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Once Upon a Time: Strong, Successful Women in TV Ads

The other day my friend Erika reminded me of an old shampoo commercial featuring Cindy Crawford. She was portrayed as a successful businesswoman who is applauded by her staff for a presentation. I searched for it on YouTube and discovered a treasure trove of beauty commercials from the early 1990s that show confident, strong women in professional settings. The underlying message was that the beauty product – be it shampoo, mascara, or foundation cream – helped them reach peak performance.

These images are virtually absent from ads of the 21st century. See for yourselves:

Early 1990s

L’Oreal Elseve shampoo – starring Cindy Crawford (in French):

Moisturizing cream by L’Oreal:


I move with the times. With progress. I expect high performance.

L’Oreal Elseve shampoo – starring Monica Bellucci:

Duo Shampoo – starring Claudia Schiffer (in French):


Pantene commercial:

L’Oreal shampoo – starring Jennifer Lopez:

L’Oreal shampoo – starring British singer Cheryl Cole:

It’s as if, like Susan Faludi said in “Backlash,” every time women make advancements, culture fights back in order to maintain the status quo. For every huge leap forward, there are two steps back. Naomi Wolf reached the same conclusion in “The Beauty Myth,” making a link between a renewed emphasis on women’s looks at a time when the number of female workers had a stratospheric rise.

Wolf wrote,

The percentage of women in the United States with jobs rose from 31.8 percent after World War II to 53.4 percent in 1984. In Sweden, 77 percent of women hold jobs, as do 55 percent of French women. […] And the higher women climbed during this period up the rungs of professional hierarchies, the harder the beauty myth has worked to undermine each step. There has never been such a potentially destabilizing immigrant group asking for a fair chance to compete for access to power.

What do you think?

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