Coca Cola's Fairlife Milk Ad Is Being Accused Of Sexism, But How Valid Are The Accusations?

I wear the term "feminist" like a badge of pride. So when somebody tells me that the ad for Coca Cola's new Fairlife Milk, a new "ultra-filtered" milk product, is sexist, I'm prepared to bring down the hammer and arraign the company for its deplorable marketing strategy. The trouble is, after taking a close look, I can't seem to find anything substantial that justifies the media frenzy in opposition to these advertisements.

Of course, I understand the criticism. The women in the ad are effectively nude, wearing only dresses that look like they are made of milk, leaving little to the imagination. Perhaps the ad suggests that the ideal image of beauty is a woman covered in a liquid substance with her mouth slightly agape. Perhaps it does, as some writers argue, call to mind images like this Russian milk ad that have a blatant and degrading sexual connotation. But that's not the vibe I'm getting. The milk is not hitting these women in the face like the woman in the Russian ad. Instead, it's draped over their bodies in an admittedly sensual manner, but not an inherently sexist one.

It seems clear to me that, above anything else, the Fairlife Milk campaign is an ode to the old-fashioned pin-up girls featured in 1940s Coke advertisements. Now whether or not these ads can be considered sexist, they were, and still are, iconic representations of the Coca Cola brand. Aligning Fairlife Milk with these very recognizable images, then, seems like an adept marketing strategy to link this new "innovative ultra-filtered milk" with its big-name owner.

In fact, the ad is actually comprised of photos from a 2013 "Milky Pin-Ups" series by photographer Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz, which pays homage to famous images such as Marilyn Monroe's dress-blowing scene from The Seven Year Itch. If you peruse some of Wieczorkiewicz's other works, he seems to be more inspired by the motion of liquid around the female form than any archaic representation of femininity. His photos feature the likes of female warriors, as well as women playing instruments and smashing guitars.

Still, many argue that Wieczorkiewicz's modern-day pin-up girls fail to accurately represent "real" women, and of course that's true. The women selected for the Fairlife Milk campaign are undoubtedly tall, slender, and suggestive, thereby representing a stereotypical image of beauty that many are working hard to dispel. By that standard, however, these ads are no more sexist than your average Victoria's Secret ad. While both sets of advertisements may pose problems for representations of beauty in the media, I would hesitate to call them sexist.

The only image that I do find fault with in the Coca Cola campaign is the image of the woman standing on a scale, which I'm assuming was intended to imply that milk makes you lean, but ends up reinforcing an unhealthy notion of body-consciousness. In addition to the unfortunate message it conveys, this one also seems to border on sexism.

For the most part, however, I don't seem to be reading into this campaign as much as the rest of the media. As an avid Marilyn Monroe fan, I think her influence on this campaign is proof that sex, and sexiness, should be celebrated rather than relegated to the private sphere. I also think that having women clothed in dresses made of milk can be interpreted in multiple ways. On the one hand, we can argue that the images are hyper-sexualized and perhaps degradingly suggestive. On the other, we can argue that milk is a life-giving source of nourishment that fortifies us and gives us strength, so clothing women in the substance may not be that bad after all.

More than anything, however, I think the ad is an homage to a timeless era in the history of the Coca Cola company that many people know and love. Of course, like our modern society, the 1940s was also characterized by stereotypical depictions of female figures, but it's important to distinguish these representations of traditionally "sexy" women from sexism.

The problem with sexism today is that women are still pigeonholed into certain roles or standards of femininity, while the voices of others are marginalized. The fact remains that some women happen to be tall, thin, and enjoy wearing provocative clothing. The problem arises when these are the only representations of women to which we are exposed, or which are met with acceptance in our society. So although I wouldn't argue that Cola Cola's Fairlife Milk campaign is sexist, I firmly believe that it should only be one of the multitudinous representations of women in the media (provided that they crop out that ridiculously unnecessary scale.)

Images: Blitz quotidiano, Rachael/Twitter, National Musuem of American History Smithsonian Institution/Flickr