U.S. Army Col. Lynette Arnhart: ‘Use Average-Looking Women’ for PR

Be … all that you can be. In the Ar-r-r-my.”

When it comes to public relations, that famous slogan only applies to women who are a whole lot of ugly—at least according to U.S. Army Colonel Lynette Arnhart and her embarrassing internal email, which leaked all over Politico yesterday.

Col. Arnhart thinks pretty women with fresh makeup on deployment aren’t portraying a proper image for a national communications strategy. This internal email was sent to two people, one of which determined the email would be best served if sent to everyone in his network. That guy is Col. Christian Kubik, chief of public affairs for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

The forwarded email (below, and verbatim for those scoring at home) was preceded by a personal note of his own: “A valuable reminder from the experts who are studying gender integration — when [public affairs officers] choose photos that glamorize women (such as in the attached article), we undermine our own efforts. Please use ‘real’ photos that are typical, not exceptional.”

The email that incited this response after the jump

Now that a high-ranking U.S. Army female officer has set back the women’s movement somewhere between barefoot-and-pregnant and the suffrage movement of the early 1900s, here’s the email that started this entire kerfuffle about physical beauty, women, military and dare I say, pragmatic advertising?

“In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead,” wrote Col. Lynette Arnhart, who is leading a team of analysts studying how best to integrate women into combat roles that have previously been closed off to them. She sent her message to give guidance to Army spokesmen and spokeswomen about how they should tell the press and public about the Army’s integration of women.

“There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty),” Arnhart said.

So … is she right?

After all, she has lived female perception in the military in a way people in this industry can only fathom from watching movies. That said, she really does have an understanding about how to reach the heart of women for military service and sacrifice. However, is that on exhibit here? It can also be argued that Col. Arnhart is not talking to “those women” who prefer a Louis Vutton satchel over a camo backpack.

Lastly, this isn’t the first time her thoughts have been published on this issue. Earlier this year, the U.S. Army published a story on its website quoting Col. Arnhart. It read:

“As we move toward integrating women into previously closed occupations, we must do so with the understanding that the leadership and culture of a unit — the history, lineage and social dynamics — are crucial to successfully dealing with changes that will occur.”

If a woman is homely or sexy, with flowing hair or bald, short and squatty or tall and waify, does it matter if she has the stones to load a gun, point and shoot in defense of this wonderful country? Maybe that’s realistic in itself? Sure, we can romanticize that women in the military look like Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane,” (post conniption fit and shaving her locks of love) but I know many military women, and suffice to say, not so much.

Finally, on the notion that “ugly women are perceived as competent.” This is the real world she is touting, right? In the world I see, “ugly” women aren’t perceived at all. They are ignored, slighted, shunned and anything else a misogynistic neanderthal would do to a female that does not meet his (or her) idea of what beauty in the workplace should behold.

While I won’t completely disagree with a woman that has done more for this country in one week than I will ever do, I can take exception to the inception of the idea. I would like to say that looks shouldn’t matter, but in the world of advertising, it always does. How we choose to look at this particular “comms strategy” is another story — the good, the bad and the ugly.