Dove Has A Beauty Problem

doveIn April, I posted Dove’s Real Beauty campaign video on my Facebook with the caption, “You’re more beautiful than you think.” At first glance, this video seemed comforting, almost therapeutic as an antidote against our airbrushed versions of beauty typified by Hollywood and glossy magazine covers. Instead of telling women to lose weight, apply makeup correctly and  dress for our body shapes, Dove (which sells skin and hair-care products) reassured us that we are beautiful despite our self-confessed flaws. But there was something deeply distressing about the message behind this Dove ad:

With soothing music playing in the background, the ad traces various women as they describe themselves to a former forensic artist. From behind the curtain, he sketches, following their lead while also completing a second portrait—one based on how a stranger describes the woman. At the end, the artist unveils the two portraits side-by-side. On the one hand, it is quite moving to see the women tear up as they see that others find them more attractive than they see themselves. What woman doesn’t want to feel empowered and confident in her own skin?

But among many other problematic aspects of this ad, Dove wants us to know that being beautiful is still what matters most. And by beautiful, they mean society’s narrowly defined cultural perception of beauty — i.e., white, thin, young, blonde.

This is a problem.

The blaring flaw of Dove’s rationale is the company’s expectation that it is a woman’s responsibility to feel better about herself. Society doesn’t need to change; we do.

Really, Dove?

In response to the ad, Kate Fridkis, a body-image blogger, wrote:

The world has to meet us halfway by convincing us that there’s a lot more to us than the way we look, and that those things are, believe it or not, even more important than the way we look.

Dove is well known for their “real beauty” feel good ad campaigns. Inspired by a company report in 2004 and again in 2011 that found only 2-4% of women consider themselves beautiful, Dove launched a series of ads to spark dialogue and challenge definitions of beauty as part of their greater “social mission.”

After the success of the viral video “Real Beauty Sketches” (shown above), Dove released another ad earlier this month. While “Camera Shy,” a short montage style video, still reminds women that being beautiful matters, they add a follow-up question:

“When did you stop thinking you were beautiful?”

The ad attempts to contrast grown women running from cameras to attention-seeking girls giggling, dancing and hamming it up for the lens. At the end of the video, a little girl smiles into a hand mirror before the ad flashes back to the Dove logo, accompanied by the company’s official motto: “Be your beautiful self.”

Not just be yourself, but your “beautiful self.”

By pinpointing the problem as being one of women avoiding cameras, Dove is supposed to be encouraging us to love ourselves more (and assuming that not wanting our picture taken means we hate our appearance). And while Dove’s intention is noble — to inspire confidence in women and girls — it sends mixed messages that pair a sense of identity with the necessary burden to worry about our looks (after all, Dove does market products to make us look “better”).

This message is reiterated in the caption under the ad that reads,

We created Camera Shy to ask women why they hide from the camera as an adult but loved the camera as a little girl. What happened along the way? We’re inviting women to reflect on the point in their lives when they became their own worst beauty critics and encouraging them to be their own beautiful self.

But if we dance around and rediscover our playful, camera-seeking girl-child, maybe we won’t need to buy Dove! Maybe we won’t need to purchase any product simply to achieve body-image-boosting confidence.

Here’s my last word, Dove: If you sincerely want women to feel more confident, stop telling us that being beautiful is the be-all, end-all. Let women be more than our “beautiful selves.” Let us be intelligent, smart, passionate, adventurous, artistic, politically active. Let us just be ourselves.

Photo from Flickr user flairinthecityph under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. Also, let’s not forget that the company that owns Dove, Unilever, owns Axe too (I spray myself with Axe and then I can use women for sex!). Ipocrits.

  2. I think that’s crap. Yes, there’s more to women (and humans in general) than the way we look. But who DOESN’T want to be pleased with their own appearance?
    And I don’t think that Dove is trying to say that beauty (however it’s defined) is the “be-all, end-all”. Not in the least. But they are a company that specializes in beauty products, so they’re speaking to what they know.
    Beauty is a big, complicated thing, and it means something different to everyone. But wanting to look/feel beautiful when we look in the mirror isn’t something to be vilified, even when the message of beauty is coming from a company that, in my mind, is trying really hard to teach women that, despite what most of the rest of the media tells us, we are beautiful no matter what. How can that be wrong?

    • There is nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself. I think the problem lies in the fact that in our culture, we are being spoon fed a very specific idea of what it means to be beautiful. There isn’t much variety involved in what beauty is, so when a variety of women look in the mirror and think they need to see someone else to feel beautiful then I think we have a problem. When a man looks in a mirror he also wants to feel good about his appearance, but we don’t see the same level of attention or the same neurosis going into what they think they need to do to maintain their beauty. There is a problem when the thing that women are supposed to used to define their worth is so closely tied to something like their beauty.
      And when you say that Dove specializes in beauty products so they’re speaking to what they know, I think that point may be a little naive. Not only do we live in a capitalist, consumer-driven culture, but Dove is a multi million dollar company that is trying to make money. IF they are so good at what they know, then why are they selling and promoting skin lightening products in India? This idea that they “know beauty” is bullshit. The only time I use soap is when I wash my hands. I used to have a strict regimen in which I would wash my face in the morning when I woke up and at night before I went to bed. I would shower every other day, use the moisturizing shampoos and conditioners, and wash my body with gentle soaps so that my skin would be soft and ‘beautiful’ I stopped doing this a couple of years ago. Now I use good old hot water and a rag to get the dirt off, and I don’t wash my hair anymore, I used a ‘dry shampoo’ of corn starch, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. I get compliments on my skin and hair all the time. These “experts” and their beauty products are all bullshit. We don’t need their shit. I especially don’t need DOVE to tell me to love my beautiful self.

      The author of this piece is not criticizing the desire to feel/look beautiful when we look in the mirror. What she is criticizing is the narrow focus our culture has on women’s beauty at the exclusion of any of a million other features that are worth consideration when evaluating someone’s self-esteem. We think it’s normal and “the way it is” to worry so much about our looks, but this is what keeps us distracted and out of the way. IT keeps us from being more than just our looks. And we ARE more than our looks. When ads like this come out, it makes everyone, women and men, think that women just want to be beautiful. That’s only part of it. I want to be beautiful and smart and good at soccer and write poetry and be a good friend and many many other things. What I don’t want is to be told I need to be my beautiful self. Dove does not actually care about improving our self esteem. They care about reminding us that we have poor self esteem. When did you stop thinking that you were beautiful?? Dove is just another company trying to make money off of women who think they need to buy shit they don’t need to make themselves feel beautiful.

  3. Axenya Kachen says:

    I think that Dove should not be criticized or scrutinized for a campaign that is centered around natural beauty while their competitors continue to use models that create unrealistic body images with photoshopped faces. Marketers today in the makeup and hair industry face two main questions; how to pray on female’s low self-esteem and how to use their low self-esteem to convince them to purchase the product. Instead of perpetuating the cycle, Dove has attempted to start a campaign that supports every woman. This can be seen by looking at the company’s mission statement, which is as follows-

    “Dove® is committed to building positive self-esteem and inspiring all women and girls to reach their full potential—but we need your help. We’re building a movement in which women everywhere have the tools to take action and inspire each other and the girls in their lives. It could be as simple as sending a word of encouragement to a girl in your life or supporting self-esteem education in your town. From mentoring the next generation to celebrating real beauty in ourselves and others, we can open a world of possibilities for women and girls everywhere.”

    Obviously from a corporate point of view, this is a lucrative campaign that could bring a lot of positive press about Dove; however, as a consumer, should the profitability of the product deter us from buying it? I think Dove has done a great job of combining their realistic Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC-all aspects of marketing from the pricing of the product to the color of that annoying flyer you get in the mail) goals with a positive body image campaign. Nit-picking and overanalyzing the advertisements will no doubt raise concerns about how Dove generalizes women or forces us to look beautiful in a certain way. I think that is a misinterpretation of the message. It never says real beauty looks like or even implies that it is external. The mission statement clearly states that we should celebrate “real beauty in ourselves and others”, which in no way implies a certain external image.

    Rather than opposing Dove on their attempt to create a new kind of marketing beauty for women, we should support them and guide them through their efforts. In some people’s opinion, some of the advertisements don’t fully coincide with the mission statement, and they may show “real beauty” in a negative or forceful way. If there are subtle problems with the way in which they convey the mission statement, we should write to the company in a friendly way and explain our concerns. I fully support Dove’s first try at breaking barriers and think they will continue to grow and improve in the future.

  4. Exactly what I don’t understand! Why do all women HAVE to be beautiful?

    There is more to you than appearance.

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