violence against women. Alexis Jones, founder of I AM THAT GIRL, speaks of the importance of creating positive and healthy media and building confidence in girls. Barbara Smith shares her experiences of being a black feminist and introducing black women’s literature into college curricula and publishing. Jennifer Siebel Newsom speaks about her desire to create the documentary Miss Representation about the harmful portrayal of women in the media. Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. Magazine, shares her experience of the women’s movement. And the list of inspirational women goes on and on.

“What could be better?” I thought to myself. These are exactly the type of examples young girls and women want and need.

I soon realized, however, that there was a catch. Just as I thought women were finally being praised for their intelligence and accomplishments instead of their looks, I discovered the sponsor of MAKERS is none other than the UK Skincare line, Simple. How could this be? A company selling products aimed at making women more beautiful as a sponsor? The stark contrast between the empowering women featured on MAKERS and the videos of women on Simple’s website is shocking. The women in these videos speak of wanting to look perfect for their wedding day, and using the eye products to  “look alright,” not of changing the world and having an impact.

Must women always be linked to some sort of product or some reference about the importance of appearance? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to take good care of your skin. The goal, however, of looking more beautiful and acceptable undermines the message about internal beauty and intelligence and subtly reminds us viewers of the equal importance of looking good.

More research led me to another disturbing discovery. Simple is owned by Unilever, a multinational corporation, which claims to support socially responsible brands that improve the health and well-being of people worldwide. In reality the corporation’s goal is, unsurprisingly, money and not empowerment. In fact, Unilever’s brands range from Dove, which aims to “recognise that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes” to Slimfast, targeting weight loss and Axe, known for its sexist advertising. Using MAKERS as a platform for promoting its products is just another example of the corporation’s contradictory messaging.

Aren’t the powerful examples of the MAKERS enough?



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