Suzanne Schwartz ’07 won a Research Grant to India. Her research was published as an article titled “Girl Power Through Purchasing?: The Urban, Young, Educated, Working, Indian Woman and Aspirational Images in Personal Care and Beauty Aid Advertisements” in the Advertising and Society Review (Click here) .
Linda M. Scott wrote a review of Schwartz’s research titled “Editorial Introduction” in the Advertising and Society Review, Volume 13, Issue 4, 2013. Read an excerpt below:
Suzanne Schwartz’s piece, “Girl Power Through Purchasing? The Urban, Young, Educated, Working, Indian Woman and Aspirational Images in Personal Care and Beauty Aid Advertisements,” is the result of an extensive ethnographic project conducted among the women who produce the advertising for Lakmé cosmetics in India.
This is a rich, nuanced account of the interaction of gender, modernization, traditional practice, and communications strategy in the dynamic Indian environment. The viewpoint is well grounded in the cultural and historical context, yet underscores similarities between these circumstances and other instances of cosmetics campaigns production in different, especially modernizing, circumstances.
As a result, it stands in important contrast to quite a lot of the feminist literature on advertising, while at the same time giving us an important window into a particular part of the way women in commerce interface with feminism.
Much like the early 20th century women’s creative groups (documented by Jennifer Scanlon in Inarticulate Longings and by myself in Fresh Lipstick), these women see themselves as occupying an important place in the push for women’s freedoms. They very clearly try to use their power over a major advertising campaign to reflect more modern and progressive ideas about women’s roles in their society.
The very fact that this phenomenon not only can but does occur, stands in stark opposition to the way that earlier writers such as Diane Barthels, Naomi Wolf, and Jean Kilbourne have inferred a nameless, faceless, masculine author for beauty ads.
Further, this ethnography extends the work done by Weinbaum, Thomas, Ramamurthy, Poiger, and Yue Dong in The Modern Girl Around The World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization, which demonstrated the global origin of contemporary beauty practices in a vision of a “New Woman,” who cared about beauty but also about freedom and pushed the comfort level of patriarchs everywhere.
Thus, Schwartz’s piece is not only a fascinating example of ethnographic work, but an important counterpoint to a receding, but still powerful view of how advertising “works” against women.
You can read Suzanne’s blog about her Fulbright experiences here: http://suzanneinindia.blogspot.com/.