What if your panties could change the world?

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

Have you ever thought to yourself, ''if only I could buy sexy undies and save the world in one transaction''?  Neither have I. But Tara Smith has. 

 

Smith is a 26-year-old Texan lass who has spent the past couple of years volunteering in Cameroon in central Africa. A noble thing, to be sure. Upon her return home, her question to the world was this (verbatim): “Why can’t women look sexy to help other women?”

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

 

To this end, she founded a Fair Trade lingerie business called Cherie Amie. The tagline is, "What if your panties could change the world?" - something I have been pondering since I found her campaign online. She's trying to raise $15,000 for her first lingerie line on a crowd-funding site called indiegogo. If you donate to the campaign, you will receive your own pair of "humanitarian hottie" butterfly-print boy-cut shorts. You may also have the opportunity to "appear as a Fair Lady in the official marketing campaign for Cherie Amie", as Smith tells us in this video update. Roughly translated, this means "donate to our campaign and you too can writhe about in your underwear... for charity".

 

Speaking of writhing - here's the aspirational video for Cherie Amie:

 

Now, let's all acknowledge that the word "panties" is icky and should generally be substituted with "undies" or even "bloomers", and move on to the real problems with this slim-fit, push-up poverty solution.

 

The Case of the Altruistic Panties is complicated. On the one hand, Smith is using a Good Returns business model that promises to reinvest 100 per cent of profits into ventures that create micro-loans for impoverished African women. These women can apply for a loan to start a business venture in their community - just like Smith. The underwear is made in West Africa, under good conditions and apparently with reasonable pay.

 

On the other hand, it’s a tacky sexualisation of an important issue, casually linking Western excess and sexuality to African poverty. Notice that the African women are invisible in the clip and on the website, leading us to virtually disassociate from the cause. It’s Armchair Activism, with bonus bloomers. The financial contribution Smith intends to make to women living in poverty is admirable, but the way she has gone about it is reductive and confusing. Rather than encouraging women to empathise or understand or directly support African women, it reduces their role to a single transaction: panties for social change.

 

So the question is, is it OK to sexualise a good cause? Do we forgive Ms Smith for living too closely by the "sex sells" mantra, because she’s being charitable?

 

In other words, is it OK that the means are sexy, if the end is altruistic?

 

The simple answer is, “Who cares how she’s raising the money, those African women need our help! Go forth and buy underwear, be a good Samaritan and look foxy while you do!” But that’s just the point - it’s too simple. It’s too good to be true and it’s too easy. The convenience of the whole thing belies the seriousness of the issue of poverty.

 

The message here - buy naughty underwear, affect real social change - is dangerously naive and misleading. It tells women their altruism quota is filled once they’ve slipped into a g-string. It allows - no, it invites - women to pass off the perfectly indulgent act of buying racy underwear as socially constructive. It is irresponsible to imply that paying for a see-through nightie is all we have to do to cross "contribute to humanity" off our To Do list.

 

Lingerie enthusiasts, be still - I’m not on a tirade against lacy bras. Buy as much lingerie as you want. I’d just like to keep the two acts - buying undies, donating to charity - separate. To combine them in this altruistic -boudoir way is too confusing. Do we really need to force the nexus between our sexuality and the financial wellbeing of women on another continent?

 

The same applies to you, Ms Tara Smith. Volunteering in Cameroon for two years is wonderful and commendable. Starting your own line of lingerie is great, too, if that’s what you’re into. But it’s better for everyone involved if you separate your delicates from your good deeds.

20 comments

  • Bloomers? How very Victorian.

    Commenter
    David
    Location
    Callala Bay
    Date and time
    August 27, 2012, 9:02AM
    • If we weren't so puritanical about female sexuality, would something harmless and helpful like this well-intentioned initiative be such a big deal? Lingerie is one of the most frivolous of luxury items, what's wrong with letting womens' need to indulge do some good to someone else?

      Commenter
      Miss Amazon
      Date and time
      August 27, 2012, 9:45AM
      • Articles like this is why women can't have nice things.

        Because every time a woman does something good, which she likes, gets benefit out of and even helps other people in to boot....along comes another woman to tell her she's doing it all wrong.

        Commenter
        Christian
        Date and time
        August 27, 2012, 1:26PM
      • Puritanical about female sexuality? What? How much more female sexuality can we squeeze into our culture? If you're between the ages of 4 and 60, you get to be as sexual as you possibly can, in public if you want, and no one dare breath a word for fear of suppressing your sexuality. Time was when the realm of sex was private, and enjoyed by those consenting to involvement. That's not good enough anymore - now everyone has to be able to enjoy your contortions, because - what? It feels better when the world is watching?
        Sure, I can look away, and often do, but I can't read "If we weren't so puritanical about female sexuality..." without remarking that we're NOT.
        And I agree with the article - although I don't think this little opinion piece makes it a big deal.

        Commenter
        Barbara
        Date and time
        September 01, 2012, 10:55AM
    • Why should sex be off limits when it comes to charity? The use of the word "sexualisation" here seems to be loaded with a certain moral panic, the kind that suggests that anything sexy is automatically wrong and bad for women. Why aren't you complaining about nude firemen calendars that raise money for rural fire services? Same thing. Altruism is great, we should be happy that someone is doing something good for others. If this upsets you, just spend your money on another charity. Simple.

      Commenter
      Ms Naughty
      Date and time
      August 27, 2012, 10:09AM
      • They are selling LINGERIE - which are sexy undies.
        If they were selling (e.g.) powertools, writhing about semi-clad, I would call THAT exploitation.

        This is a great move to help those in poverty. How many times do people bleat about women in unfair sweat-shop conditions and do nothing positive to help?

        This is a great initiative, selling sexy undies in a sexy way with a "win-win" outcome.
        I'm already a great fan of Fair-trade products, so the more, the better.

        Commenter
        Mario G.
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 27, 2012, 10:31AM
        • Yes, it comes across as tacky. And yes, it's does seem a bit odd that the African women aren't visible in the publicity.

          But is the "linking western excess ... to African poverty" really all that much of a shock? After all, so many people in the West want to be able to buy more and spend less, and the cheap prices that allow them to do that is often underwritten by poverty in the developing in this era of globalisation.

          Commenter
          Last0fTooMany
          Date and time
          August 27, 2012, 10:35AM
          • I've seen this argument before and it always confuses me. I think I've finally worked out why. It seems to rest on a couple of suppositions I find odd. Firstly it supposes that women (or any other group of consumers) are a bit stupid, that they can't tell the difference between buying knickers that boost Bonds' profit margin and ones that do some actual good in the world (past enriching some shareholders) and that it's a zero-sum proposition, ie buy Altruistic Knickers or buy no knickers. We know that's not true. This is a product people buy, regardless of where the profits go and who makes them. So what's so terrible about a business model that employs people in the country it's meant to help and puts the profits into helping women into businesses of their own? Part of this assumption also seems to be that people buying Altruistic Knickers will be too mean/stupid to then put any other money into giving to charity because they've already done their Good Deed. To me this seems unlikely, but evidence either way would be good. (splitting this into two for length)

            Commenter
            SJ
            Location
            cyberspace
            Date and time
            August 27, 2012, 10:44AM
            • The other assumption seems to be that commerce and aid should be separate. To this I can only ask, why? Why shouldn't business play a role in development? I can tell you as someone who has worked on projects in low income countries, people want to work, they want to start their own businesses and learn skills that will help them earn money. This kind of business aid, small as it is, may not be sustainable in the long run, but it's a hundred times better than a lot of the projects that come out of the west that dump unneeded goods (Africa doesn't need your t-shirts) or focus on "raising awareness". And even if it doesn't last those workers making the knickers in Cameroon now have skills they can sell, and you can't take that away from them.

              Commenter
              SJ
              Location
              cyberspace
              Date and time
              August 27, 2012, 10:46AM
              • Absolutely, both aid and commerce can play a role... And if that kind of publicity is what it takes to sell the product, then that's what they'll do (just like non-fair trade lingerie manufacturers have been doing for quite some time)

                Commenter
                Last0fTooMany
                Date and time
                August 27, 2012, 11:09AM

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