There’s a One A Day Women’s vitamin commercial airing on TV right now. It shows a happy middle-aged white woman sitting on a couch, swiping on a tablet, which shows six windows “looking in on her life.” In the first, she’s working at a computer. In the second, she’s helping her children with homework. The third frame is of her on the couch with the tablet. In the fourth, she’s in the kitchen; fifth, at a yoga class (she got to leave the house!); and sixth, playing with her children in the back yard.
Here’s the transcript:
“You’ve got finding time for what matters down to a science. You’re the reason we reformulated One A Day Women’s, a complete multivitamin that now has extra B-vitamins to help convert food to energy. Energy support for the things that matter: That’s One A Day Women’s.”
I should point out that I’m not usually that person, the one who actively seeks to find offensive statements in every mass-mediated message out there. Most of the time, I try to be really respectful of other people’s opinions and perspectives, even if I don’t agree with them, because I’m not walking around in someone else’s skin and trying to think using someone else’s mind, with someone else’s individual experiences. Plus, seeking out offense would mean being offended all the time, which can lead to bitterness, resentment and anger toward people, messages and ideas that I have no control over.
But watching that commercial made me furious.
I’ve taken One A Day Women’s before, and it’s a good vitamin for females, standing alongside the best ones. But my life doesn’t look anything like Commercial Woman’s. Only one of the windows into Commercial Woman’s life showed her outside the home (when she’s at yoga class, with other white middle-aged women). Granted, she might be working while she’s at the computer (in the first window), but the background looks just like other ones when she’s at home. The rest of the windows show her doing typical “woman” things; I felt for a moment like I was watching something from the 1950s.
I know that many, many women live a lifestyle similar to Commercial Woman’s, and that’s a totally, 100 percent absolutely fine thing. For most of those women, that lifestyle is a choice made for good reasons, and that’s a great thing. That lifestyle has value and deserves respect.
But, in that same vein, many women don’t live a lifestyle similar to Commercial Woman’s, and their lifestyles deserve respect, too. “One A Day Women’s” is such an inclusive name for a product represented by such an exclusive commercial. I don’t think enough recognition is given to—I sort of can’t believe I’m about to write this—the “alternative” lifestyle choices women can make.
For instance, if my life was sorted out into six “windows” on that tablet, it wouldn’t look much like Commercial Woman’s. You’d see me writing and editing full-time for an award-winning magazine in one; I’d be writing and editing for Literally, Darling in another. The third would show me scribbling notes in graduate school classes, and the fourth would be me grabbing Mexican food with my best friend. And the fifth and sixth windows? They’d be split semi-evenly between trying to have some time at home, and trying to get enough sleep (which never happens).
As the commercial closed out, I thought about the women I know in my life. I thought about my mother, whose life while I was growing up didn’t look like Commercial Woman’s (and I don’t think she would have wanted it to). But just because it doesn’t look like that that doesn’t mean it doesn’t count as a life a woman can lead. Mom worked full-time while making sure my dad had clean clothes to wear to work and that my brother and I didn’t watch Star Wars too many times in a row, and made time for working out and cooking dinner and earning a degree online. In fact, it was my dad who kicked a soccer ball with me around the back yard, and who checked over my math homework. His life wasn’t exactly like Commercial Woman’s either, but it was just as much like it as my mother’s was. He worked full-time, too, just like my mom, at a really demanding engineering job, but they split the other responsibilities between them. And you know what’s funny? My mom was probably taking One A Day Women’s my whole childhood.
I thought about my editor at the magazine for which I work. She’s worked probably a hundred jobs. Every day I hear about a new one: “When I ran that little publishing company…,” “When I was living in D.C. working with that PR group…,” “When I was working at that auto-insurance agency for a little extra money….” I can only imagine what her “windows” would have looked like split up on that little tablet. Her life hasn’t looked much like Commercial Woman’s, but it still counts.
And I thought about my Mama (pronounced Mawmaw), my grandmother, who worked sometimes full-time and sometimes part-time and sometimes not at all while my dad and his siblings were growing up, and how all of those choices were fine, because she made them for reasons that were important to her and her family at the time.
I acknowledge the fact that coming up with an entirely all-inclusive ad for literally all women on Earth is just not possible. Is it really doable have an ad that speaks to the working mom, the inner-city woman on welfare, the just-out-of-college woman, the aging 75-year-old feminist, and the full-time single lady? Probably not; cramming that into one ad would be hard to do. But they could have made this ad more diverse. They could have still show Commercial Woman, because her lifestyle and her choices have value. But maybe they could have shown a woman rushing around an office or taking night classes or working a part-time job at Subway for extra cash. Commercial Woman’s lifestyle has value, but other lifestyles do, too.
Additionally, I acknowledge the ad is just catering to the target demographic. Vitamins are expensive, and Commercial Woman can afford them. I get that, and that makes complete sense. But it’s important not to forget about the other women who could benefit from their supplements. Maybe they could approach it from the angle of, “Hey, I know times are tough and budgets are tight, but don’t forget about your personal health in the midst of it all.” I think most women could relate to that.
In essence, what frustrates me about the ad is not what it includes, but rather what it excludes—it’s the limitations of it that get me. I’m not saying that my life, my mom’s life, my boss’s life or my Mama’s life are unique to us in any way. I know that so many women work full-time and don’t have enough time for anything else. I know that so many women split duties with their husbands/spouses/partners and make time to be healthy and to get an education. I know that so many women have held so many interesting jobs, and don’t plan on stopping any time soon. I know that out there in the world every day, there are women choosing to live all kinds of different ways based on their own dreams, desires and personal experiences, and I’m respectful of that. What I’m asking is for respect in return, and an acknowledgement that a company whose vitamin is blanket-advertised for “Women” should expand their ideas of what many women choose to do and who they choose to be, whatever that might look like.
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