There has been a big brouhaha in the past couple of weeks over Skechers marketing Shape Ups to young girls. In response to a petition being circulated through change.org calling on Skechers to discontinue marketing these shoes to children, the president of the company defended the shoes as a way for young girls to get healthy, much akin to first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Do you think that’s an accurate representation of how the shoes are being marketed? Let’s do a little deconstruction exercise and see what we think.
This is a great activity to do with your children when there is a controversy that is related to a product aimed at them, if the two of you are in disagreement over the value of a product, show, etc., or just to get them looking at media a little more critically.
Let’s look at this commercial for the shoes and ask a few questions:
- What words do we hear? What are the people in the ads, the songs, and the words on the screen saying? Jot down the words and put a check by them if you hear them more than one time.
- What are we seeing? What visual images are being used to sell the product? What activities are the people/cartoons/animals on screen doing?
- What is the theme of the advertisements for Skechers Shape-Ups? What is the overall message that a child would walk away with? Come up with one sentence that starts with “If I buy _____________, then I will ______________”
This deconstruction activity is useful when you’re feeling unsure of how you feel about a product, show and so forth. When I did this with the Skechers Shape Ups ads with my own children, this was what we discovered:
- What we heard were the words “look good” and “have fun”. The ad mentions a girl having “height and bounce,” but there’s no real application in the sense of physical fitness. The words on the screen at the end say, “stay fit, have fun” but that’s the only reference that we noticed to fitness. We viewed this advertisement several times as we were doing this activity.
- What we saw were images of girls singing on a stage, not moving much. All of the girls jump at one point, and the main character walks. There isn’t a lot of action, playing sports, running, and so forth. The girls in the commercials are not dressed for sports activities or even for active play. They’re wearing short skirts and skinny jeans.
- I asked my 11-year-old what the main message she got from the ad was. She said, “If I buy Skechers Shape-Ups, then I will be popular.” I hadn’t really thought of that word, so I asked her to clarify. She went on to say, “After all, people are following her around and watching her at a concert.” So, in her mind, and she is the target audience for these shoes, Skechers Shape Ups are about making you more popular. How would they do that? She said, “They don’t say anything about the Shape Ups part, really. Are they supposed to make you taller?” But if you’ve watched Shape Ups commercials aimed at women, you’ll know that they’re supposed to make you look better by firming your legs and behind. I showed her a few of the Kim Kardashian television ads, and she said, “Eww, so they’re saying if you wear these shoes your bum will look better and then everyone will like you? That’s a disgusting message to send to kids!” So if a girl gets the popularity message and understands exactly what Shape Ups are designed for, then the message is: Get firmer legs and bum and you’ll be more popular. Personally, that is NOT a message that I’m happy about having aimed at my daughters! How about you?
So, are Skechers Shape-Ups saying to kids, “Get moving, and get active “or are they saying,” If you wear these shoes then you will have a firm behind and everyone will like you?” Using this type of deconstructing exercise can be really helpful for understanding the messages that your children are getting from media and for helping children understand those messages themselves. Rather than just singing along with the up-beat song, they’ll start evaluating the message that the company is sending. Deconstructing media messages allows children and adults alike to become more savvy consumers, and puts the power back in your hands, where it belongs.
Try this activity with some other advertisements that are aimed at the children and adolescents that you know. It’s a fun way to empower everyone to be critical media consumers and to open up some conversations between you and the kids in your life about media messages.