Sex Sells... Or Does It? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Sex Sells… Or Does It?

Life&Style writer Tara Kergon discusses her opinion on the increasingly sexualised names of high-end beauty products

At the end of March, Kylie Jenner released her latest beauty creation: five blushers that I can’t stop thinking about, but not because of the hype surrounding Kylie Cosmetics. This time it’s the names of her products that are bothering me, as she’s gone from sweet ‘Kandy K’ and ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ to names like ‘X-rated’ and ‘Virginity’. Is this really appropriate, especially considering she is only 19? Then, once I’d focused on one example, I was unable to ignore the widespread bombardment of innuendo and outright sexualisation in the beauty industry, which left me wondering why it’s suddenly acceptable for one of the best-selling blushers in the business to be called ‘Orgasm’. Is it the rebellious thrill we get from a bit of good unclean fun in a society that expects women to ignore their sexuality? Is it just a risqué joke, or have we crossed a line somewhere?

Is it the rebellious thrill we get from a bit of good unclean fun in a society that expects women to ignore their sexuality? Is it just a risqué joke, or have we crossed a line somewhere?

One of the first brands to spring to mind is NARS: among the pioneers in this slightly uncomfortable trend, and famous for their blush line with names such as ‘Orgasm’ or ‘Deep Throat’. A few years ago it may well have been a unique selling point, a real shock factor, a novelty, or an aesthetic reference to the post-sex glow. Cut to now, however, and I find it awkward to say which blusher I’m wearing when asked (even though it looks beautiful), and it doesn’t stop with NARS. From a subtle wink to the glaringly obvious, most brands reference sex in the naming of their products: Nyx offers the risqué innuendo of their Nude Matte Eyeshadow called ‘Lap Dance’, while at Urban Decay no holds are barred in the use of explicit imagery when naming their Vice lipsticks ‘Gash’ or ‘69’.

Urban Decay is also the creator of other, almost too obvious, example with their eyeliner bizarrely named ‘Perversion’, and a wide range of products under the ‘Naked’ line. In comparison to their unambiguously named Vice Lipsticks (even more problematic given the fact that their campaign is based around addiction and also features names like ‘Psycho’), the Naked eye shadow palettes, often the first luxury palette a girl buys, seem positively tame despite their direct reference to nudity. In a similar vein, the highly hyped Better Than Sex mascara by Too Faced, plays down the vulgarity with very cutesy packaging. In both of these cases, we’re no longer batting an eye at a brand tactic which once would have been startling at the least. If calling a product ‘Naked’ now doesn’t raise an eyebrow because we’re accustomed to names like ‘69’ or ‘Super Orgasm’, how long will it be before those in turn begin to sound tame?

If calling a product ‘Naked’ now doesn’t raise an eyebrow because we’re accustomed to names like ‘69’ or ‘Super Orgasm’, how long will it be before those in turn begin to sound tame?

Of course, given that our society is still remarkably anti-sex when it comes to the discussion of women’s sexuality, the shock factor they’re trying to achieve will probably garner headlines, and the little rebellion of being able to own or discuss something so sex-related gives a little risqué thrill. It seems like one of the few areas where women are not expected to suppress or ignore our sexuality and where it can be taken seriously (which is refreshing), and that imagery could be regarded as a way to reclaim our sexuality. In the same way that the gay community is reclaiming the name ‘queer’ and thus removing some of the stigma or taboo, there seems to a misguided idea that women can buy a lipstick called ‘Stark Naked’ and own their sexuality.

Between reclamation and reinforcement, however, lies only a fine, easily crossed line, and now that the sexual imagery is increasingly graphic this branding only serves to reinforce the idea of women as sex objects, under the guise of empowerment. When all of our beauty products carry such sexually charged names, it becomes easier to objectify us. And if a 19 year old girl is naming her products ‘Virginity’ (a touchy subject in feminist discourse anyway) or ‘Barely Legal’ (which she is), we are far past that line in the sand.

From a less psychological or societal angle, it simply feels overdone. The shock factor that once accompanied these names is gone; we’re immune now, and this tired tactic feels like a lazy fallback for companies looking to garner publicity. It’s also interesting that while drugstore brands stick to softer allusions (‘Purely Nude’ or ‘Inti-matte Nudes’ were the most hardcore expressions I could find at Maybelline), it’s the higher-end brands that parade the most explicit names. Are they going further in a search for media coverage to generate sales, or to try and justify their price points?

Regardless of why they’re doing it, sex is no longer the USP they’re looking for. It’s worn out, and the more graphic the names become, the less comfortable I really feel buying and talking about them. What’s really wrong with names that don’t scream sex? I’m more drawn to fun, creative, or unique branding such as that of the Too Faced dessert and chocolate-based palettes, or the Nyx Soft Matte Lip Creams, named after cities of the world. Even a slightly cheesy pun, such as Maybelline’s ‘Pinking of You’, are far more fun and classy than yet another exhausted innuendo or graphic reference.

In short, I just want to see some more creativity in the market, and I don’t want any more reinforcement of the sexualisation and objectification of women, especially in a market primarily targeting us.



Published

15th April 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

15th April 2017 at 1:10 pm



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