truth in advertising: a cynic softens

I’ve written before about my love-hate relationship with parenting magazines. I roll my eyes at them and yet I still read them. So currently our bathroom is buried underneath a giant stack of glossy mags, which I have resolved to clean out before baby comes.

In my flurry of decluttering and nesting, I was delighted to discover two ads in parenting magazines that caught my eye. Ever the cynical consumer, I tend not to pay much attention to the ads for baby products. But these two were different; they made me stop and think.

The first is an ad for the Wall Street Journal that F tore out for me to see. It shows a mother working from home, baby on lap, surrounded by papers and computer and teething rings and toys. Rarely do I see my scattered life reflected in print, but this ad made me laugh out loud: that is me!

Not the glowing mother with the perfectly coiffed hair and gym-toned physique pushing her equally blissful child down the street on a bright sunny day. But the mother who pushes aside board books and blocks to grab the phone for the conference call, the mother whose daily concerns (as the ad’s tagline reads) stretch from education and the workplace all the way to strollers.

My mothering spirit loves this ad and the crazy but all-too-familiar life it reveals. “Real” indeed.

The second was more sentimental: an ad from Pampers that caught my eye for the babies it portrayed. Not the usual Gerber-baby perfection, but a more realistic range: a seemingly healthy infant in its mother’s arms, a preemie newborn surrounded by IVs and a doctor’s stethoscope, and a dark-eyed baby with Down syndrome.

Truth be told, it was the little girl with Down’s who first caught my eye. So rarely do we see children with special needs shown in advertising – I thought it was a refreshing and hopeful inclusion. I remembered the men and women I worked with in the L’Arche community who had Down’s: their gentle spirits, wise hearts, unsentimentalized beauty. We need more of their faces before our eyes to remind us of the diversity of who we are as humans.

And then my eyes settled on the little one in the hospital nursery, hooked up to IVs, cared for by a professional’s gloved hands. I thought back to S’s days in the special needs nursery after his birth – nothing that could ever hold a candle to a family’s NICU experience, but still a far cry from what we expected for his arrival. The first photos of him that I shared with friends and family were of F and me gazing down at him with giant grins as he laid in the isolette. I didn’t think anything of it at the time – this was our baby! he was here! we were over the moon! – but more than a few concerned friends sent me messages to ask if S was ok, since he was stuck full of IVs and we couldn’t yet hold him. They saw what was “wrong” in the photos, where all I could see was what was right.

So this ad, too, reminded me of the sometimes surprising beauty of the Real Lives we are all leading. Lives that don’t get airbrushed or prettied up for the camera, but lives where we find grace nonetheless. In the messy frenzy of a working mother’s juggling act, in the gentle reminder that not all babies are born perfect. But that we learn along the way to embrace the imperfection of all that we’ve been given, all that we help create. And thank God for that.

Which can even make this cynical critic of marketing ploys admit that, once in a while, they do hit a few out of the park. Bring on the Kleenex.

2 thoughts on “truth in advertising: a cynic softens

  1. I have seen those too and stopped to think about them. I have related to the working mom one. I have on multiple occasions worked on documents while holding a baby in on arm.
    And I have paused and cried at the other. Reminded of the miracle that is birth and just how blessed and lucky I am. And I love how they capture the wonderful beginnings that are babies… and I love that you will be feeling that soon:-)

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