Inject me: Skechers tries on the stereotypes with Christina Aguilera as "naughty and nice" "nurse"
August 2004 -- In the coming months, shoemaker Skechers reportedly plans to run a global ad campaign called "Naughty and Nice," featuring Christina Aguilera, as part of a long term marketing deal with the pop music star. Ms. Aguilera will be featured in three different ads: as a police officer confronting a woman bending over a car, as a schoolteacher confronting a student sitting at her desk, and as a nurse confronting a patient sitting on a hospital bed. In each photo, Aguilera plays both figures, and there is a strong element of sado-masochism, with the authority figures as the dominants. All figures are dressed and posed in sexually suggestive ways, often with exposed bras and/or short shorts. In each case the dominant wields a symbol of her physical authority in a threatening, if goofy, way: the teacher holds a ruler, the cop some handcuffs, and the nurse is about to inject a patient with something that looks like a huge 100 cc metal syringe connected to an 8 gauge needle. The submissives seem to wear expressions of mock alarm. Although the Christinas are apparently all wearing Skechers, on the blackboard behind the teacher someone has written many times: "Skechers Are Not Part of the Uniform." This campaign will reportedly be run in pop culture and teen magazines and placed in retail stores around the world, and it has already received significant coverage in the business and advertising press.
Evidently, someone has a reason to think that auto-erotic and/or sado-masochistic lesbian role-playing fantasies with a touch of petty rebellion sell consumer products. However one might feel about the themes underlying these ads, the nursing image presented here clearly plays into harmful stereotypes that have been a factor in the profession's current crisis. The image of Christina Aguilera (who is, to say the least, closely associated with public sexuality) holding a gleaming silver syringe/vibrator, wearing a sultry look, a nurse's cap with red cross, a white "nurse's" mini-dress that fails to conceal much of her breasts, her red heart-patterned white bra, her near-fully visible garter belt which runs down to her white stockings and white dominatrix boots...well, it's not exactly what we had in mind to attract bright young students, or those seeking a second career, to nursing. This ad simultaneously exploits the "naughty nurse" and the battleaxe/Nurse Ratched stereotypes, setting the nurse up both as an available sex object and a mock-malevolent authority figure, rather than a competent professional. Of course, similar things are being done with teachers and police officers, but those professions are not in the same posture as nursing in terms of gender composition or global shortage, and in any case, they are no doubt able to look out for themselves.
Yes, it's a big tease, but given the role of these stereotypes in fostering a harmful public image of nursing, we strongly object to this ad, which will apparently be distributed widely around the world.
We understand from Skechers public relations department that these print ads will be primarily running in European and Canadian magazines. Skechers refused to reveal their "print list" of magazines where the ads will appear. We will be counting on our international members to alert us if you see these ads in print.
August 17, 2004 -- Skechers pulls Christina Aguilera ad in response to more than 3000 letters from nurses and nursing supporters. Click here for more information.
For reference, this was the letter that many of our 3,000 letter writers sent to Skechers executives: Robert Greenberg, Chairman and CEO; Michael Greenberg, President and Director; Marvin Bernstein, VP, International Sales; George Zelinsky, President, Retail; Jason Greenberg, VP, Visual Imaging and Scott Greenberg, VP, Visual Merchandising.
I am writing to urge you to end Skechers' use of the Christina Aguilera advertisement featuring her as a sadistic "nurse," and to refrain from the use of nurses in your future advertisements. This ad's depiction of a "nurse" that simultaneously exploits the "naughty nurse" and the battleaxe/Nurse Ratched stereotypes, setting the nurse up both as an available sex object and a mock-malevolent authority figure, rather than a competent professional, is damaging to the nursing profession. I realize this commercial is intended as a fantasy, but nursing is not just any profession, but one which is struggling to overcome decades of harmful misconceptions.
Perhaps you are not aware that we are in the midst of a global nursing shortage of previously unseen proportions that is only expected to worsen over the next two decades. The nursing shortage is one of our most urgent public health crises.
Depicting North America's 3 million registered nurses as female sex objects suggests that nursing work consists primarily of satisfying the sexual needs of physicians and/or patients. Such images discourage men and self-respecting, talented women from entering the profession. This adds to the chronic underfunding of nursing research, education and clinical practice since it is seen as a profession which is all about sexual servitude/pleasure/pain instead of education and hard work.
Nursing is a distinct science and an autonomous profession. Registered nurses receive 2-10 years of college-level training, and studies have shown that patients' lives depend directly on the availability and qualifications of the nurses who care for them. For instance, one recent study of nurse short-staffing--a primary cause and effect of the shortage--found that when the patient load of a nurse is doubled from 4 to 8, post-operative mortality increases by 31%. In essence, nurses save and improve lives every day. As patients, the less nursing care we have, the more likely we are to die. The nursing shortage affects us all.
Many who display negative images of nurses doubt that such images can really harm the nursing profession. However, as public health professionals at USC's Hollywood, Health and Society project and elsewhere can tell you, entertainment media do affect how people think and act with regard to health issues. A 2000 JWT Communications study found that US youngsters in grades 2-10 got their most striking impression of nursing from the fictional television show "ER," and consistent with that show's physician-centric messages, the youngsters found nursing to be a technical field "like shop," a job reserved for "girls" and one too lowly for private school students. Nursing is none of these things. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that "ER"'s message is so influential that one-third of their viewers use information from the show to make health care decisions. A key reason that nursing is in its current state--understaffed, underfunded and underempowered--is that the work of nurses is undervalued by the general public and health care decision makers, all of whom are consumers of media and advertising.
In addition to removing the Skechers nurse advertisement, I also encourage you to make amends to the nursing profession by supporting efforts to improve public understanding of the profession in a tangible way. The Center for Nursing Advocacy, which engages in such efforts, would be happy to assist you. We are confident that organizations such as Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow would also be happy to work with you.
Please be part of the solution to the nursing shortage and the improvement of public health. Help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.