Visual Hijack: Body Positivity

For this assignment, I started by identifying two images that I felt were oppressive. The first one was a Gillette ad with the slogan “My Skin, My Way”. The second was a Dove body wash ad with a lineup of “diverse” women in matching white bikinis. What irked me about these advertisements was that they preach a message of ‘“diversity” without actually deviating from normative ideals of beauty. In the Dove campaign, all of the women are about the same height and weight, and only one of them is of a dark complexion. All of them are able bodied as far as the viewer can tell, meaning no wheelchairs, canes, or prosthetics are included. In the Gillette campaign, a woman standing on a beach claims to be proud of her scars, yet no scars can be seen.

So, it appeared that the challenge would be to make these ads more representative of real diversity that isn’t necessarily marketable because the privileged majority has still not come to terms with it. At the same time, I didn’t want to exploit marginalized groups by turning them into marketable objects, because I feel that while representation is very important, it is ultimately a sneaky ploy to earn money. I thought of inserting myself into the Gillette ad as I, unlike the model, have very real, very visible scars. But I strongly dislike the idea of romanticizing self injury in any way, and it would be difficult to find a way to “celebrate” my body and my experience when it goes beyond body positivity and into the territory of mental illness and other serious issues. The only logical conclusion was to look outside of my own planet towards diversity the likes of which Earth has never seen.

Aliens make the perfect subject for this assignment because they are fun and lighthearted and can still make a point about body positivity without taking on a negative or condemning tone. As they are not humans, but still human-like, Aliens are similar enough to be relatable without being so similar that it feels like they are standing in for a specific group. 

I first broke down the Gillette ad using the Alien approach. I replaced the woman in the photo with a mantid-like creature wearing the same outfit and posing similarly. I tried to replicate the original ad in every way. The hijack was received well in our first critique, but I wasn’t satisfied because it felt too specific. A spoofed Gillette ad wasn’t going to make much sense as a poster or sticker without the context, and there wasn’t anywhere to put it that felt relevant. So I decided to put this one aside and move to the Dove ad.

I started by drawing a scene in my sketchbook of a group of Aliens laughing and posing similarly to the original Dove ad. I wanted them to be different in ways that a human audience could both relate to (height, weight) and not relate to (horns, multiple limbs, hooves, etc). I also wanted to have some characters that were extremely far removed from what one would consider a woman here on earth (wiggly thing in a jar, green tentacles).

Once the image was completed, the captions wrote themselves. I ultimately decided that the one with the question was a better fit for the image because it was less accusatory. Using “body positivity” made more sense than “diversity” because it more accurately reflected the meaning of the original Dove ad. After critique I made some minor edits to the text and background and added the white bikinis to the two least-humanlike creatures, which made it more evident that they were a part of the group and not pets or something. 

I printed 3 copies out on super nice, big, glossy paper from the photo lab on their fancy printer. I stamped them with the secret squirrel stamp and posted them outside the BWCC bathrooms, the gender-neutral bathrooms in the library, and the lobby in Hill House with some double-stick carpet tape I found in the woodshop.

The BWCC one didn’t last a day, which I should have expected given some recent bathroom sign havoc. I thought that it might have a chance with the squirrel stamp, but that proved ineffective. I didn’t take a picture of it when I first put it up, and when I went back later it had been taken down. Here is the wall where I put it. While I’m a little frustrated about the disappearance of my poster, I think I entered territory where it was inevitable that my hijack would not succeed.

The library one was moved unbeknownst to me from in between the bathrooms to the wall by the bulletin board, where posters are meant to be posted. I think it’s thanks to the stamp that it didn’t get thrown away in this case. It’s still up currently.

The Hill House poster fared the best, I think. I am not sure if it’s still up, but I believe it was still up a few days after I posted it.

I think the biggest challenge was choosing an effective place to install. There are certain spots on campus where you are supposed to put up posters, and places where your posters will inevitably be removed. I think the trick must be to find the least surveilled spaces in order to ensure the longevity of the poster without having to post it on the bulletin board. The reason the Hill House poster lasted longer than the others (it could very well still be up, I just haven’t checked) is because nobody is patrolling Hill House for rouge posters. I think this could be the case with some if not all housing spaces. Heimbold, too, is a place where posters can be put up safely for the most part, but only a specific group of people uses Heimbold and would have the chance to see it. This is something I want to consider more as the semester continues because I’ve come to realize that it really decides the fate of the hijack.