GET LUCKY by Katherine Center
By SMW Staff
Later, it would occur to me to wonder if advertising in general was screwing over the entire world or if my firm in particular was screwing over just me. I certainly wasn’t paid enough. Or recognized enough. Or appreciated. But questions like that are a long time in the making. First, I had to have a little thing we might call a breakdown. Or an epiphany. Neither of which was my intention.
Here’s what happened, to the best of my recollection: The night before our big final presentation, my sister happened to send me an email link with the subject line “Boob-a-palooza!” Because I was too wired about the next day to go to bed, I clicked on it. And there, I found miles and miles of mug shots of anonymous breasts belonging to real women. No faces, no bodies, just breasts. Breasts au naturel. Breasts in the wild. Breasts as Mother Nature intended.
My sister just thought it was funny. But I had a different reaction: I could not stop scrolling through. I’d seen a lot of breasts on TV and in movies and on magazine covers in my life. Who hasn’t? But I’d never seen anything like these real things. The variety was spellbinding. High ones, low ones, flat ones, full ones. Close together, far apart. Lopsided. Droopy. Walleyed. Googly-eyed. Water balloons. Bags of sand. Jellyfish. Cactuses. Bananas, prunes, and pickles. And this was the eighteen-to-thirty-two-year-old category. These were boobs in their prime.
Under each photo there was a caption written by the owner of the breasts. And each caption read something like this: “These are my breasts. They’re pretty droopy (or lopsided or small or dimpled or ugly or embarrassing or pickle-shaped). Wish I could fix them.” The comments ranged from vehement hatred to mild distaste, but nobody, absolutely nobody, said: “Here are my boobs. Aren’t they great? I find them delightful, and hallelujah!” Nobody.
I was slated to hit the office at nine the next morning in my stilettos to present the “Boob ‘em!” campaign to everybody who mattered. But instead of getting to bed early, as I’d planned, I stayed up until three in the morning browsing the photos. Something about the realness of the pictures on the site underscored the fakeness of the boobs in our ads. Something about the dignity of the real things made our hyped-up things seem ridiculous. The whole campaign suddenly seemed brash and loud and stupid and just plain rude in a way that I couldn’t ignore. How had I never thought about this before? We were about to put a picture of a woman’s cleavage getting branded on every bus in America, for Pete’s sake.
I thought about all the normal women who had taken off their bras for the cameras. I thought about the bravery of stepping forward with your own imperfections to help others feel better about theirs. And all at once I felt ashamed of being part of the problem. I scanned the site until the images and the words bouncing in my brain became a cacophony of women’s dissatisfaction and despair, building louder and louder to a crescendo that I could not shush. That is, until four a.m., when I clicked Forward on my sister’s email, selected the company-wide distribution list, and hit Send.
I sat back and nodded a little so-there nod.
Then, in the quiet that followed, I realized what I’d done, sat straight up, choked in a little breath of panic, and started looking for a way to unsend that email. Knowing all the while that there wasn’t one. That’s the truth about emails: You can’t take them back.
In effect, I fired myself. Though the guy who actually did the firing—discreetly and several hours after our slam-dunk presentation—was a VP named J.J. who everybody called “Kid Dy-no-mite.” Even though he wasn’t dynamite at all, just another ad guy at Marston & Minx. A guy I’d started with six years earlier. A guy who’d been promoted over me based on work we’d done together. A guy I’d slept with back in the beginning until he called me a workaholic and broke things off. Now he was married to a girl who wore pink Bermuda shorts when she brought him lunches in a picnic basket at the office. But I guess I was even less dy-no-mite than he was, because I wasn’t married to anyone, nobody ever brought me lunches, and now I was out of a job.
J.J. said, “I’m sure you know that email was inappropriate.”
“Was it?” I said.
He gave a short sigh. “People were pretty offended. Yeah.”
We were standing in the now-empty meeting room where our “Boob ‘em!” campaign would later win promotions for seven people on our team. We were surrounded by enormous blowups of bra-clad breasts in every direction. Breasts larger than our bodies, in full color. Valleys of cleavage the size of La-Z-Boys. The “Steer ‘em” ad showed boobs wrapped in barbed wire. “Munch ‘em” showed them resting on a giant sub sandwich. And “Whip ‘em” had a close-up of a whip just before impact.
“J.J.,” I said. “Look around.”
He looked around.
I said, “What does stuff like this do to real women?”
“Real women?” he said, cocking his head. “Real women are overrated.”
Then he gave me a flirty smile, patted me on the shoulder, and told me the case was closed. It was lunchtime. He had a meeting. “Be graceful about it,” he advised as we headed out. “And if you upload your own photo to that site,” he opened the door with one hand and pressed the small of my back with the other, “shoot me an email.” Then he added, “You’d totally win that contest.”
“It’s not a contest,” I said.
“Everything’s a contest,” he told me, and then he walked away.
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