Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How Young Can We Make These Asian Girls? Race in the Evian “Live Young” Print Campaign

They are pictured in brightly colored tights, short pleated skirts and shorts, their hair and makeup styles more likely to be found on tweens and young teenage girls than the women pictured here.

They are females of Asian descent. Their ages are unknown, their clothes look like they belong on younger women, and they are wearing tee-shirts with baby bodies printed on them. One of the three women carries a bottle of water in her purse. The overall image creates a distorted bobble-head effect through which the viewer is meant to equate Asianness with youth. These women are the faces of the new Evian "Live Young" print campaign.

How young do you want us to be?

Ostensibly the purpose of the advertisement is to suggest that consumption of Evian-branded water imbues you with a more youthful appearance or affect. It would seem logical, then, that the ad's models are depicted as younger than they actually are, and this is true.

However, the dual imposition of youthfulness on these Asian models is problematic, especially because the non-Asian models in the same campaign are not subjected to it. They are portrayed in uniform clothing - jeans and the baby shirt - that does not obfuscate their proper ages or create much of a sartorially unique identifier. Only the Asian women are wearing something radically different, and what this distinction serves to do is infantalize the female Asian models in a way that it does not with non-Asian models, despite the fact that they are all being portrayed like babies.

The other explicitly racial markers evident in the campaign is one print of a black man wearing a hoodie in addition to his jeans and baby shirt. Given the recent - and some would say, racist - treatment of Trayvon Martin's hoodie, the presence of this sweatshirt does more to politicize an image of a black man than do much else. There is another featured black man holding a basketball in an image that can only be understood as a reference to black people's supposedly innate athletic ability.

Hoodie on a black man: What does it mean?

Other differences among the models are slight:

People of color are depicted roughly as much as white people in these ads. With the exception of a small white boy, most of the models appear to be young adults, with a few middle-aged folks thrown in as outliers. Some models are wearing glasses. Some have on hats. A variety of hairstyles is represented, even among the black men. One white man has very long hair. In a separate print, an Asian woman is also seen in jeans and the baby shirt.

So why make the three Asian women in question look so different from everybody?

For starters, the only women of color in this print campaign are Asian. They are special, perhaps intended to be read as exotic. The costumey outfits, makeup, and hairstyles accentuate how different they are from the other people in the same campaign.  Unlike the other models, the bright colors these women wear seem to pop from the glaring white background of the print space.

Asian people have historically been subjected to age manipulation and related sexualization.  Women in particular are understood in this way; for example, the Japanese schoolgirl has long been an overtly fetishized figure in modern consciousness.

What this Evian campaign does, then, is validate the stereotype of the ageless Asian woman and use it to promote its own commercial message, one that conflates the Evian brand with youthful appearance.

Evian wants us to know that you too, can look as young as Asian women always seem to. Drink Evian and you can appear - and by extension, be -  as fun and youthful as these Asian girl-women.

If you yourself would like to be infantilized by Evian, the baby shirts are for sale to the general public. You can get a peach or brown baby body, but not anything in between. Each $34 here.

And here you can even insert yourself in the ad campaign's crowdsourced baby shirt music video, dancing to lyrics like "Eat your words / but don’t go hungry / words have always nearly hung me,” whatever that means. This activity is a bit more inclusive, with three color options for the baby you wish to be.

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