Last week, I had fika with a friend at the Kulturhuset, the multistoried cultural center that sits atop Sergels Torg in the center of Stockholm. Inside you can find a plethora of culture (documentaries, art-house flicks, plays, photography, a library) and several cafés, including the Panorama at the top, where we met for the view. We sat looking out at the snow falling on the plaza, at people walking by in what is probably the most commercial area of town, and at David Beckham.
Yes, David Beckham in all his nekkid glory. Well, almost naked — he was wearing a pair of underwear that H&M seems to be selling under his name. And his tattoos. And, as my friend pointed out, the tiniest wisp of body hair!
Which led EM to posit that the return of men’s body hair is imminent: He cited the rise of the Sean Connery chest rug, post-James Bond films several decades ago (he even hinted at chest toupees). That led me to wax poetic about Burt Reynold’s bear-rug chest hair from the 1970s and 1980s, and Tom Selleck’s mustache! Perhaps hair is back? Could the era of sleek be over? We have a bet on now, to be settled in 10 years.
But fashions flicker in and out these days faster than they did in the 1970s. Perhaps we should be checking in 10 *months* from now, to see if Mr. Beckham’s advertisements have more of an effect, sartorial versus advertorial perhaps.
Can ads really have that much of an impact? Well, yes. EM and I spiraled off into a conversation about how much David Beckham’s star has lost its burnish, but that the impact on men and men’s fashion would be amazing still if he showed up in an ad with (horrors!) a beer belly.
And that of course led me into a diatribe about commercials and women’s body images. You know the drill: women’s faces, bellies, legs, all are air-brushed to the extreme in magazines and other print advertising; the images women and girls are bombarded with every day on television, in movies, in print, all show them that they are not up to snuff, while offering the lure of impossible beauty with the latest makeup/refrigerator/clothing/insert-object-here. Instead, these messages work to emphasize how impossible it is to attain that supposedly desired standard of beauty in every day life, with the normal bodies we’ve all actually got.
The Beckham ad reminded me immediately of the latest round of lingerie ads from a Swedish store here: huge billboards with pink frothy concoctions barely hold in the chest of a voluptuous brunette. Matt noticed these ads first as the backdrop to a television reporter’s stand-up in the main train station the other day. This tiny blond woman was framed by these gigantic breasts hanging from the T-Centralen ceiling as she droned on about train delays. (Of course, the male in our home audience noticed this first.)
But over the past two weeks, I’ve been forced to notice these same ads every morning as I waited for the train on my way to work. Not only are the ads super-sized, this woman’s chest seemed to be super-sized. I really do not need a huge bosom staring me in the face every morning as I am on my way to work, or every evening on my way home. This lurid pink monstrosity was just in time for Valentine’s Day (the scenario was almost the same just before Christmas, though slightly more tasteful with robes atop the bra-and-panties sets).
Ok, so maybe I should be happy to see a relatively curvaceous woman in advertising (she even has giant freckles!) — but wait, is she that curvy? No, she’s still skinny, despite being stacked with huge amounts of mammary fat/glands. Good lord. I do not need to be reminded twice a day that I am soon to be no longer young and heading for the heavier end of that curvy scale. And what is this doing to the young teenagers in the (*ahem*) “audience” for these ads? And I can’t help but wonder what the culture shock must be like for ultra-orthodox religious types of any stripe, or immigrants from countries where such advertisements are not the norm. (Yes, I know they are the norm in the U.S., thanks.)
Advertising is not new to Sweden. And I remember having conversations about this a decade or two ago, about how easily shocked Americans are by European ads (naked women were the norm in France and Italy even before the turn of the millennium). But one of my colleagues mentioned the other day at lunch that commercial television stations didn’t open in Sweden until the mid-1990s. “We were so protected!” she said. Ah, me, the cloistered Swedes of that generation (my generation!) must be a bit shocked at their children, who now have access to all sorts of news, murder, sex and other mayhem that were blocked for decades here.
And now, they have all the US reality programs — and more! The regular consumer ads are sometimes overpowered by some of the television billboard ads that run here. You can see the evidence below: another way to Photoshop humans into something that they aren’t! Thankfully, this morning (Happy Valentine’s Day!!), they were gone, replaced with something more innocuous like ads for a cell phone.