The first time I saw Skinnygirl wine in the grocery store, I felt old.
“Who is this for?” I wondered. The female silhouette on the label brings to mind 1960s-era Seventeen Magazine graphics. She is long and lean, standing with one curvy hip cocked to the side, holding a drink aloft with a willowy arm. The outline of her perky ponytail echoes her slender hourglass shape. The label boasts that Skinnygirl wine contains just 100 calories (per 5-ounce serving, it clarifies in smaller type). That’s about 20 fewer calories than most reds, about the same as most dry whites. Is the target demographic women who can’t do math?
“Surely, anyone young enough to fall for such a blatantly sexist, dated marketing campaign can’t also be old enough to drink wine,” I thought. I shrugged it off and chalked it up to the middle-age impairment of being unable to relate to the young.
But I kept seeing Skinnygirl. And she irked me.
Not only are the hockers of this plonk trying to sell women on the unattainable ideal female body image, but they’re also spewing the idea that women don’t need to trouble themselves by thinking too much about the wine they buy: Just get the one with the Barbie doll on the label.
Though I was loath to give the company any of my money, I decided I should taste it before lambasting it. At the grocery store, a friendly wine saleswoman left the tasting table to direct me toward the Skinnygirl. I told her the marketing bothered me.
“I know, right?” she said. “Why not a ‘Had Two Kids’ wine?”
“Or a ‘Size 14’ wine?” I added.
“But you’re going to buy it anyway?” she asked.
“Research,” I explained, telling her about this column.
I picked up a bottle of the Skinnygirl California red, turned it over and read the first sentence of the pitch blurb aloud: “Everyone loves a great glass of wine, but shopping for wine can be confusing.”
The wine saleswoman looked at me and said, “So you have to be skinny and stupid, too?”
The wine tastes like the mass-produced, lowest-common-taste denominator swill you would expect from a brand driven by the logo it bears. I tasted the red and the rosé. I paid $12.99 per bottle; at most, it was worth $8.
But I didn’t get really mad until I learned who’s behind the wine, and who the marketing target is. Turns out, the Skinnygirl brand is the creation of “healthy-living entrepreneur” Bethenny Frankel of Real Housewives of New York fame. A couple of years ago, sales of her Skinnygirl pre-made margaritas blew up like cosmetically plumped lips. This prompted spirits behemoth Beam to buy the brand for about $8 million and roll out more booze bearing the Skinnygirl logo.
The wines are new to the market. The company recently launched a massive “Drink Like a Lady” ad campaign that includes website blather about the meaning of ladyhood. “Sure, a lady always says please and thank you … but a lady also knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go out and get it. And Skinnygirl is here to show you how.”
The target demographic for this new line of wines, according to Beam’s PR rep, who told the online magazine “Wine-Searcher,” is the 30-to-39-year-old “woman that has it all.”
I guess Skinnygirl doesn’t read The Atlantic. The magazines’s latest article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter is a bold and provocative confession by a woman who scaled the professional ladder only to find that “having it all” took too great a toll on her life. She now believes that women have set standards for themselves that are impossible to reach under existing social, political and economic conditions. It has fueled conversations that might lead women to stop talking about “having it all” and start talking more about how to help all women have what’s really important.
Meanwhile, brands like Skinnygirl reinforce and profit from stereotypes of women that pit our self-images against a fantasy that’s not even ours. I’m still mad I gave them $25.98.
The upside is that I found solidarity in the grocery aisle. As she returned to her tasting table, the wine saleswoman said she remembered the Skinnygirl brand from its margarita line: “Yeah, I saw that before at the liquor store. I knew right then that I wasn’t ever going to buy it.”
This article appeared in print with the headline “When wine is sexist.”