Tide and the Millennial Man
By Nathan Hickling--It may not seem like Tide—yes, Tide, the laundry detergent—has had that much of an impact on the millennial man’s body image, but believe me when I say it has.
When Tide’s commercial “The Princess Dress” first came out, I was ecstatic. Here was a guy, who seemed to represent the average dad, doing the laundry for his daughter, allowing her to get dirty in a princess dress and then dress up in a cowboy costume. He wasn’t grilling a steak in the backyard, or fixing a car; he was doing laundry. I thought to myself, "Wow! Do other men do these things, too?"
The fact of the matter is that we men as media consumers have it pretty easy; we’re in positions of power to produce media that portray us in pretty much any light. If you’re unaware, five of every six names referenced in media coverage are men, according to one study published in the American Sociological Review. So why do we keep pushing the myth that there are only certain things men can do? Do sexist media portrayals harm men as well as women?
Of course they do. That’s why the Tide commercial was so important to me. Sure, there were the hateful reactions on YouTube, but the commercial immediately started a conversation about body image and what it means to be masculine. And for someone like me who grew up raising a few eyebrows because of my personal decision to play with both Barbies and Hot Wheels, seeing a dad allow his daughter to play dress up as whoever she wanted made me feel validated. Children look to their parents for many things, which is why it’s so important we present media to parents that send the message that it’s okay to be different.
It’s true that media is powerful, but only because we make it so. The Tide commercial came about at a time when more men were staying home while their spouses went off to work, and couldn’t have appeared even ten years before. Clearly, the good money makers at Tide saw a growing market—stay-at-home dads—and shifted their message.
This is only more indicative of the power that we as media consumers have. We as an audience are sold to advertisers as an investment, and therefore media messages are shaped to what will please us. We can have more Tide dads! We can tell ourselves that it’s okay to be who we are, and advertisers will listen to us. All it takes is for us to stand up to sexist or harmful media portrayals by changing the channel and making sure the producer of the message knows why.
So to the Tide dad, thank you. The next generation, who will be a little more secure in their play habits, thank you as well. And to all of the haters out there, the Tide dad doesn’t need your approval, because he’s cool like that.