“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck”…
It doesn’t take much inductive reasoning to see Miss Travel is afoul.
That said, using critical thinking skills to see why this new ‘dating site’ offering ‘free travel for attractive people’ (ahem, cough, prosti-travel) doesn’t pass the sniff test is a useful mini-lesson.
Miss Travel is a teachable moment on multiple levels of what’s wrong with our culture, using a “profit at all costs” credo that’s wreaked havoc on public health, body image, human sexuality, and kids physical and socio-emotional well-being translated into “the hottie factor” fouling up the works for both girls AND boys.
But to give you an idea of how my own brain processed the jaw-dropping ‘yougawdabekiddinme’ moment that self-objectification is being brazenly commodified, sold under the hook of celebrity-style/whisk away in a flight of fantasy…my thought pattern went something like this:
1.) “Wait, this is from The Onion, right? No one would be this cheesy” (media literacy self-chatter: note who’s telling the story, whose interests are served, what makes the ad (un)believable, what’s left out of the message?)
2.) “This smacks of human trafficking is it even legal?” (delve into sites for disclaimers, hold harmless clauses, legalese/terms of service )
3.) “Maybe they’re outrage baiting as a startup marketing ploy to seed viral word of mouth” (use media with mindfulness, be aware of secondary agendas, motivations, how they are used)
4.) “Is this another slick hipster with a ‘sproinged’ moral compass marketing ‘lifestyle’ portrayal without seeing any harm?” (deep dive into target market/research on psychographics, socioeconomics of any product/service—it further escalates levels of concern if young/vulnerable demographics are in the manipulation mix)
5.) “Who’s behind the message? Is it a one-off wild hair or a brand extension stemming from somewhere else?” (recon core founders/CEO, history, sponsors, prior precedent, social media feeds–Miss Travel’s Twitter, Facebook etc. for example)
6.) My last ditch attempt at denial hoping it was just a media misfire fell along the lines of, “Hmn…maybe it’s a beta test for traction? A PR test to show and tell…gee, who might gain fiscally from buzz brewing?” (unearth the money trail: follow the pitch/profit /persuasion/partners, do a tonality check, what’s their own valuation?)
I may sound profoundly hopeful to some and media-jaded to others, either way, the applied science of critical consumption (aka “crap detection 101”) spins nicely into a teachable moment.
As much as I’d like to shrug off this ‘hotties fly free’ media/marketing foolishness thinking no one will take a site like this seriously, I realize we’re now in a culture where tweens 8-12 post “Am I Ugly?” videos of themselves for internet evaluation in a desperate plea for self-worth…
Pragmatically, with the economy, it concerns me that some young person could see this site with naivete as viable. (or conversely, cynically sellout in ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em self-commodification mode)
I even harken back to my own youth, particularly in the lean college years trying to find ways to get flights home to Hawaii from the mainland…I remember reading ads for ‘free flights for couriers’ marketed like spy novels and ‘free flights for timeshare leads’ if you’d agree to sit through sales pitches galore and my parents rolling their eyes with ‘no free lunch’ life lessons layered onto me like a dagwood sandwich.
Further, you don’t have to even be ‘in the market for freebies’ to be damaged by it. We keep expressing to kids what we value in our culture by perpetuating this damaging “appearance=worth” concept and the ‘hottie for hire’ arm candy isn’t helping when we add a “Pretty Woman” escort dynamic into the media mix. As it is, the singular message of “Facebook camera-ready” photo ops and self-worth tied to body beauty has already taken a massive toll on teen self-esteem.
Critical thinking skills need imparted early and often so by the time youth strike out solo they can smell a slithery snake-oil scenario a continent away.
Whether we’re sounding sirens on sites like Miss Travel that toss caution to the wind in a sellout swap of bod for goods objectification, or discerning credibility of information on the internet (great video on five literacies by academic superstar Howard Rheingold) imparting self-assessment/inquiry as a life skill is a universal win.
Here are a few starter questions to put you through the paces, using the conceptual framework model (Chris Worsnop/Media Awareness) always circling back to the question, “how do I know?” and 20 questions using media messages as fodder (the entire Media Literacy Clearinghouse education site has a wealth of resources on every topic and niche to peel the onion on media messaging and self-inform)
Now on to the finite deconstruction of the Miss Travel site itself, with a special youth analysis about the damaging sexualization and objectification taking flight, written by Spark Summit colleague and contributor Bailey Shoemaker Richards who could easily be the ‘target market’ that Miss Travel is ‘going for’ herself.
Miss Travel is a Misstep:
A Look Through The Myopic Lens Of Power
by Bailey Shoemaker Richards
Brandon Wade, the CEO of Miss Travel (as well as the Sugar Daddy & Sugar Baby Blog, see Seeking Arrangement.com video, among others), may deny that the website is an escort service until he’s blue in the face, but that’s what it is, even by the most generous definition.
The basic premise is that if you’re a young and attractive woman (or possibly man – the website is a bit conflicted on that score, saying it’s 100% for attractive women in some spots, and offering travel to men in others), you can travel for free, thanks to the help of generous men and women who will offer to pay for your entire trip in exchange for company.
That’s the catch, because there is always a catch. Nothing is free.
After the trip is over, the “Generous” members get to award points to the women they traveled with (no mention of how points are assigned), and “Attractive” travelers who rack up enough points may someday earn a paid trip of their own.
There’s also no mention of whether or not the “Attractive” travelers are able to rate their companions – accountability only goes one way in this transaction, and all the power is in the hands of those who have the money.
I have nothing against escort services in and of themselves. People will do what they need to in order to make money, or to find a career they enjoy. That’s fine and dandy.
What angers me about this website is how blithely it pretends to be a dating website, how emphatically it denies that this type of paid companionship is an escort service, and the nasty messages the business model reinforces about women’s bodies and what dating is.
By pretending to be a dating website, Miss Travel makes it clear that the role of women in any relationship is to be beautiful and available, and the role of men is to have control over the finances, the destination, and whether or not women continue to have worth after the relationship is over.
Miss Travel is based on a deep-set form of sexism that says that women’s only value comes in their ability to be attractive, posits relationships as existing only as transactions around that attractiveness, and counts on women’s internalized misogyny to survive. Only young women deemed attractive enough by an outside arbiter (women who sign up for the site must have their pictures approved) are able to participate in this business. Women’s only worth, in Wade’s world, is their ability to be young and pretty enough to be worth a fee from rich men.
Among the obvious stock photos of swimsuit models, there are real young women waiting to be selected by a random man to travel to another part of the world on his dime, where they will be expected to keep him company and earn those “Attractive” points.
These young women have absorbed and internalized the message that the only way for them to get anywhere is utilize their physical appearance and youth to do so.
Looking through the website made me a bit nauseous. The blatant commoditization of women’s bodies is usually done in terms of advertising, not under a pretense of ‘helping’ attractive young women and generous travelers meet up for “mutually beneficial relationships.” Most dating websites at least emphasize finding a compatible personality match, not a match based on one party’s wealth and the other party’s ability to be eye candy.
The imbalance of power in these arrangements is truly frightening.
The element of coercion hovering just off-screen might as well be surrounded by flashing red lights and under a big yellow warning sign.
I can think of few more vulnerable situations to be in, and while the website recommends exercising caution before agreeing to travel with a stranger, that reads more like liability boilerplate than any commitment on the part of the website to make sure “Attractive” travelers are going to be safe.
Miss Travel and Wade’s other brainchildren use women’s sexuality as a bargaining chip – but only if those women are young and attractive.
While Miss Travel posits itself as a dating website, in reality it is completely reliant on women’s willingness to allow their bodies to become more valuable than their talents and intelligence. The normalization of self-objectification in this type of business relationship reinforces very ugly ideas about what it means to be a woman.
Young women who come across this website are told yet again that worth comes from an ability to conform to arbitrary standards of attractiveness, and a willingness to capitalize on that youth and beauty. Women’s worth lasts only as long as men are willing to spend money on them, and that worth is divorced from any notions of compatibility with the spender. There is no negotiation or mutual respect in this type of relationship: women’s bodies are all they have to work with.
Advertising already makes it clear to girls and women that bodies are commodities, that worth comes from conforming to an unattainable beauty standard, and that what women do with their education, experience and talents is a distant second to whether or not men find them attractive. Miss Travel takes this message to its logical conclusion, allowing only the chosen “Attractive” users to benefit – or put themselves at risk.
The disingenuous nature of Miss Travel (at least Wade’s other companies have the decency to be transparent about what type of relationship they’re creating), combined with the reinforcement of the idea that women’s role is to catch the attention of a wealthy man, combined further with the risky nature of the proposition of traveling with strangers, adds up to a dangerous mix of misogyny and coercion. Buyer – and traveler – beware.
As you may recall, Shaping Youth proudly participated in the initial convening of the Spark Summit.com planning sessions and launch of the now successful movement to SPARK change (Sexualization. Protest. Action. Resistance. Knowledge.)
We’re proud to support their contributors and youth team in crossposts, platform access and mentorship in any way possible, in an ongoing content partnership.
She spends her free time writing, reading, playing video games and watching Doctor Who. Bailey is passionate about grassroots activism, media critique and giving a voice to young women. Follow Bailey at SPARK and on Twitter
Review: What IS Sexualization? APA Explains…
“There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality.
Sexualization occurs when:
- a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
- sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.”
Visual Credits: Stop/safety flashing lights: wholesale-car-electronics.net
Miss Travel “Around the Web” (press coverage from their site)
On a Positive Note…Shaping Youth’s Positive Picks: All Things Girl
Sexualization and Commodification Need Turned To R-E-S-P-E-C-T
|Shaping Youth Is In the L.A. Times (Miley Mess
Race, Gender, Sexism: Pop Culture Cues & Kids (3-part series)
(Besides Shaping Youth, SparkSummit.com, Dr.Robyn Silverman, AdProofing, PigtailPals.com, So Sexy So Soon, Respect Rx and the Respect Institute, Rachel Simmons.com, Rosalind Wiseman.com, The Girl Revolution, TrueChild, & other youth advocate blogs, see the list of resources on our sidebar e.g. aligned orgs like: About-Face, Daughters.com, Packaging Girlhood, Hardy Girls, Healthy Women etc.
Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Recos & Must Reads
So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne
Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (Packaging Boyhood, S.Y. Board Advisers)
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown
Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality Jane Brown et al (Eds)
APA Task Force on the Early Sexualization of Children (full 72pp pdf)
Girls Shape the Future: Study/Girls Inc: Early Predictors of Girls’ Adolescent Sexual Activity (summary: 8 pp pdf)