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Lakmé Ladies: Modern Advertising Women in India

Suzanne Schwartz had a Fulbright Scholarship to study advertising in India during 2008/2009.  Her ethnography of the advertising agency women who produce the campaigns for India’s leading cosmetics line, Lakmé, is now available for reading in the current issue of Advertising & Society Review.  This issue, which also contains my updated writeup on Cover Girl makeup, will be available to the public for only three months before going behind a screen where it is only available to university libraries.

The story is also very much reminiscent of several I told about Helen Resor’s group at JWT in Fresh Lipstick, as well as Jennifer Scanlon’s account of the backstory of the Ladies’ Home Journal in Inarticulate Longings, as well as Jean Grow and Joyce Wolburg’s retelling of the Nike Women’s campaign of the 1990s. Collectively, these works are beginning to constitute a critical mass challenging the conventional view–now long outdated, but still compelling in ordinary discourse–of advertising as something that is always utterly a men’s game, always unavoidably aimed at subordinating women.  Schwartz’ work also dovetails quite nicely with the argument made by the Modern Girl Around the World research group, who tell us that the grooming practices of the “Modern Girl” are a global phenomenon that have tended to be associated, in actual practice, with changing roles for women, not retrograde thinking.

Schwartz herself is now an MBA candidate at Brandeis, studying international business and corporate social responsibility.  I strongly recommend Schwartz’ piece to anyone who is interested in the evolution of gender norms in India, in the ethos of the working women there, in the history of advertising, or in the continuing story of cosmetics practice around the world.

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