Elegant, decorous, proper, hushed… Traditional notions of what a lady should be with zero relevance to woman today. There is a tense synonymy between the words lady, and woman. They both designate half of the population (or just over) but while one harks back to an era of petticoats, top hats and canes, the other can take on an aggressive tone, ‘that woman’, as if by taking away the cosmetic dab of blush that the word lady implies, there is something questionable, or threatening about being viewed as a woman rather than a lady.
H&M confronts this two-tier system of femininity in its latest ad campaign, erasing our historic definition of ladylike and promoting an exciting, empowering and most importantly relevant one: the new lady is “entertaining, opinionated, off-beat, fearless, bad ass, independent and free-willed”. The video features women; women with natural hair, with abs, without abs, with armpit hair, clothed, in underwear, eating, slumping, tooth-picking, dancing, resting-bitch-facing, imperfect, of different decades, races, sizes and sexual orientations. H&M is subverting and redefining ‘ladylike’ to mirror and celebrate the realness of women today. Pum Lefebure, who features in the ad and is Chief Creative Officer of Design Army, sums up the insight behind the ad, “why do I need to marry someone who can bring home bacon? I can raise my own pig. I can raise a farm. I can create this big, most amazing farm in the world, because I am capable.”
Increasingly, brands are seeing the value in getting behind this trend for real, transparent, non-photoshopped authenticity. Consider Vogue’s The Real Issue, an edition aimed at showcasing a wider range of women, or BodyForm and their recent campaign that disruptively depicts real blood in a category that always tiptoes around menstruation with euphemistic sky-blue goop, or even Uniqlo’s LifeWear collection that emphasises clothes designed with action and movement in mind.
It is telling that these campaigns are still in the minority and retain an edge of taboo, indeed, it is shocking that realness remains so shocking.