Why Advertising

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


I get asked this question. A lot. Advertisers are cold, cut-throat and eat their young. They work like maniacs, they don't take shit and you are not allowed to screw up. Why would anyone want to be in advertising? 

"She may have seen herself represented in the school district, but not the community as a whole. "

When I was in 5th grade, I don't exactly remember where we were. But my class took a trip. Many schools from the area had students attending. My best friend at the time, who was one of the few black kids there, turned to me and said she felt uncomfortable. Being a little white kid, of Eastern European descent, I had no idea what she was talking about. We lived in a diverse district, I felt like we were diverse. I didn't understand at the time she wasn't represented in our community. White people were. She was a part of this little segment of our community. She may have seen herself represented in the school district, but not the community as a whole. 

My first instinct was to laugh because I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn't see an issue. Just because I was privileged enough to not see an issue, doesn't mean there wasn't one.  I even remember telling her I thought she was being dramatic. Still, I wanted to understand because I wanted to make her feel comfortable in the situation. But I didn't see an issue.

And I should have. I should have been her person.

My best friend was the first person in the world to teach me about racial inequality. I made it a decade before I realized I won the genetic lottery. I was privileged and my best friend who I did everything with, wasn't.

As we got older, I was the kid who did horrible in school. She excelled at everything she did. 

I was horrible at music, she could sing a symphony, play piano, play viola. Needless to say, she's a badass. 

I was moody, she wasn't. She was kind to people and built them up. Still she is the kind of person who will make people feel as if they could do anything. I am just getting to that point. 

I spent most of my life shutting everyone down around me. Because it was easy. I always took the easy route. My best friend, never did.  

The entire time I have known her, she is the epidemy of strong. She's take no shit, if-you-don't-like-it-get-the-hell-out. She oozes patience and love. We need more people like her in this world. My best friend would juggle student government, theater, a job, grades, and a social life. She made everything look effortless. I spent most of my life in a depressive state, filled with negativity. I was only alive when I held a camera. 

I walked my way to graduating with honors, but I didn't do shit to deserve it. People told me I was accomplished. The only thing I did my entire life, getting out of bed. Everyone handed me opportunities because I looked the part. I didn't do anything to deserve them.

I had my entire life handed to me and set up for me. All I had to do was walk to it and not bump into the walls too much.

It was a privilege. One I was born into. One people like my best friend deserved more than me just based on merit alone.

"I was told my entire life I had a place in society. Not everyone has that fortune."

My entire life, I opened up a magazine or flipped on the TV or shopped in a store and everyone looked like me. I saw myself looking back in the advertisements with white soccer moms and kids who ironically listen to punk. I saw myself in movies and TV and books. I was the Bella in Twilight. The Sharpay in High School Musical. I was the season's IT girl with beautiful long curly hair. I was told my entire life I had a place in society. Not everyone has that fortune.

My heart broke everytime my best friend hated her looks. She was never too fat, her hair was never bad hair and her cheeks made her look like she was filled with life and joy. When you're the underweight kid, with straight hair, and a sharp jaw, you can't talk about beauty. Because you are the epitome of beauty that was created by marketing firms.

My point is she was and is and always will be better than me. This isn't a contest. She's smarter, funnier, wittier, and she made me who I am today. I wouldn't be powerful and strong if she wasn't part of my life. She deserves a world that is set up to see she is amazing and deserving. The world shouldn't be set up for me to win because I'm a white European. But, it is. And that's heartbreaking.


I was 15 when I learned about advertising. Advertisers were the real magicians. They made us want what we didn't need. They defined beauty. They put the pretty white girls on the cover of magazines. They told my best friend she wasn't beautiful. When our entire lives, I envied her looks.

15, when I took my first advertising class. I learned about Art Directors. They were in charge of everything visual in an ad. At this point I had people telling me to model. I was tall, skinny and europeanly white. I wanted to be the boss. I wanted to make sure little girls never told their best friends they didn't fit into the world. Because nothing ever broke my heart more than that moment.

16, when I started photographing black girls like white girls in magazines. I thought I could get published and start a ripple effect. I got published, no effect.

17, when I sat in my first college class about Advertising. I knew from the first class, this was the only way to make a difference.

17, when I told an art director I wanted to change the advertising industry to lessen racial inequality and oppression. She laughed at me and told me the market doesn't go that way.

18, when my college professor told me advertising would never change and I was better off giving up. She suggested I drop out or study accounting. I simply took up space in her classroom. She failed me on every paper I wrote about inequality. So, that's all I wrote.

19, when a professor told me if anyone could do it, it would be me. He used to be an advertising executive for Marlboro. And he hated how ads whitewashed the world. 

20, a professor told me I was biting the hand that fed me. I was only where I was because I was white. The only way I would survive in advertising he told me, was if I was white and talked like a man. But he wished me a world of luck.

"Because I saw diversity, I assumed it existed." 

I'm two weeks away from turning 21. I graduate this year. Since I started University, advertising has changed slightly. The market has shifted to be diverse. But not really. The market is whitewashed diversity. Similar to when I didn't see an issue when there was one. Because I saw diversity, I assumed it existed. To my best friend, it didn't. She didn't see herself in the world around her, that isn't diversity. 

Advertising is telling one side of the story. You only see a portion of the picture. Diversity right now is showing the Mona Lisa. It's beautiful and iconic. But there's an entire Louvre that no one's taken a look at. It's filled with beautiful stories and works of art. Some may make us uncomfortable, others may scare us and make us sad. Maybe we don't connect with most of them. But, if we focus on the Mona Lisa, we're missing an entire world of beauty that can help us grow and inspire people to do better.

My best friend was the most beautiful, talented, and the smartest person I have ever met. She has made me better because she exists. We rarely ever talk now, but she has shaped me into the person I am today. She has given my life purpose and made me question the world. Trying to understand the world from her point of view has taught me how to be an Advertiser.

"That little girl see's the entire universe in her friend. And she wishes the world would just fucken see it too."

When someone asks me why I picked advertising, it's not because I'm cold hearted or because I'm cut throat. Don't get me wrong, I am those things. But I never want a little girl to tell her best friend she didn't see her place in the world around her. I guarantee you, that little girl see's the entire universe in her friend. And she wishes the world would just fucken see it too.

It's important to mention, I'm not writing this because I want to save anyone. In my life story, do not make it sound like I'm trying to be the white girl saving the god damn world. I simply learned I was privileged and I was handed a destiny. I have a chance to fix the system within. I'm using my privilege to change the way the industry is systematically run. This isn't a I'm saving the god damn world story. It's a, I've benefited from the system and I didn't deserve to story.

I'm sick of seeing other peoples cultures get used for profit. Rap and hip hop are only "trendy" when it involves the Jenner clan. That makes zero sense to me.

Or why in advertisements, the black guy is always the clueless best friend. Or ads for black-owned hair care companies feature white girls. Yes, white girls, we can use the products. But these companies are missing their target market entirely. 

Sari's are not fashion items. Henna isn't a "cool trendy" festival trend. Headdresses do not belong to your culture. It's perfectly acceptable to admire them for their beauty and tradition and to own them. But they are not an accessory. You do not dismiss entire cultures only to steal what you want from their culture and throw the rest away like it's trash. Simply because it does not benefit you. 

"I had rage over a glorified cardigan. Imagine what everyone else feels when we make their customs into trends."

Different cultures are not tools to success and they're not trends. I saw a zubun in Vogue once and I was slightly irritated and offended. My culture wasn't a fashion accessory. When I saw girls who mocked my last name wear them, I was over the moon outraged. I had rage over a glorified cardigan. Imagine what everyone else feels when we make their customs into trends. Sacred ceremonies are jokes on TV. The music of their people getting butchered until it's white washed into something "culturally acceptable". We mock dreads when it's not on a white girl. Braids are only cute when you get them on your vacation. Natives are not your goddamn vacation photo op. We stereotype people because it's easy, then we want to be the stereotype without any of the stigmas. So we call it trends and fashion. We make it cheap and meaningless. 

We dehumanize the beauty of other people. We rewrite their traditions. Erase what we don't like from their stories and call it Disney. It's one thing to respect a culture and become emersed in it. But there's no respect. We're selling pieces of other people to the highest bidder. We want so badly to look cultured and well traveled but have no interest in learning about other people. 

It's ok to like rap. It's ok to burn incense and own saris because you think they're beautiful. You can wear as many zubuns as you want. It's ok to braid your hair or to collect arrow heads. But you can't take from a culture and then oppress those native to the culture. Lindsay Lohan and Angelina Jolie wear head scarfs. But they respect Islam and Middle Eastern Culture. No one says you can't adopt bits and pieces of other people. But you cannot oppress people for doing the things you are doing. 

When I tell people I want to work in advertising. I'm not doing it because I want to make pretty pictures in magazines. Or I want my name on a Cannes Lion. This isn't the world I want to see 10 years from now. I was given this privilege at birth, I would be foolish to think I deserved it. 

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  1. As an Asian American growing up in a town that was largely hispanic, I can feel your friend's pain. I agree that advertising needs more diversity!

  2. Wow. That was a long read. That must have been difficult to admit. I thank God we have amazing friends like her who shine a light in this very dark world.

  3. amazing blog post!!! i love this!! love ur style