Beauty Ad Under Fire for ‘Insensitive and Upsetting’ Portrayal of the #PandemicEffect and Grilling Women’s Insecurities While They’re at it

Narratives & Perspectives

The Internet demands brands and advertising agencies to do better when promoting beauty, and to go beyond the age-old message of making people feel bad about their physical appearances. The latest to receive this awakening is Belo Medical Group, which has recently launched a campaign all about the pandemic’s impact on our self-care routines.

In less than 24 hours, Belo Medical Group’s #PandemicEffect initiative has backfired massively, with women raising their voices against the blatant insult to this over-exaggerated picture of how the pandemic has taken a toll on each of our physical appearances. The campaign intended to extend their hand towards women for forgetting to “take care” of themselves, and assuring them that the well-known beauty clinic will be there once they’re ready to prioritize their physical beauty again.

However, it doesn’t come as much as a surprise that its execution, crafted by award-winning ideas agency, and contemporary ad and well, meme masters GIGIL, turned some heads and received some very unhappy reactions due to what many has regarded as “tone-deaf messaging”.

The short ad, which has since been taken down by Belo as of this writing, is straightforward enough: ECQ has just been implemented in Metro Manila, and women are understandably gaining weight, growing out their body hair, and pushing aside their skincare routines. Either for lack of motivation, or just the overall manic energy brought on by this time, but it very clearly paints a picture of neglect on one’s outward beauty–going the lengths of painting the woman in the video as this unrecognizable, almost grotesque version of herself. What’s more, in the end, she was asked, “Ano’ng nangyari?”

Image courtesy of GIGIL

As this is a campaign by one of the Philippine ad agencies that seem to have a strong understanding of Filipino internet culture, visual exaggeration and social media slang are apparent, perhaps with the intention to create, yet again, a meme-worthy and virally funny spot for Filipinos to have fun with. This is expected from the same creatives that gave us the highly-absurdist and now-iconic RC Cola “Family” ad and Danes Cheese “Bacon ‘Yan” campaign, to name a few of their most successful projects to date.

However, although there is truth in the fact that all of our physical appearances have been impacted by the pandemic’s prolonged mental, emotional, and physical toil on all of us, no matter how big or small, the execution is still questionable. Primarily because of the reality that “beauty”, as society dictates it, is just not a priority right now, as we’re all too busy trying to survive this crazy time we’re living in. Although the ad builds on this insight and truth, it’s lost in the way the message was packaged and ultimately delivered. It spoke volumes of how adhering to beauty standards is the only indicator of one “keeping it together”.

At a time when we’re all just barely scraping by, and women are expected to juggle both professional and home life at the same time (let alone at the same space), much has been lost in translation, and Filipino women are understandably offended.

On top of that, society is just beginning to learn to redefine beauty standards these days, without the pressure of external factors playing into how we see ourselves. As such, so-called “problems” like acne, weight, and body hair will no longer be grounds of insult, but accepted for the normalities that they are.

In effect, seeing an ad so openly showcase them as a monstrosity and something to be ashamed of and cure, is a step back in society by several years. For women across the country, it’s an unwarranted reminder that it’s okay to “let yourself go” at home (where no one will see you), but society can’t have you looking like that outside.

Moreover, in truth, if “letting yourself go” means to have acne, gain weight, and grow out one’s body hair, then we still have so much to do to redefine how society looks at a person’s value, and when one is considered to be at their best and worst.

As for the #PandemicEffect campaign, it might have come from a place of understanding that, during this time, we’ve been so busy trying to survive and get by that we’ve neglected the most basic of our priorities, which is ourselves. But, we do agree that packaging it in the cautionary tale of an acne-prone, “fat”, and hairy woman is just a tone-deaf and irresponsible way to promote beauty. And it was not the way to go about it, at all.

In response to the backlash, Belo Medical Group has recently published a formal apology, and has taken down all traces of the ad on social media:

Ultimately, beauty brands, along with the media, are at the forefront of forming how society defines what is beautiful in the world. Because of this, they have a much bigger responsibility to do better, and go beyond the obvious messaging to promote their products and services.

When Rank Magazine editors decided to pick up the story from a seeding from its partner agency, we had our apprehensions with the concept of diluting the discourse of a raging pandemic to something so superficial as taking on such “beautiful measures” to make everything “okay”.

But understanding the core of the ad’s message of “self-care” reminded us of how the pandemic has impacted us in numerous ways—big or small—and that caring for yourself IS, in fact, okay, allowed us to share the brand and the agency’s story and tweak it to highlight that even in its “superficiality”, we chose to look at the ad as a way to recognize how everyone’s struggles and the way we deal and cope with them is valid—even in the most trivial of things as dressing up at home or looking for ways to feel ‘beautiful’ to try to find a sense of normalcy in the uncertainty we are cloaked with.

Yesterday, to add to the agency’s release, we wrote, “While the campaign focuses on beauty and appearances as a point of dialogue on the number of ways the pandemic has made an impact on all of our lives, Belo Medical Group highlights the value of self-care amid these trying times.”

If, in any way, we, as a publication, became a channel that perpetuates diminutive and degrading beauty standards, it is only apt for us too, to apologize, on behalf of all the other publications who have joined in on sharing this campaign.

As we have always stood for, media should stand its ground in shifting age-old perspectives to help shape our evolving cultural consciousness. And if sharing the Belo ad campaign took us two steps back, let it be known that we are doubling our commitment to do better and stand firmer on our objective as a title.

As this issue blows up and blows over, hopefully brands and agencies will take it as a sign that the Filipino audience is fully evolving, and is way past yesteryears’ misogynistic and degrading approaches to promoting skin-deep beauty.