I must admit, the first seven times someone emailed Dove’s ubiquitous new ad campaign, I got a little weepy and emotional. It hit all the right cords, all the soft, vulnerable spots that most women (and many men!) hold deep about their appearance. My nose is too big. My eyes are too far apart. My chin is too pointy. My forehead is too high. My X is too Y. It takes all those “toos” and flips them, revealing with a clever gimmick how much we underestimate our own beauty. Here, just watch, it’s easier than explaining it:
It’s good advertising. It’s memorable, it’s shareable, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy. I literally feel prettier simply by watching it. Maybe I should go buy some Dove products….
It’s a testament to how compelling this video is that I didn’t bother to put on my critical hat and unpack this bad boy a little. I was so distracted by the swelling music and the teary eyed attractive-but-not-too-attractive people that I forgot that the broader implications of this video are hella problematic.
The blogs Jazzy Little Drops and Eat the Damn Cake do a great job of breaking it down, but here are a few of the key issues:
1. Beauty is still #1 – As the participants in the video experiment articulate, how they feel about themselves as friends, employees, partners, as human beings is affected by how they feel about their looks. This might be true, in the technical sense that many people do feel this way, but it’s not okay. We attribute all sorts of “good” qualities to those that possess certain desirable traits, and all sorts of “bad” qualities to those that don’t. This campaign does nothing to undermine this correlation, but rather reinforces it. As one participant says, natural beauty “could not be more critical to your happiness.” Is that really the message we want to send when we’re pushing “Real Beauty?”
2. Only certain things are beautiful: Namely, anything thin. The positive descriptions of body parts are pretty narrow, “thin nose” and “thin chin” = good. Round face = bad. Freckles = bad. Forget the racial connotations (are thin noses the only good noses?), what we see reflected in the commentary is not that beauty standards should be widened, but that more people meet the arbitrary requirements than we think. Congratulations, you’ve made the cut! Should there be a cut? Well, no… but there is, and you made it (phew! you’re not one of the ugly ones), so bravo for you!
3. Speaking of race….: As Jazzy pointed out, people of color appear on screen a total of 10 seconds. Yeahhhhh, like that’s not reductionist. Do you remember the story about the black newscaster with close-cropped hair who got fired after responding to a viewer who told her to “wear a wig or grow more hair?” The idea that one certain thing–long, straight hair, for example–is objectively beautiful is preposterous. All you have to do is watch Jessica Simpson’s VH1 show The Price of Beauty to remember that what you think is beautiful isn’t necessarily the standard everywhere. Jeez, how arrogant can we get?
So where does that leave us? Where does that leave Dove? I’ve been skeptical of those folks for a while, ever since someone clued me in that their parent company, Unilever, is also the parent company of Axe (maker of body spray and terrible commercials).
The goal of this ad is not to change beauty standards. It is not to diminish the importance we place on beauty as a measure of woman’s worth. It is not to remind the universe that the way you look does not determine the kind of person you are or the value you add to the world. The goal of this ad is to make you buy more Dove products. Period.
Related Post: Why is it okay to put 16-year-olds in lingerie ads? It’s not.
Related Post: Models without make-up.