From Project Runway's current season: Oh God, the glamping!
During its 12 seasons, Project Runway, Lifetime's reality competition show with fashion designers angling to be "in," has earned its exasperatingly accurate moniker, "Product Runway." Product placement is part of the program, and hearing presenter Tim Gunn attempt to make a product sound relevant to a challenge is part of the spectacle.
Except this season, and oh especially August 22's episode, "Let's Go Glamping!" Glamping—a word that would send Samuel Johnson to the ale vat—is camping but, you know, "glamorous." (Maybe they wanted to scale down the use of "camp" with so many gay male designers around?) But fair enough, and actually a really good concept for a challenge. Except that the sponsor was Resource Water.
Resource Water, for those who till now have been lucky enough not to know, is yet another of the Nestle coven brand of environmentally catastrophic ways to sucker the gullible thirsty out of their cash. It debuted earlier this year with an ad that featured what looked like female members of Cirque du Soleil on an underwater yoga retreat. What really sent eyebrows soaring was that Resource positioned itself as a "premium, high-end" still water for "trendy," affluent women. It's actual, insufferable tagline is "Discover Electrolytenment." Those women can afford and should prefer a top-of-the-line and much more attractive reusable bottle, but Nestle wants women to drink their Kool-Aid instead, and is pushing hard to sell them on the drink-and-discard model.
As if telling women to spend money on what they don't need, for a health that will in fact be compromised, wasn't repellent enough, the chairman of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, made a video stating that the idea of humans having a right to water was "extreme." He continued: "Personally, I believe it's better to give a food stuff a value so that we're all aware it has its price." Rousing words from a man who's never had to walk seven miles to pump water into a pail just to survive the day.
It's not news that bottled water, sold in all the parts of the world where wonderfully drinkable water flows from any given tap, is the greatest marketing hoax since Dr. Isaac Baker-Brown determined that a clitoridectomy would cure hysteria. Annie Leonard's video, The Story of Bottled Water, clearly explains why bottled water is not only unnecessary, it's wreaking economic and environmental havoc.
But that doesn't stop people from pouring money into corporations' pockets, rather than turning on taps or demanding more water fountains. With the emphasis on "health" bottled water especially targets women. As brain-bendingly nonsensical and offensive as Bic's Pen for Her is, at least you do need pens. Telling women that bottled water is better for them is the exact opposite of healthy, both in the immediate for their bodies—plastic leeches into the system—and in the long-term, because that plastic is poisoning the ocean apace.
But Nestle has never cared who it poisons and trusts that its products are so ubiquitous, and the people who rail against it are just hemp-wearing, granola-mainlining maniacs, that the profits will keep cascading in. So much so that they can afford to sponsor a season of Project Runway, with its enormous female fan base, all for the pleasure of seeing the contestants repeatedly slug down its product. One of this year's prizes is a "year's supply" of Resource Water—most people would probably be far more grateful to have their water bills paid for one year.
That not being enough, there was the glamping. When the contestants arrived at their wilderness grotto, replete with fairy lights, they were greeted by Tim Gunn, with Seona Skwara, Resource's "Head of Activation." (presumably Nestle hosted an "invent the job title" contest) She presented the standard patter: It's a "100% natural spring water" (which likely means it was tapped from a poor community's groundwater). Then the message turned inspirational: Resource believes in a "sense of discovery," which it insists nature encourages.
No one should be surprised that Nestle would spout hypocrisy—this is the company that famously pushed formula over breast milk in poor countries. But folding in this idea of "discovery" and "nature" hides the reality of how Nestle products damage nature and bilk consumers. It is blatant greenwashing, the sort of advertising lie even Don Draper at his most cynical wouldn't stoop to. It's corporate sexism. Advertising has always told women they aren't good enough just as they are, preying on the insecurities it builds in them in the first place. Asking women to spend their hard-earned money on what they can, and should, really, really should, get for free is an insult to all the people who fought for access to clean and safe water in the first place. Never mind a calorie-free drink, it's really nifty to be cholera-free.
We can laugh at Nestle's ad and its chairman—Stephen Colbert did—and it's too late to ask Project Runway to abandon them now. But it's important to recognize that sexism in advertising isn't just about the image, it's about the product. And we can tell Nestle to insert its "high-end" water up its own end – we're going to do what's right for our bodies internally and externally, and turn on the tap.
Sarah-Jane Stratford is a freelance writer and author of two historical fiction vampire novels. You can follow her on Twitter!