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9 Ways Busy Parents Can Reignite A Creative Practice

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“Me time” is a well-intentioned catch phrase that conjures in my mind a harried young mother whose weekly highlight is dishing with her parent crew at Chick-Fil-A while their kids run circles around the joint. I am not that parent, yet the sentiment behind the phrase persists in my life.


There’s nothing more infuriating than someone reminding me to “take time for myself.” I assume it means I look like I’m about to lose a grip on my life – that my bangs are sticking up and there’s grape jelly smeared on my jeans and my left eye is twitching. In other words: I look like my kids are kicking my ass and I’ve neglected my own needs.

While that may be an accurate summary of my appearance from time to time, it’s rarely because my kids have me stretched too thin and I’m in dire need of a champagne bubble bath with control + alt + delete potency. More likely, I’ve been entrenched in an intensely productive creative phase and have managed to emerge triumphant, albeit unshowered, despite the five-year-old who is learning to make his own sandwiches and the six-year-old who has been practicing braiding on my hair while I type at my computer.

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Whether you miss your former, pre-kids creative self or you’re ready to retool your schedule to make room for a creative process, the following steps will help you make the most of your time and energy without sacrificing sanity or family.

1 | Ignite yourself first

Identify activities or patterns of engaging with the world that ignite your inner creative energy. These may or may not be directly linked to your particular medium. For example, contemporary art, live music, walking in the woods, eavesdropping on my kids’ conversations in their bunk beds, and late nights out with interesting people stoke my creative writing fire.

Ask yourself: what makes you feel most alive? Cobble up a list, and then work those things into your life. Harness the energy they produce and ride whatever waves they give rise to.

Meanwhile, cut activities that drain you. For example, I cut meaningless playdates with kids who have helicopter parents. Two hours of small talk with these parents was an excruciating waste of time.

I also decided that I don’t believe in living a life whose weekend hours are dictated by a five-year-old’s social schedule. So they were cut.

Outcome: more time for other, more valuable activities for the whole family. This summer, we spent our weekends exploring new swimming holes, catching crawdads with our bare hands, and listening to nature’s music. Consequently, I was able to do something that energizes me creatively and share higher quality time with my kids, who, frankly, will have plenty of social opportunities in the years to come.

2 | Be already ready already

There’s a 90s Tropical Freeze commercial in which two women are sun-bathing poolside while a third woman goes to the kitchen to make frozen daiquiris. Frazzled, the hostess chops fruit wildly and stuffs ice into a blender while her friends grow impatient. Cut to a bag o’ daiquiri poured smoothly into a glass and the tagline voice over, “Tropical Freeze: it’s already ready already.”

Make this slogan your own. Ensure that the moment you have an hour at your disposal, or the minute inspiration strikes, all you have to do is show up to your workstation and execute your idea. If you have to clean, organize, locate tools, or think about where to begin each time you sit down, you won’t get anything done. If you paint, keep your workspace set up and your brushes ready to go. If you write music or short stories, keep an index card handy that lists projects in progress and ideas to explore. If you write and don’t know where to begin, keep your pens and paper near your laptop along with a few writing prompts close by.

3 | Show up during quiet time

Yes, you could watch the new episode of “Scandal” after your kids go to sleep and no one would be the wiser. You could also match socks or replace the filter on the furnace or look for a new job or balance your checkbook or…well, the list goes on as always.

You deserve all manner of indulgences, and at some point, the socks will need to be matched. But I promise you that choosing instead to write or paint or draw or strum your guitar – however you choose to direct your creative energy – will pay dividends in a way that empty tasks and television simply can’t.

No sugar coating here: creative work won’t make itself. You must work at it and work at it often. Take yourself seriously. If you don’t, who will? Try cutting your unwind-time routines or busy work in half and replacing what’s left over with creative work.

4 | Leave the house

Whether it’s for an hour or a weekend, regularly claim some space outside of the home. A change of scenery invites a shift in thought processes and perspective, making it a great way to get creativity flowing. It also cuts down on distractions, guilt, and anything else related to home that might stand in the way of your burgeoning process.

Claiming space can be as simple as bringing a notebook to a café or doing sketches in an urban area.

A favorite generative activity of mine is sitting alone in a restaurant with a pen and notebook. I listen for the most interesting conversation within earshot, then write down what I hear. Absent conversations, I might sketch a character from a man sitting at the bar. I might sketch a woman’s tattoo, then guess at what her life might be like.  Often, I’ll read a supposedly complete essay over coffee at a new café and I’ll find it’s not quite right, or that it needs a slight reshaping.

5 | Find direction

So you’ve got all this creative energy, you’ve prepped your tools and workspace, and you’re ready to commit some time to developing a true practice. Now you’ll need direction.

At first, allow yourself to spend some time spinning your wheels and noticing your work habits, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and cycles. Writers can try working from prompts. Makers of all kinds can keep a visual or written record of observations or creative sparks, then look for patterns that can be developed further. Use of collage or found parts can help reveal connective tissues between disparate subjects.

The point is to first capture what grabs you, then allow it to grab you back. Once you get through this initial experimentation phase, identify a project for yourself that will take you a while to complete – say, three or four weeks. An actual commitment that will require you to optimize your time management and incorporate additional tips in this list.

This timeline is great because achievement is key. If you can’t push a creative practice into the end zone of completion, you risk feeling defeated and abandoning your work. So challenge yourself, but be realistic. Even if you don’t love the outcome, completion can establish the foundation of a life-long practice.

6 | Capture creativity on the go

Once you’ve got a project in mind, you’ll want to nurture it. But creativity, much as we might like it to be so, is not easily domesticated. It’s more like a feral cat you’ll start feeding and eventually grow used to, but that won’t stop it from revealing its wild nature from time to time.

This is to say, sometimes you’ll have epiphanies at inappropriate times and places. You’ll tell yourself you’ll remember them later, but trust me when I say you will not. Therefore, you’ll need coping strategies. I write notes to myself on my phone when I’m out and about. Over the years, I’ve learned that barebones notes often don’t make sense later, so I try to label or categorize them by topic or project. I also capture inspiring images or artwork on my phone and email those to myself.

I’ve learned I have three risk activities, or situations in which I’m both more likely to have a good idea and more likely to forget it if I don’t immediately preserve it. These situations are taking a shower, falling asleep, and driving. None of which are conducive to writing. These are times when my brain and body are most relaxed and open, which invites the mind to expand into areas it doesn’t occupy when, say, talking on the phone or working.

So I do what any logical person would do: I get out of the shower mid-shampoo to write down the fleeting thought; I scribble in the dark on a notebook I keep on my nightstand; and I speak my thoughts into an app I can access without risking my life on the road.

7 | Creative time for all

Make your creative practice a family thing. I keep several small plastic tubs filled with creative project materials for my kids and get them out when I need to write and solitude isn’t possible. (Examples: marshmallows and toothpicks for making sculptures.)

To encourage this separate-but-together-time’s success, give each person their own “space” to do their work. (And don’t call it work. Call it “maker time” or “creation time,” or something that sounds more fun than work.) Set a timer for a length of time your child can handle developmentally. When the timer goes off, invite each person to share or present their work.

This communal creative time allows you to develop your work, familiarizes your child with his or her own creative process, emphasizes completion, and encourages positive family bonding around the arts. It will also instill in them respect for creative time and space, especially if they can glimpse the final product during “share time.”

8 | Control screen time

Usually this parenting advice is offered with regard to children. But let’s be honest: the same rules apply to adults. You know the drill. Sign out of Facebook, turn off your phone. Remove any and all sources of distraction.

9 | Seek support

Keeping the momentum going once you’ve started is crucial. Just like with diets, accountability yields success. But how does accountability translate in a creative practice?

An Instagram feed documenting process and progress works for some, especially visual artists. For others, sharing work with peers in a workshop, critique, or discussion setting drives them on. For writers, even getting feedback and support from a single reader is enough. For still others, publication, presentation, and recognition provide the support and accolades needed to continue.

Find ways to hold yourself accountable to your process and projects outside of yourself. Whatever motivates you and helps push you to the next level, incorporate it into your process.

You may end up carving yourself a new career.

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

This article is sponsored by Laurel Road. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary. Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"When Jill said she wanted to carry a baby for me, I was in shock," Whitney told Today. "I'm not a crier, but I was really emotional."

Through IVF she carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill told Today. "She's my best friend and I know she would have done the same for me. I really didn't put much thought into becoming a surrogate at all. It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

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Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

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Do you feel guilty when you don't want to play with your kid? I do.

Do you give in and play with them anyway, all the while checking your phone and wondering exactly how long you have to pretend to be a dinosaur? Or do you say "no" to play time and endure the inevitable whining, coupled with mom-guilt that ensues?

Neither of these options is particularly tempting.

So what's a mom, with a fully developed intellect and adult interests and subsequent lack of interest in playing with toys for 10 to 12 hours a day, to do?

Here are six phrases to try next time your kid wants to play and you need a break.

1. "I will be cleaning the kitchen. You're welcome to join me."

This is my personal favorite and one I use daily. The next time you need to get something done and your child is clinging to you, offer an invitation instead of a dismissal.

Try asking your child to join you instead of saying, "go play." The beauty of this phrase is that it gives your child a choice—they can either be with you and help with what you are doing, or they can go play independently.

Often my toddler will join me for a while and then drift off to play on his own.

2. "I'm not available to play dinosaurs right now. Would you like to read with me?"

While sometimes we simply need to get something done, other times we just honestly do not want to play whatever our child is asking us to. And that is okay.

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There are only so many hours in the day that you can reasonably be expected to play dinosaurs or princesses. If you are available to spend time with your child, but find yourself cringing at the idea of one more game of superheroes, offer an alternate activity.

It's important for children to get the chance to choose the activity sometimes, but it doesn't have to be all of the time. Offer one or two activities that you would genuinely enjoy doing with your child and give them the choice of whether to join you.

3. "I'm going to read for 20 minutes and then I will be able to play Legos with you."

Let your child see your interests too. You don't have to cram your own life and hobbies into nap time and after bed. It's okay, and even valuable, to let them see that you are a whole person with your interests.

Tell them that you want to read or garden or workout for 20 minutes. Invite them to sit nearby, or to play on their own. It helps to start with a very manageable amount of time, like 15 or 20 minutes, and stretch it as your child's ability to play on their own grows.

Your child may sit and whine for the entire 20 minutes. While this can be annoying, it is best not to respond in anger. Try to acknowledge their feelings, but don't give in to their demands. You might say, "I see that you're having a hard time waiting for my attention. Reading is important to me. I'm going to read for 15 more minutes, and then I would love to play with you."

If you do this consistently, your child will get used to the idea that you have needs and interests too.

4. "I don't want to play right now, but I would love to sit and watch you."

Be honest with your child. It's okay if you want to be with them, but don't feel like actively playing. This can be an excellent way to observe how your child plays when left to their own devices. It is also a way for them to share their favorite games with you, without you feeling forced to play something you don't enjoy. Children can tell when we're not having fun, even if we try to fake it.

5. "I would love to play for a few minutes. Then I will need to fold the laundry."

Sometimes children need help getting started. It often works well to play with them for 10 or 15 minutes and then back away to do something else nearby. This allows your child to play independently while also saving your sanity.

6. "Sure, I'll play! You choose the game today, and I'll choose tomorrow."

While we naturally do not share all of our young children's interests, it is important for children to get to choose what we do together some of the time. Create a system where your child chooses sometimes, and you choose other times. Once your child is confident that they will get to decide what you play together sometimes, they will likely let go of the need to always demand that you play certain games.

Bottom line:

The beauty of learning to say "no" to your child's requests to play is that you will enjoy the time you do spend playing together. No one has fun when they feel like they're being forced to do something, even if it's by a 4-year-old.

And the thing is, they can tell. Children know when we want to be there and when we're just phoning it in—we're not fooling anyone.

When I force myself to play, I imagine my toddler feels sort of how I feel when I drag my husband to the farmers market. Yes, we're doing what I wanted to do, but I can tell he's not into it and that kind of takes all the fun out of the experience.

Once you feel the freedom to decide whether or not you want to play, you can choose the times when you do feel like being silly, playing pretend or merely dropping everything to build the tallest tower ever in the whole full world.

And your child? They will know the difference. Their little heart will be so full of playing with you when you want to be there. That's what will stick with them, not all of the times you said no.

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Learn + Play

Sleep is one of the most talked about and debated topics out there for parents. It is almost as if how good our babies sleep is some sort of weird competition between exhausted parents.

We think that if our baby is sleeping well or "through the night" then we must be winning in the parenting department, yet if they are waking up more often then we feel ashamed and somehow open ourselves up to opinions from our friends, parents, neighbors and the lady at the grocery store with ways to help them sleep better. It is frustrating and disheartening at times.

The competition creates a divide between us instead of allowing us to support each other through this rollercoaster ride of parenting. "Hey mama, sounds like your baby needs some extra cuddles through the night, so how about I come and bring you coffee in the morning?" is what we need to be saying versus the sad puppy eyes look while saying, "Aww, that is too bad, have you ever thought of sleep training?"

"How do they sleep?" seems to be the perfect ice breaker question when meeting a new parent. As a mom of three, I've been asked this question a lot. As a sleep consultant, I've been asked this question even more!

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My response is always the same, "My baby sleeps like a baby." I have come to realize over the last five years of working as a sleep consultant that it has less to do with how our baby actually sleeps and more to do with our expectations on sleep. There could be two babies that sleep exactly the same and one family claims their baby is a "bad" sleeper while the other states that their baby is a "good" sleeper.

This has changed how I have parented because I now know that it is more about how I feel versus reaching a goal of perfect sleep. What does "perfect sleep" even mean? Is there an actual definition? No. It is all about reaching your own individual goals no matter what they might be.

My youngest baby is 18 months old now and I would say that she is a pretty good sleeper. I would say this both from a parenting perspective and from a sleep consultant perspective but I want to share with you how we achieved this outcome through breaking all of the sleep "rules."

We co-slept at the beginning. I say at the beginning because it ended up not working well for us but not because I didn't want it to or because I thought it was bad. The first few months were wonderful and it helped me establish a positive breastfeeding experience and helped us all get more sleep at the time. I followed her cues and still to this day she isn't much for cuddling and so maybe it was just her personality that made her do better beside me in her own bassinet.

I often nursed her to sleep. With my first two babies, I was always so nervous about starting any "bad" habits until I finally understood that there is no one way to put your baby to sleep that is right or wrong. Everything works differently for different babies. I could nurse her to sleep and we, as a family, felt that there was no disruption in our sleep that was out of the ordinary. As she got older, we found different ways to help her fall asleep so that dad could be involved too.

I fed my baby when she woke at night. When she would wake up throughout the night I never thought of her as being spoiled, trying to manipulate me or that she was a bad sleeper. I simply thought that she was hungry. When she woke up at night, I went in and fed her and then we both went back to sleep happy.

I didn't try any type of "cry it out." In fact, I never could handle much crying right from the start. If she was crying then I would be crying so we found different ways to work on new sleep cues. My favorite way was having dad go in and rock her. This helped us eventually move away from the nursing to sleep so that we could gently work on consolidating some night sleep so I could have a little freedom (I was needing it after baby #3!).

My favorite thing to tell families is "sleep is only a problem if it is a problem." What I mean by this is that you are the only one who can determine if what you are doing is working for your family or not.

We all have parental instincts for a reason and need to trust them. If you feel rested, happy and overall like everything is going just fine, then it is. Even if this means you are breaking every sleep "rule" in the book. It took me some time to practice what I preach and when I did it felt like such a relief.

Finally, I could just do what felt right and in the end, everything worked out just fine. My baby sleeps well. Does she wake up sometimes at night? Yes, because she is human. Not every night is perfect but it is balanced which is exactly what it should be.

All of you mamas and papas out there with little babies who feel like this exhausting period of time is never going to pass. It will, and you will long for it back. Soak in the moments and do what feels best. You've got this.

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Life

Advertisements are meant to sell us things, but they also sell us ideas. When we were growing up in the 1990s the commercials on TV weren't just selling us toys and junk food, they sold us stereotypes, too. Boys and men were depicted as more aggressive, professional and important than girls, while girls and women were often depicted as caregivers or simply sexual objects.

Back then, we were just kids who couldn't always think critically about the messages we were taking in, but now we millennials are the parents, the providers and the purchasers. And we are letting advertisers know that if they want us to buy things, they have to serve up ideas that we can buy into.

A survey by market research company Kantar found 76% of women and 71% of men believe the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch. We're grown-ups now and this isn't just about stereotypes in children's advertising (many parents are very conscious about reducing screen time and advertising exposure), but also reflections of our own realities.

Today's dads don't see themselves as bumbling caregivers but as competent parents, and mothers see themselves as complex people with a ton of purchasing power who are deserving of speaking parts, authority and respect, even in a 30-second commercial.

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It's 2019. Moms are buying everything, dads are buying diapers and we're raising our kids to reject stereotypes and accept themselves. Corporations that want to sell to millennial families have got to buy in to that, and the good news is, many are.

Building brands by tearing down stereotypes

This month the CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope, took the stage at the world's largest conference on gender equality, Women Deliver, and committed 100% of the ad spend for Unilever's Dove Men+Care line to media representations of dads in caring roles, or what Molly Kennedy, Brand Manager for Dove Men+Care, called "positive dadvertising."

Dove Men+Care's commitment to positive representation of men as caregivers comes as the company is strengthening its parental leave policies and encouraging dads (both those who work for Unilever and those who don't) to actually take any parental leave that is available to them.

The idea is that dads may be more likely to take leave if they see positive role modeling in media, which will help moms, too, because research suggests that taking paternity leave results in fathers doing more unpaid care work as their kids grow. And dads are certainly seeing more caring reflections of fatherhood in advertising, and not just from Dove Men+Care.

Changing diapers and the narrative 

Budweiser just launched an ad showing step-fathers surprising their children with adoption papers, and brands like Gillette and Pampers (owned by Unilever competitor Procter & Gamble) have received a lot of attention for the way their ads are questioning traditional ideas about masculinity and fatherhood. Gillette's stand against toxic masculinity was a viral sensation and Pampers' spokesdad John Legend is now part of a corporate campaign to get change tables into more mens' restrooms.

Donte Palmer—the father whose grassroots viral campaign, #squatforchange inspired Pampers' campaign—says he's pleased to see all this positive dadvertising, telling Motherly, "it means a lot, it's just changing the narrative."

He continues: "To have fathers like John Legend, who has a powerful name in his industry and a huge following, showing the world that we as fathers are the caretakers for our babies means a lot. It shows the 'average Joe' father that he can go to his 9 to 5 job and still come home and take care of his children."

Dr. Michael Kehler, a professor of Masculinities Studies at the University of Calgary says he applauds these companies like Gillette, Pampers and Dove Men+Care for challenging gender roles in their advertising, as "the long-held views of masculinity that have kept men out of caring roles has been intentional and maintained by advertising agencies."

He hopes big brands will consult with masculinities scholars for deeper insight and direction as they craft a new narrative in the media.

"More diverse portrayals, richer and complicated images of masculinity can't help but dislodge privileged white masculinity from its perch," he tells Motherly. "The disruption of these images and the re-writing of a narrative of complex masculinities, less linear, less simplistic, less predictable can similarly be a powerful invitation to rethink masculinities in the future."

According to Kehler, it is incumbent on companies to show a whole spectrum of ways of being a man, but "whether or not the portrayal of adverts reflecting men in caring roles has the desired effect of men taking up unpaid work is yet to be seen."

Walking the walk

What we have seen over the course of the last 15 years is that when big brands make big changes there can be lasting culture change.

Under dim lights in a fifth and sixth-grade classroom, 22 boys and girls are watching a short video that shows all the-behind-scenes magic that goes into making an Instagrammable selfie. When the video ends the facilitator invites questions. A student raises his hand and asks, "Does everyone really do this?"

This incredulous tween and classmates are learning about self-esteem and body confidence in their school in Vancouver, Canada, but similar presentations have taken place in more than 140 countries, because the Dove Self-Esteem Project is now the largest provider of self-esteem and body confidence education in the world.

Dove's been doing this work since before the kids in that Vancouver classroom were even born, since its Campaign for Real Beauty launched in the early 2000s and became a controversial turning point in the way women's bodies are presented in advertising. That campaign is often credited with creating a blueprint for modern advertising that includes more authentic and diverse body types and has brought us to a place where we're seeing real stretch marks and postpartum bellies on underwear models.

"Dove definitely changed the conversation," says Andrea Benoit, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and author of a new book on corporate philanthropy.

"There is no question that Dove opened up a space for other brands to start dipping their toes in that conversation without feeling like they were treading in uncertain or dangerous territory. Now it seems like if you're a brand you can't not be inclusive and accepting of diverse bodies," Benoit tells Motherly.

According to Benoit, the continued existence and expansion of the Dove Self-Esteem Project shows that brands can use their resources for good, but she is uncomfortable with how society and governments have downloaded this kind of social responsibility onto brands like Dove to the point that corporations are providing classroom resources and presentations in schools and through non-profit organizations.

It probably shouldn't be up to a soap company to teach self-esteem, but, at least someone is doing it. Just this month UNICEF announced a 3-year partnership with the Dove Self-Esteem Project aimed at helping girls between 10 and 18 in Brazil, India and Indonesia.

"This is a partnership that we really think can help change how girls view themselves and how the world views girls," UNICEF's Executive Director Henrietta Fore said at the Women Deliver conference. While UNICEF explicitly states that it doesn't endorse any brand, the deal with Dove does suggest UNICEF views the company as a worthy philanthropic partner.

Changing the way we see ourselves

When we were kids the commercials playing on Saturday morning taught us that gender roles are confining, that boys are loud and girls are quiet. But now, you might turn on TV and see a dad changing a diaper, or flip to Cartoon Network and catch spots Dove produced with the popular kids' show Steven Universe, which reinforce body confidence, gender equality and self-esteem rather than stereotypes.

Brands have a lot of power these days (some would argue too much power) to shape how we see ourselves, but we have more power than ever to make informed choices about the brands we support and the power to hold companies to account for their actions. According to Benoit, it's not clear what came first: Inclusive advertising or this generation's desire for it. But what is clear is that it is here to stay and that consumers now demand it. We expect companies to not only make good ads but do good in the world, too.

We are demanding to be seen in a way we couldn't as kids. We're no longer passive children absorbing messages from the television, we are participants in an exchange—both a financial transaction and a conversation about the future of society. Having a good product isn't enough anymore. Brands have got to have a message and a purpose worth buying.


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