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The media, especially advertising, is often criticized for our warped expectations of beauty. There is no doubt about it: photoshopping, highly sexualized portraits and impossibly thin models, create unrealistic — even harmful — visions of the ideal. We just love to lambast the media, and I get it.

But then there are those instances when advertising becomes a source of progress. It challenges the status quo and pushes us to demand a better way. Even in the world of beauty.

Take the recent campaign by Shea Moisture, “Break the Walls.”  Shea Moisture is a line of skin and haircare products primarily for people of color. This ad, and the accompanying YouTube film, shed light on the segregation of “ethnic” beauty products to the a small portion of the beauty aisle.  As the spot points out, there the a beauty aisle for white people, and there is the ethnic aisle for everyone else.  The implication: white people are beautiful, others are, well, “ethnic,” i.e., not beautiful.  The hell with that!  The video dramatically shows the aisles blowing up as a metaphor for breaking our assumptions about what beauty is. It’s great!

As someone who grew up in the world of advertising, I see both sides.  I realize that we, in media, can present unrealistic worlds of exceedingly happy families, the glory of wealth and prestige, or flawless beauties.  But, I still believe that there are, and bear witness to, those times when advertising can raise our awareness to society’s ills a suggest a better way.  When I worked in the ad industry, believe me, all we wanted to create was something meaningful, no matter how idealistic our clients were. Given my years at DDB, I still can’t help but quote Bill Bernbach who said:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

For any of us who create media in some shape or form, let’s always strive to lift our world to a higher level.  And for those of us who merely engage with it (all of us, actually), let’s not just view it with a disdainful eye but fully embrace and applaud those advertisers and media makers who help lift it for us.

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