Academic Essay

by Cecilia Righini

Feminist New Materialism

This paper, written during the MA in Gender, Media and Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, answers the following question:

According to a feminist new materialist approach, how might the relations between media and bodies be understood? Discuss in relation to one from contemporary culture.

The case study analyses a marketing campaign by the haircare brand Pantene focusing on trans women and gender non-conforming people to promote The Dresscode Project, an initiative aimed to educate hairstylists to approach LGBTQ+ customers.

Introduction

This paper is going to analyse the ways media and bodies interact and how their relation can be understood from a feminist new materialist perspective. To help to make sense of the theories which will be exposed, I will introduce a case study: a marketing campaign by the haircare brand Pantene focusing on trans women and gender non-conforming people to promote The Dresscode Project, an initiative aimed to educate hairstylists to approach LGBTQ+ customers. In the last few years, many beauty brands opted for progressive and liberal advertising campaigns which would ensure them the support of black women, elderly women and other women which not represent the normative standard of beauty – Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty launched in 2004 or Always’ Like a Girl in 2004 to name a few notorious ones. Pantene was not the first campaign celebrating LGBTQ+ culture: in early 2019, Sephora launched the campaign We Belong to Something Beautiful, featuring activists and influencers such as Fatima Jamal and Hunter Schafer doing their make-ups, dancing or kissing. As much as this advert is visually appealing, without any text or the knowledge of who these people are it is difficult to understand that the people in the video are trans or gender non-conforming. This is one of the reasons why Pantene’s advert, which highlights interviews quotes from the cast, is a more suitable alternative for this type of analysis. In fact, an analysis of Pantene’s campaign under a feminist new materialist approach can be useful to make sense of relations between bodies and media. The complexity of this case study provides some interesting insights on different levels: not only will I discuss how women’s bodies are portraited in a specific media platform, but I will focus on transgender and gender non-conforming bodies, bodies that change(d), transform(ed) and, as I will analyse below, are in constant process of becoming. 

Through this example, I will explore some main theories that are central to a feminist new materialist approach, such as how matter needs to be taken into consideration while examining how bodies are constituted (‘Acknowledging the Material’), where bodies stand in relation to their surroundings and environment (‘Bodies and the Environment’) and finally how can the relation between bodies and media be understood through the concept of becoming (‘Becoming though Images’). 

Acknowledging the Material

‘As human beings we inhabit an ineluctably material world. … In light of this massive materiality, how could we be anything other than materialist?’ 

– Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (2010: 1) 

Opening the introduction of New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (2010), Diana Coole and Samantha Frost wonder how materiality could be excluded from the equation in philosophical and sociology studies for such a long time. What they call a poststructuralist ‘allergy to “the real”’ – with no intention of discredit discursive or linguistic research – translated into a neglect of the empirical work that is necessary to investigate material structure and processes. This critic was embraced by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman in their introduction of Material Feminisms: even though postmodernists aimed to reject all dichotomies, they seem to embrace the duality of both language and reality arguing that ‘real/material is entirely constituted by language’ and therefore ‘what we call the real is a product of language and has its reality only in language’ (2008: 2). According to Susan Bordo, ‘[w]hen bodies are made into mere products of social discourse, they remain bodies in name only’ (2003: 35, emphasis in original): the materiality of the body and the fact that everything we experience is embodied are forgotten, the body becomes mere matter which is controlled by the mind. Feminist scholars’ departure from materiality can be understood as the fear of a reinforcement of the male-mind/female-body duality and, as suggested by Frost, they believe that ‘to talk of matter … is to occlude these manifold and historically specific constituents of objects and embodiment, to obscure or even perpetuate the power relations that both make possible and produce facts, things, and subjectivities’ (2011: 75). However, ‘the more feminist theories distance themselves from “nature”, the more that very “nature” is implicitly or explicitly reconfirmed as the treacherous quicksand of misogyny’ (Alaimo and Hekman 2008: 4). 

Therefore, a new wave of feminist materialists spread in Academia over the last two decades, initiating a new methodology for critical analysis. If post-modernists granted too much power to discourse and language (Barad 2003), the attention needs to be brought back to matter and the materiality of the body. As clearly explained by Frost, new materialists ‘consider matter or the body not only as they are formed by the forces of language, culture, and politics but also as they are formative’, suggesting that matter has its own ‘peculiar and distinctive kind of agency’ which is independent of human intentionality (2011: 70). This is the aim of feminist materialists: to shift the critical analysis from a methodology which accounts for a unidirectional agency – human shaping and giving meaning to objects – to one in which all bodies and objects have agency which has a reciprocal effect on each other. New materialists ‘seek … to challenge the very notion that matter is passive and unthinking, to undo the opposition between reason and passions, and to question the distinction between self and world that positions individuals as separate from yet in relation to the contexts of their actions’ (Frost 2011: 72 referring to the work of Wilson 1998 and Brennan 2004). Adopting this short overview of new feminist materialist theory as a lens for the following analysis, I will examine the relation between media and bodies through the case study of the recently published campaign on trans and gender non-conforming people by Pantene. 

In November 2019, Pantene released two videos on YouTube to announce their partnership with The Dresscode Project, an initiative started in 2017 by hairstylist Kristin Rankin to create Gender Affirming salons for LGBTQ+ people and provide training to hairstylists to help them to avoid the mistake of misgendering trans or gender non-conforming people. Her mission was supported by Pantene with the Power of Hair campaign accompanied by the hashtag #hairhasnogender. Pantene x The Dresscode Project Group Film (Pantene UK 2019a, fig. 1) is a two-minute video which features interviews with trans women and gender non-conforming people describing their relationship with their hair, including writer Paris Lees and performer Travis Alabanza. 

A couple of people with various hairstyles standing or sitting on a platform.

Hair is important for many people; when these people are transgender or gender non-conforming, hair becomes a crucial part of their identity: ‘My relationship with my hair is the most significant relationship I’ve ever had. … I think, particularly as a transgender woman, hair is such an important signifier of identity’, says Paris Lee (Pantene UK 2019d). The materiality of the hair has an essential role in the constitution of a body. From this perspective, one can say that hair has its own agency, as not only it is shaped by human agency but it also shapes a person’s identity. Of course, this is mediated by other cultural factors such as education, race, class, geographical provenance and representation in the media; I will expand on this point in the section ‘Becoming through Images’. First, I will focus on the process of embodiment which characterises this example, and how this can demonstrate the reliability of a feminist new materialist approach to the study of bodies and media. ‘Finding my identity was finding how I want people to see me, and hair is such a big part of that’, explains Alabanza, ‘and I think, now I’m starting my journey with my hair’ (Pantene UK 2019a, 0:53). In reaction to Alabanza’s quote, trans woman Alice E. Martin (Righini 2020) firmly agrees: ‘I think hair to trans people is so important because it frames every part of your body. When people have long hair, they associate them with being a girl. Like [Alice’s friend], her whole life she had long hair because from behind people would mistake her for a man, because she is quite big’. The risk of being misgendered is one of the reasons why trans people – and with this, I am not generalising to all trans people – try to ‘pass’ and conform with beauty standards assigned to the gender they identify with. According to the research commissioned by Pantene and carried out by Ketchum Research and Opinion Matters over 206 people (P&G 2019), 96% of transgender people agree that hair is crucial for their gender representation. However, the same survey indicates that misgendering in hair salons happens to 93% of transgender people in the UK, generating discomfort and anxiety in communicating the preferred hairstyle. Therefore, if from a poststructuralist perspective this reinforcement of the masculine/feminine dichotomy should be frowned upon – resulting perhaps in a transphobic analysis – from a feminist new materialist view the acknowledgement of the entanglement of materiality and culture can demonstrate the need for such identification and thus avoid wrongful judgement. 

The first video is followed by the Pantene x The Dresscode Project Documentary, which features an interview with Kristin Rankin and a few customers of her salon in Toronto. She explains that she believes misgendering happens because both hair stylists and clients were always told that there are haircuts suitable for women and haircuts suitable for men. In 2017, she started The Dresscode Project to educate hairstylists and support transgender and gender non-conforming customers. Her mission is to make sure that when ‘a transgender person … walk into any salon, anywhere in the world [they do not have to] worry about having to pick a men’s or a woman’s cut’ (Pantene UK 2019b, 2:26). The description of the documentary video states that the Pantene and The Dresscode Project partnership is a Europe wide initiative ‘part of the brand’s commitment to exploring the social, psychological and emotional power of hair and its impact on personal identity, self-esteem and confidence’ (ibid). 

Pantene’s campaign helped to establish the importance of the materiality of hair in gender affirmation, but this is not the only case in which hair is fundamental for one’s identity. In describing the struggles of doing her adopted black daughter’s hair as a white woman, Bordo (2008) highlights the issue around racist aesthetics. She reflected on the cultural differences in haircare for white women and black women and when her five-year-old daughter Cassie was recommended by a black hairstylist to have her hair straightened, she realised how some black women adopt white beauty standards: ‘[h]aving straight hair has achieved a trans-racial beauty status almost as important as not being fat. It pains me when Cassie tells me she hates her curls (as she calls them). But how could she not … ?’ (2008: 404), she wondered in light of all the media representation of beautiful black women with sleek, silky, straight hair. Bordo provides another example in a different cultural setting of how hair – and its materiality – cannot be seen as an object without an agency. On the contrary, the analysed examples show how hair has its own meaning, its own cultural background, which is in constant conversation and exchange with human agency but is also independent of it. 

As Barad argued in the interview with Dolphijn and van der Tuin, ‘[m]atter itself is not a substrate or a medium for the flow of desire. Materiality itself is always already a desiring dynamism, a reiterative reconfiguring, energized and energizing, enlivened and enlivening’ (2012: 59), as I will elaborate in the section ‘Becoming through Images’. Thus, ‘[h]ow matter makes itself felt’ becomes a feminist project as ‘feeling, desiring and experiencing are not singular characteristics or capacities of human consciousness. Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers’ (ibid). Therefore, feminist scholars need to re-consider their approach to matter and acknowledge the weight that materiality carries, together in its entanglement with culture, in the shaping of bodies and the environment. 

Bodies and the Environment

‘Imagining human corporeality as trans-corporeality, in which the human is always intermeshed with the more-than-human world, underlines the extent to which the substance of the human is ultimately inseparable from “the environment”.’ 

– Stacy Alaimo (2010: 2) 

The common conception of matter as inert and non-agentic is a consequence of Descartes theory according to which material objects are identifiable and concrete and they move only under the effect of external agentic forces (Barad 2003, Colebrook in Alaimo and Hekman 2008, Coole and Frost 2010). While the cogito ergo sum – ‘I think therefore I am’ – supported post-structuralists in focusing on an ontological level rather than on a material one, feminist new materialists refuse to accept this definition of matter, ‘[f]or materiality is always something more than “mere” matter’ (Coole and Frost 2010: 9). Feminist new materialists can help to make sense of how bodies are strictly linked with the environment they inhabit. Defining materiality as ‘an excess, force, vitality, relationality, or difference that renders matter active, self-creative, productive, unpredictable’ (ibid) gives the option of repositioning human subjectivity into a different level, one that cannot be at the centre anymore but rather intertwined, constantly being affected and affecting its surroundings or, in other words, what we simply call ‘the environment’ as explained by Stacy Alaimo (2010). Indeed, if we consider human corporeality on Alaimo’s terms, as ‘trans corporeality’, we are not able to separate it from the environment, as this becomes ‘the very substance of ourselves’ (ibid: 4). In relation to disability studies, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson reminds us that, since conception, all bodies are fabricated by their environments and they are in constant transformation, influenced and inscribed by surroundings (2005). As pointed out by Nancy Tuana (in Alaimo and Hekman 2008) and Samantha Frost (2011: 74), when we ‘investigate the porosity of the body in relation to the environment in which it exists’ we realise that there is an intricate interaction of, in Barad’s (2003) words, phenomena rather than an ontological meaning. This is not to say that culture does not have a weight in the shaping of matter, but it is to confirm that it cannot be the only influential factor. 

To explain this concept, it can be useful to benefit from a concrete example as the one provided by the brand Pantene. In the last decade, Pantene has been subject to large mediatic attention because of the chemicals contained in different shampoo and conditioner lines. Chemicals such as parabens, formaldehyde and sulphates, explains Dr Trevor Cates referring to the journal article Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours (Darbre et al. in Petter, 2018) are all carcinogenic, DNA damaging or highly irritant and can be easily found on the list of ingredients of any commercial hair care product. In 2013, Breast Cancer Action member and volunteer Vanessa Raditz complained about the various praises Pantene received for their feminist marketing campaigns, while many of the ingredients contained in their formulas are generally known to be harmful. In 2016, hairstylist Patrick Alan Simpson published a post on Facebook describing an upsetting event he experienced in his salon with a client: after using Moisture Renewal shampoo and conditioner by Pantene, his client’s hair started to burn just ten minutes after applying a hair colour with bleach (Simpson, in Bryant 2016). The post was liked by more than 20,000 people and a few commented that they had the same experience. Although denied in a few articles (Bryant 2016, Lacapria 2016), these kinds of issue open a dialogue on the relation between our bodies and the environment, particularly under a mediatic perspective. ‘For me, THIS is a feminist issue’, commented Raditz: ‘many products that are targeted to women contain many known toxic chemicals. … [C]ompanies should have to prove that their products are safe before they hit the shelves – and our bodies’ (Raditz, 2013, emphasis in original). Because this is not just material damage but also an affective and perhaps cultural damage, this constitutes another example that shows the entanglement between mind and body, and the body and the environment. 

Another example which can be useful to understand the relations between bodies and the environment is provided by the conversations around the production and marketing of female vs male haircare products. It is been proven by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, which compared almost 800 products which were sold in a male and a female version, that the ones targeted to girls cost on average 7% more than their counterpart (Paquette 2015). Although this is true for many all categories – e.g. toys, clothes, services, … – the higher price discrepancy was found the hair care products, where on average women need to pay 48% more than men for a shampoo or a conditioner (ibid). Furthermore, many beauty brands are gendered, specifically for men: in haircare products in particular, the 48% of British shop Superdrug clearly state ‘him’ or ‘men’ on the label (Arnett 2019). These gendering products are yet another way to reconsider the position of human beings in relation to the environment: if instead of worrying about a biological determinism, one could focus on matter and materiality they would realise that, for example, there is no difference between female and male’s hair, and all of this marketing is nonsense created by corporations to make more money – with the side effect of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Perhaps there is hope in the fact that studies show that, with the entering on Generation Z in the market, people will not be interested in gender products anymore, but rather they will prioritise an ingredients-first approach (Arnett 2019). As explained by Alaimo, ‘[o]nly by directly engaging with matter itself can feminism do as Tuana advocates: render biological determinism “nonsense”’ and ‘rather than bracketing the biological body’ (Alaimo 2010: 5), understand it as ‘changing and changeable, as transformable’ (Birke in Alaimo 2010: 5). 

These examples present only a few ways in which bodies can be understood in relation to the environment and, in this particular case study, to the powerful mutual effects of media and bodies. Therefore, conceiving human subjectivity not in a central position but intertwined with the environment in which it found space and which is gifted with its own intentionality and freedom can help to make sense of the fact that matter can no longer be imagined ‘as a massive, opaque plenitude’, in Coole and Frost’s words. Instead, it ‘is recognized … as indeterminate, constantly forming and reforming in unexpected ways. One could conclude, accordingly, that “matter becomes” rather than that “matter is”’ (2010:10). 

Becoming through Images

‘[B]odies and images are bundled together as a phenomenon, so that it becomes difficult to establish the boundaries between where bodies end and images begin. Bodies and images are a phenomenon – a materiality of entanglements of human and non-human, nature and culture’. 

– Coleman (2014: 38) 

A criticism that can be made on Pantene’s marketing campaign is about their choice to portray only feminine beauty standards. In between the eight people which are portraited in Pantene x The Dresscode Project Group Film, only one has a haircut which might not be directly associated with a woman’s cut, and they all fit into normative beauty standards with perfect make-up and fashionable clothes. In other words, the representation of the trans women in this video strongly reinforces the dualism masculinity vs femininity. A poststructuralist analysis would examine how badly these representations reflect on one’s identity, and how media is the object to blame; however, through a feminist new materialist lens, the study cannot end there. As discussed throughout this paper, according to new materialists objects have an agency which is independent of the poststructuralist idea that language gives meaning to objects. As explained by Grosz, ‘[b]iology does not limit social, political, and personal life: it not only makes them possible, it ensures that they endlessly transform themselves and thus stimulate biology into further transformations’, and ‘cultural transformation provides further impetus for biological becoming’ (2004: 1-2). As suggested by Rebecca Coleman, the questions that might prove to be more beneficial are, for example: ‘what knowledges, understandings and experiences of bodies are produced through images? How do relations constitute particular kinds of bodies and images?’ (2008: 168). Therefore, in this section I am discussing the risks of representational thinking proposed by structuralist scholars as ‘the study of cultural representations alone, divorced from consideration of their relation to the practical lives of bodies, can obscure and mislead’ (Bordo 2003: 183) or, as argued by Alaimo and Hekman, ‘focusing exclusively on representations, ideology, and discourse excludes lived experience, corporeal practice, and biological substance from consideration’ (2008: 4). Instead, I am arguing for the necessity of a feminist new materialist approach, one that considers bodies and images as entangled and believes that both bodies and images, because they both have agency and meaning, need to be treated as matter. In the words of Dolphijn and van der Tuin, new materialists are not ‘primarily interested in representation, signification, and disciplinarity’, but by ‘affect, force, and movement as it travels in all directions’, searching for ‘actualization and realization’. They argue that ‘we know nothing of the (social) body until we know what it can do’, and thus we should focus on a study of the potential of bodies with their entanglement of matter and culture (2012: 113). 

According to Grogan and Wainwright (cited in Coleman 2008) images in teen magazines ‘have powerful effects on their readers, serving to foster and maintain a “cult of femininity”, supplying definitions of what it means to be a woman’ (165). The problem with their comment, according to Coleman, is that it creates a duality of subject/object or body/image, producing a one-way relationship of media affecting the body. This method can be criticised for the inability to meaningfully measure the effects of media (Gauntlett 2005 in Coleman 2008), furthermore ‘conceiving bodies and images as in constant affective relations of production and transformation means that a finishing point for a feminist analysis of the relations between them cannot be an account of the “negative effects” of images on bodies’ (Coleman 2008: 174). Applying this approach to the Pantene advert, one can perhaps disregard to question how this campaign, for how progressive it can be seen by some for starring only transgender and gender non-conforming bodies, is indeed reinforcing the stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, or how to be a woman in ‘the right way’. Instead, a feminist new materialist approach must seek to understand how ‘bodies exist not separately to … images but rather become through these images; knowledges, understandings, and experiences of bodies are not “effected” by images but are produced through, or become through, these images’ (ibid: 172). 

To draw this conclusion, Coleman successfully conducted a focus group, individual interviews and an image-making workshop with thirteen 13 and 14-year-old girls (2008). Because I chose to use a video to examine the relation between bodies and media, I will be unable to fully adopt Coleman’s methodology but, acknowledging the limitations of the impossibility of a direct interview in this case, I will follow her example. In the video Pantene x The Dresscode Project Group Film, model and transgender activist Angela Ponce tells Pantene: ‘[o]ne day, I saw a picture of a model, and I told my mum that I wanted to have hair like hers’ (Pantene 2019a, 0:47). In a dedicated video interview (Pantene UK 2019c) she explained how she grew up with no information on what it means to be a trans woman. From these statements it can be deduced that media and images had a crucial role in the development or Ponce’s transness, all starting from viewing a photograph of another model and articulate the desire – if not need – of having a similar hairstyle to express what she was feeling inside, being that a femininity or rejection of masculinity. The fact that she did not have any information about what being transgender means perhaps resulted in the aspiration to conform to feminine beauty standards. Therefore, speculations can be made here about how a trans woman body become through the relation with images. A similar conclusion can be drawn from the interviews with Parisa Madani and Lea T in the same video. Madani disclosed: ‘when I was a child, I always saw big, voluminous, dark brown hair and I always wanted that’ (Pantene UK 2019a, 0:21). Although not directly related to media and images, her process of becoming was influenced by other women and their limiting representation in media. Lea T, instead, explains that ‘it’s important that what you see on the outside reflects what you feel on the inside’ (Pantene UK 2019a, 1:22), or in other words, it’s important that other people can understand the way she identifies by looking at which label – masculine or feminine – she conforms with. 

Another element from the video which can help to demonstrate the becoming of bodies – and its relevance in the whole definition of what a body ‘is’ – is the unfolding of the storyboard. Examining the edited script in its whole (in Appendix), it is clear that Pantene wants to tell a story about transformation – or becoming. It begins by describing the struggles of a person at the start of its transition, showing images of a young kid whose hair is being cut very short and another one holding a hairband. After a few seconds, the quote of Angela Ponce (as above) reminds viewers about the influence of images in her transition. While Alabanza says ‘now I’m starting my journey with my hair’ (Pantene UK 2019a, 0:53), the sound of the electric shaver cutting the hair of the kid stops, and more relaxed and hopeful music starts. All of the quotes that follows propose some new ways of acknowledging the becoming of these bodies, until the final powerful reflection of Alabanza, ‘Whether you are trans or not, I think what trans people are showing is that we’re allowed to exist in ways beyond what we have been told’ (ibid, 1:45), once again acknowledges the importance of the materiality of hair to justify our identities. 

Another aspect to consider in the becoming of bodies is time. As demonstrated by Coleman (2014) media and images affect the present opening the potential of different futures with the promise of transformation. In fact, ‘[t]he futures indicated by images of transformation are not a far-off time, but are felt in the present, as the need to change and transform now’ (2014: 40) and thus, time can be deemed as non-linear and multidirectional, as a linear model of time would imply a unilateral effect of images on bodies. ‘[T]his future as potential’, suggests Coleman, ‘is brought into the present, so that concerns about what the future might be if the self/body is not transformed are required to be acted on now’ (ibid, emphasis in original). Pantene’s case study can help to make sense of this concept (Pantene 2019a): 

‘I grew up being told that people like me were ugly – that we were perverts. And I know that when I first transitioned, I didn’t use to go out of the house for weeks at a time because I was so ashamed. … My parents cut my hair short and it was just- it wasn’t an option for me to be who I always knew that I was from a very young age. … One day you may walk down the street with the wind blowing in your hair and just feel so happy to be alive’ (Paris Lee in Pantene 2019a). 

‘When I first transitioned, I didn’t know what my hair was going to be like. I was so delighted when I had hair that grew long and was healthy’ (Paris Lee in Pantene 2019d). 

Most of the quotes previously analysed from the video could be re-examined under this new lens, but Lee’s story is clear evidence of this concept. Although not directly referring to media, speculations can be made here about how important and influential images would have been in this case. The future is thus never a far possibility, but a process which is happening here and now: ‘a linear model of causation would imply that representations of self-transformation result in bodies that plan for the accomplishment of better bodies in the future’ (Coleman 2014: 40). 

In this section, I examined the way bodies become through the relation with media and images. As I discussed, matter –or biology – ‘does not limit social, political, and personal life: it not only makes them possible, it ensures that they endlessly transform themselves and thus stimulate biology into further transformations’, explains Grosz. Therefore, ‘[t]he natural world [shapes] social and cultural existence to endless becoming’, while ‘cultural transformation provides further impetus for biological becoming’ (2004: 1-2). 

Conclusion

In this paper I discussed how a feminist new materialist perspective can help to make sense of the relation between bodies and media applying some theories onto an example from contemporary culture, a campaign focused on trans women and gender non-conforming people created by the brand Pantene in November 2019. In the first section ‘Acknowledging the Material’, I gave a summary of the ongoing conversation between feminist new materialists to give a framework for the analysis. I discussed the risks of perceiving bodies as a ‘tabula rasa, awaiting inscription by culture’ (Bordo 2003: 35): widely spread across post-structuralists, this concept does not acknowledge that the materiality of the body has a major influence in the constitution of an individual. I examined the way hair, in its materiality, constitutes a considerable part of one’s identity, specifically for trans bodies which are looking to show other people how they identify. In light of the proven importance of matter, a feminist new materialist approach became necessary to understand the relation between media and images. The following section ‘Bodies and the Environment’ explored the position of human subjectivity in the surrounding environment. I exposed how, according to a feminist new materialist approach, acknowledging that matter has an agency which is independent of human agency shift the position of human beings, relocating them from a central point to the same level of anything else which has the power to affect and be affected, or in other words the environment. In particular, I investigated the case study from another perspective: although Pantene may be perceived as progressive and quite liberal thanks to their marketing campaigns, the brand was investigated on multiple occasions for using harmful chemicals. Thus, I shifted the focus of the example to the materiality of the products sold by the brand, arguing about the difference between the brand values portraited in the adverts and the lack of care demonstrated in the manufacture of their hair products. Furthermore, I discussed how the majority of the products in the market are gendered, with the two negative consequences of reinforcing gender stereotypes and getting women to pay more money for the same product of a male version of it. The last section ‘Becoming through Images’ is the most direct answer to the original question. In this part I argued against questioning what effects might media and images have on bodies; on the contrary, supporting Coleman’s theory of the becoming of bodies through their relation with images (2008, 2014) I demonstrated that asking how bodies and images have a mutual affective relation results more beneficial. Applying this theory on Pantene’s example appeared to be quite successful to help to make sense of them: even though applicable to every body, this became particularly true for gender transitioning or gender non-conforming bodies. However, I encountered some limitations: I could deduct most insights from the direct quotes from the examined videos, but perhaps in the future, it could be helpful to organise an interview with the people starring in the video, wherever possible. Furthermore, I analysed the concept of time as non-linear and multi-directional, which helped to make sense of how bodies become. 

In conclusion, it has become clear to me that a feminist new materialist approach to the study of bodies – and their relation to media – can provide a more complete and exhaustive picture than a pure discursive methodology. The analysis of Pantene’s campaign, although presenting some limitations, was particularly useful to understand and actualise these theories thanks to both a fine grain work which examined singular quotes in the video and to more distance study of the storyboard. I am aware of the lack of primary research in this essay; perhaps this opens up a possibility for a further investigation in a longer paper. 

List of References

Alaimo, S. (2010) ‘Bodily Natures’, in Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Indiana University Press 

Alaimo, S. and Hekman, S. (2008) ‘Introduction: Emerging Models of Materiality in Feminist Theory’, in Alaimo, S. and Hekman, S. (eds.) Material Feminisms. Indiana University Press 

Arnett, G. (2019) ‘The Future of Male Grooming is Gender Neutral’, Vogue Business, 26 August. Available here (Accessed: 28 December 2019) 

Barad, K. (2003) ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), pp. 801-831. doi: 10.1086/345321 

Bordo, S. (2008) ‘Cassie’s Hair’, in Alaimo, S. and Hekman, S. (eds.) Material Feminisms. Indiana University Press 

Bordo, S. (2003) Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. University of California Press 

Bryant, T. (2016) ‘The Truth About The Pantene Hair-Burning Controversy’, Refinery29. Available here (Accessed: 28 December 2019) 

Coleman, R. (2014) ‘Inventive Feminist Theory: Representation, Materiality and Intensive Time’, Women: A Cultural Review, 25(1), pp. 27-45. doi: 10.1080/09574042.2014.901098 

Coleman, R. (2008) ‘The Becoming of Bodies’, Feminist Media Studies, 8(2), pp. 163-179. doi: 10.1080/14680770801980547 

Coole, D. and Frost, S. (2010) New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Duke University Press Books 

Dolphijn, R. and van der Tuin, I. (2012) New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Open Humanities Press 

Frost, S. (2011) ‘The Implications of the New Materialisms for Feminist Epistemology’, in Grasswick H. (eds) Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. Springer, Dordrecht 

Garland-Thomson, R. (2005) ‘Disability and Representation’, PMLA, 120(2), pp. 522-527. Available here (Accessed: 30 December 2019) 

Grosz, E. (2004) ‘Introduction: To the Untimely’, in Grosz, E. (author) The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely. Duke University Press 

Lacapria, K. (2016) ‘Pantene Hair Products Causing Highlight Foils to Catch Fire?’, Snopes, 23 March. Available here (Accessed: 28 December 2019) 

Pantene UK (2019a) Pantene x The Dresscode Project Group Film. 14 November. Available here (Accessed: 9 December 2019) 

Pantene UK (2019b) Pantene x The Dresscode Project Documentary. 14 November. Available here (Accessed: 9 December 2019) 

Pantene UK (2019c) Pantene x Angela Ponce. 15 November. Available here (Accessed: 9 December 2019) 

Pantene UK (2019d) Pantene x Paris Lee. 14 November. Available here (Accessed: 9 December 2019) 

Paquette, D. (2015) ‘Why you should always buy the men’s version of almost anything’, The Washington Post, 22 December. Available here (Accessed: 28 December 2019) 

Petter, O. (2018) ‘Four Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Your Hair Products’, Independent, 12 June. Available here (Accessed: 29 December 2019) 

P&G (2019) Dresscode Project launches in the UK with PANTENE to help the 93% of the Transgender and non-binary community who have been misgendered during a salon visit [News Release]. 18 November. Available here (Accessed: 22 December 2019) 

Raditz, V. (2013) ‘Pantene Is Not My Revolution’, Breast Cancer Action, 13 December. Available here (Accessed: 29 December 2019) 

Righini, C. (2020) Conversation with Alice Eyre Martin, 8 January 

Sephora [@sephora] (2019) … campaign celebrating the transgender and non-binary community… [Twitter] 5 June. Available here (Accessed: 22 December 2019)