According to the Missguided website, the e-tailer responsible for the best-selling perfume Babe Power, their mission “is to empower females globally to be confident in themselves and be who they want to be … We believe in championing young talent and real women, inspiring a new generation of unstoppable females to be themselves and achieve whatever they want”.
So far, so what? To be honest, it takes more than a mission statement to convince me that “female empowerment” is anything more than a marketing buzzword right now. But it might provide some clue as to why the Bluewater branch of the store in Manchester erected a pink neon sign reading “Send me nudes x”.
Yes, that’s what Missguided is telling its teen customers. Now, maybe this is empowering because young women are turning the rife problem of boys/men demanding naked selfies – which can lead to bribery and revenge porn (more on that later) – on its head, and therefore subverting gender norms and putting women back in the driving seat.
Or maybe this is empowering because Kim Kardashian once wrote an essay about how how empowering her naked selfies are. In fact, according to Kardashian, she’s not just empowering herself, she’s actually empowering others, too: “I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.
There’s absolutely nothing empowering in the commercialisation of encouraging girls and young women to share naked pictures of themselves
And maybe that’s also why Amber Rose and Emily Ratajkowski take pictures of their naked bodies and share them with their millions of followers of Instagram – all in the name of female empowerment.
I’m not buying it but, hey, plenty of people are. And that’s where this all gets a bit tricky. Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski are all selling something to women (lifestyle, a TV show, green tea, their own self-brand etc) via nudes, and therefore are profiting from all this alleged female empowerment, which might be pretty empowering for them, but I’m not sure it makes other women feel that empowered, maybe just really insecure?
And Missguided is at it, too. Missguided is selling “babe power" via a white crochet see-through bodycon dress for £28 and messages about nude photographs.
I have absolutely nothing against white crochet see-through bodycon dresses for £28, but I just don’t believe that young girls feel all that empowered about nude selfies – whether they are sending them from the changing rooms of a Missguided store or receiving them. It is well documented that there is a major problem in schools around the world, with children as young as 11 feeling pressure to send naked pictures of themselves. Charities are warning of the harmful impact this is having on young girls’ self-esteem and mental health. A story from May this year in Canada saw naked pictures of girls aged between 13 and 17 shared among 20 other boys in the same school. The girls said they felt pressured to send the pictures and had no idea that they would be shared. Can you imagine the humiliation as a 13-year-old girl? I’ve also heard firsthand stories from young girls who have told me at events I’ve attended with Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates that girls – to add further injury to insult – are often the ones punished at school, even suspended, for sending the pictures, even when they were clearly pressured to do so and the boy has sent his own nude picture in return. Is this really #femaleempowerment?
And so a woman called Rachel Gardner has started an e-petition to remove the sign. So far, it’s received 8,426 signatures. On the petition, she writes, “'Send me Nudes' legitimises the culture of sexual coercion that teenage girls and young women experience daily…. Once online, these nude images can be seen and used by anyone, making girls and vulnerable young women the victims of bullying, revenge porn and exploitation. Many of these nude images can even make their way to child abuse websites”.
I can’t tell you to sign this petition, but I can tell you this: there’s absolutely nothing empowering in the commercialisation of encouraging girls and young women to share naked pictures of themselves.
As female empowerment has become fashionable, and women’s bodies are being sold off on Instagram in the name of feminism, 12- and 13-year-old children feel pressured to send pictures of their barely-there bodies to schoolboys to be accepted and validated. Sending nudes is something adults do in consensual relationships (and even then, with the rise of revenge porn, there are real hazards).
A fashion brand telling its teen shoppers to send – or receive – nudes doesn’t empower them; it plays into the message that their naked body is their chief currency in this world – whether or not it’s wearing a see-through white crochet dress for £28.
Amendment: Since time of publication, Missguided have covered the sign and it is due to be removed this evening.