The lack of representation on Valentine’s Day

Image credit: tedeytan

This is what I think of when someone says “Valentine’s day”: love hearts, Cupid, a box of chocolates, an eerily cheerful shade of pink, and sickly sweet cupcakes. I see a suit and tie, beside a dress the shade of poppies. I see all this despite knowing full well that love is expressed and comes in an unimaginable number of ways.

The prevailing idea of Valentine’s Day is heterosexual. Commercialisation is a powerful tool; it shapes the way we perceive the world by planting images in our heads that we then inescapably associate with the product. For Valentine’s Day, it has the power to mould our notion of love. Today, Valentine’s Day is seen as an occasion for men to buy chocolates, flowers, frilly underwear and red wine for a lady before a candlelit dinner in an Italian restaurant, all amidst proclamations of everlasting love and fidelity. This is the painting that Hershey’s, Victoria’s Secret, and Hollywood have come together to create.

Yet in a developing world where LGBTQ+ rights are burgeoning, it is time for Valentine’s Day to undergo a re-vamp. We have argued for changing the notion of Valentine’s love to celebrating friendship, singlehood (see: Galentine’s), but hardly homosexual and asexual love. We see this lack of representation from advertisements to Valentine’s products.

The colours red and pink, for example, are strongly associated with this time of year. While they are not necessarily feminine, they have connotations of girlhood, and consequently portray a very specific attitude towards relationships - one that is rooted in intimacy and the antiquated gender roles of women. This can be isolating for those who experience love, or at least partake in relationships, in a different way; it can make them feel that they do not understand love, or simply do not feel it, when they do, but in a way that is not represented sufficiently.

Then, think about cards. Steve Friess of Time.com says, “This is how gays browse for Valentine’s Day, birthday, wedding, or anniversary greetings. We walk into Walgreens or Target, ignore just about any card that shows pictures of actual humans or that declare love to a “husband” or “wife,” because inevitably the language, and probably the imagery too, will be positively hetero. Instead, we find cards with mutually enamored, anthropomorphic animals and ascertain they aren’t drawn to imply gender. Or, alternatively, we go schlocky because a crude cliché about one’s age or a knowing joke about the banality of a long-term relationship really knows no sexual orientation.”

Thankfully, some companies are taking steps to combat the absence of diversity in Valentine’s Day advertisements. This year, Lush, of famed bath bombs, launched a series of inclusive ads for its line of Valentine’s Day products. One image, for example, shows an adorable gay couple seated in a bathtub, one’s eyes squeezed shut in laughter, the other staring adoringly at him. Another features a lesbian couple with foam beards in the bathtub. “At Lush we believe that love transcends gender,” a spokesperson for the company recently said to Newnownext.com. “We set out to do one thing when creating our Valentine’s Day visuals, we wanted to capture love between two people and we believe that’s what we have done here.” Hallmark, which has over 1,400 varieties of Valentine’s Day cards, and is America’s largest greeting card company, released an advertisement this year featuring real-life gay couples, for the third year in a row. This year showcased the flash mob marriage proposal of Spencer Stout and Dustin Reeser, which was viral in 2013. Their advertisements in 2015 and 2016 also featured lesbian couples.

In a world where homophobia is still pervasive, coming out, let alone spending Valentine’s Day with one’s partner remains a dream for some. This places an even greater responsibility on companies to change our traditional notions of Valentine’s Day, to be at the forefront of acceptance. Naturally, some fear the controversy and backlash from their consumers, but ultimately need to weigh their options: representation can be incredibly meaningful  for those who are unrepresented. Choosing between standing in solidarity with the people who need it and shaping a more realistic notion of love for the next generation, and sitting on the fence, is a choice that companies who play a big part in Valentine’s Day celebrations must make. In a pressing time for representation, we need action. All I will say is: love is not homogenous, and there is no reason to represent it that way either.

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