Letter to Maidenform by Kathy Bruin
Paul Mischinski, CEO
Maidenform Worldwide Inc.
200 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016
March 11, 1999
Dear Mr. Mischinski and Staff:
I have been a loyal customer of Maidenform for nearly twenty years. I find it extremely difficult to find comfortable bras and have been so satisfied with Maidenform bras that I often wear them until they are tattered and worn out. I even raved about Maidenform last year in a column I wrote about finding good bras.
I was recently in New York City and saw your new advertisements everywhere I turned. They appeared to be on telephone booths on virtually every corner, as well as on buses. The ads depict a pretty, young woman in a white bra. She stands tall and proud with the words: “Inner beauty only goes so far.” And at the bottom: “Perfecting the real you.”
I cannot express how disappointed I am in you. All this message says is that a woman is not good enough if she isn’t also nice to look at. In an increasingly superficial culture with enormous pressure on young women (and even little girls) to achieve a certain ideal of beauty (primarily a thin ideal, but also one that is almost exclusively white, young and affluent), your new campaign is downright irresponsible. You have chosen to join the ranks of such advertising cretins as Calvin Klein and Gucci who have made millions in recent years playing on women’s insecurities to peddle products. I had hoped that at the very least, those companies like yours who serve a completely female market (and have built their whole companies on it) would take a higher road. You have an opportunity to use your advertising influence and dollars to improve women’s lives, as well as selling your wares, but you succumbed to the currently popular trend of sarcastic and demeaning messages instead.
Virtually every American woman is fundamentally unhappy with the way she looks. This may seem like an incidental fact at first glance, but ultimately the way a woman feels about herself affects every aspect of her life and ultimately the health of the entire society as well. Women are still the primary caretakers in our culture, and are the very conscience of it. A woman who is unhappy with some, or all, of the way she looks (go check with every woman you know) lacks an integral self-confidence in herself, and that lack of confidence makes her much more susceptible to all kinds of negative realities. A woman lacking self-confidence doesn’t raise strong daughters or tolerant sons; she doesn’t stand up for herself or for what is right; and she doesn’t contribute her full worth. In a time of such apathy and self-indulgence, it serves no one for a woman to be standing in the shadows wondering if her boobs are big, or perky, enough.
As a society, we need every young woman to feel good about herself; to know that she is a valuable individual whether or not she wears the right bra. Your ad is so disheartening because it puts a giant X through the old adage that “beauty is only skin deep.” The adage infers that a woman is beautiful because of all the characteristics that make up who she is as a person: her brains, her talents, her gifts, her creativity, her commitment, her humor, her passion, her passion. How you look is how you look, but all the other traits make up who you are. Your ad, in no uncertain terms, says “Sometimes all those things that you are, are not enough.” And that’s fucked up.
I suspect that Maidenform probably donates to female related charities. You should note that no amount of money given to further women’s lives through charity organizations will balance the barrage of damaging messages doled out by our popular culture every single minute.
I am not just a longtime customer, but I am also the Executive Director of a Media Literacy campaign called About-Face. We address the effects of negative images and messages on female body image, and you have just made our shit list. I sincerely hope you will reconsider your new advertising campaign and make a commitment to use your influence as advertisers to enrich a woman or girl’s life rather than offering her one more reminder that she isn’t perfect. Your ad was nicely done, a clever ad, beautifully photographed but is that the point? Imagine walking around the streets of Manhattan and on every street corner and on all the buses there is a new Maidenform ad. It tells young women: “You Are Important. You Will Make A Difference.” Now that would be radical. And you might even sell a bra or two.
In the meantime, you have just lost this loyal customer, and I will be using our acclaimed website to insure that all four thousand female visitors that we receive every week are familiar with your new ad.