Why are we so afraid of real women?
Every day of a woman's life, on the Internet, on television, in magazines and on billboards commuting to work, she sees hundreds, if not thousands, of women who look nothing like her.
These images influence how she feels about herself and directly correlate to that woman's confidence, chipping away at her happiness throughout the day.
In a study of female undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford University, 68 percent of women felt worse about their own appearance after thumbing through women's magazines. This isn't surprising; 16 percent of women within the normal body mass index for their height think they are overweight and 90 percent of women overestimate their body size.
Over the past ten years there have been efforts to feature more "real" women in advertisements for aspirational brands, but those efforts have been limited.
In 2004 Dove launched their "Campaign for Real Beauty," featuring real women -- who varied from a size six to a size 14 -- wearing only bras and underwear. Sales rose by 600 percent during the campaign's first two months and the company achieved $1 billion in global sales during the first year of the campaign. Oprah dedicated a full episode to applauding the campaign and the confidence women of all shapes should have.
Lanvin, a French high fashion brand, recently held a "street casting" to select 11 "real women" as models for their winter ad campaign. Since 2010, Alberta Ferretti has consistently sent real women, of all sizes, down the runway. Vogue itself has put forward an initiative to use healthy models, and have recently championed Kate Upton, a Sports Illustrated model who is notably larger than sample size.
Still, despite these wonderful efforts, women remain inundated by images of beauty that are unachievable and too few brands have followed suit.
Aren't we an advanced enough society that aspirational branding can feature smart, sexy and successful women who have normal bodies? Absolutely. Why has our culture permitted the idea that all we have to aspire to is beauty at the expense of everything else?
Let's look at some of the slogans that brands use to make us believe they truly care about a woman's inner beauty.
Maybe she's born with it? Maybe it's Maybelline.
L'Oreal. Because you're worth it.
Clairol: Does she? Or doesn't she?
These slogans lead us to believe that with the right mascara or gloss, your inner beauty will somehow become more beautiful.
We're not preaching from an ivory tower of self-confidence. Both of us have fallen, and still fall prey to social pressures to look like a model. Jenn spent hours in high school straightening her hair because she thought girls with curly hair weren't beautiful. Jo freely admits she has never had a flat stomach in her life and it's unlikely she ever will.
The solution to breeding self-confidence in women is to celebrate that their reality, Spanx and all, is aspirational in and of itself. That reality is all of the things that make us amazing women -- like our smarts, or our humor or how we love. Beauty is a thing, not the thing.
We need to celebrate that real women look beautiful when they are happy.
Today, Rent the Runway is taking steps to support the efforts that Vogue, Lanvin, Alberta Ferretti, Dove and others before us have made with the launch of Our Runway. It features thousands of photos of our customers modeling the dresses they have rented. These are photos that they feel proud of -- representative of a moment in their life when they felt beautiful and self-confident. Very few of these customers are model-thin, but all of them look darn hot. Why? Because they're smiling and having fun -- they're out with friends and family enjoying their lives.
At one point we asked a woman in a focus group to tell us who she thought she was looking at when she looked at the photographs of real women on our site.
"Celebrities," she responded.
After a minute, she said: "Oh wait, these are real people. Wow. They are beautiful."
It's true, they are! Real women are so gorgeous that you actually can shop just by looking at their photos on a website, or by watching them on Ferretti's runway, or by taking inspiration from them in a Lanvin ad. These kinds of images of real women create a trickle down effect of boosted self-confidence and happiness in each and every amazing woman who looks at them.
For decades, many women have been intimidated by high fashion even though well made, properly fitted designer clothing enhances any woman's natural beauty, no matter shape or size. It is more likely that a woman of any shape will feel more confident wearing a designer dress than she would a dress from H&M -- because construction and tailoring matters. Hopefully, seeing a like-bodied woman wearing a designer dress will lower the intimidation many women feel and encourage trial.
Beautiful women are those ones who are truly happy. They're the real women who upload their real photos onto our website and they're beautiful. If we can make anything aspirational, it should be that.
All of the best things in our lives happen when women feel the most confident. We fall in love, we get the job, we create lasting memories. Confident women can and will change the world.