Real Beauty in Advertising

By now most of you are probably aware of the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” videos that have been making their internet rounds. This is the video that I first saw. It’s a segment from the full version.

While the majority of reactions that I’ve seen involve words like “moving” and “so important” or “tears” and “thank you”, as with everything on the world wide web, there are naysayers as well.

Here’s my initial disclaimer: Yes, Obviously, this is an ad. It’s an ad that aims for the end result of you buying Dove products. And YES, Dove is owned by Unilever, the company that also owns hyper-sexist, patently absurd Axe body spray. Here’s what I have to say about those two things:

  • Almost everything we see and experience these days is some form of marketing, with the end goal being ‘buy this product, see this movie, read this book after you buy this fancy e-reader, etc. etc. etc.’ If you have a problem with marketing, you should probably move to Mongolia. Seriously. That documentary that followed babies for a year made it look like a really peaceful, uninfluenced place to live.
  • Dove Unilever Axe… If you really want to get up in arms about who owns what, then prepare to give up A Lot of your favorite things because guess what. There are about ten companies that own damn near everything, and when it comes to the people who control the money in those companies, that number gets even smaller.
  • Now let’s look at the number of women who have influence over what kind of media we see (including film, tv, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, communications jobs, video games, and the internet). For the 21st century, the numbers are still quite abysmal. The Women’s Media Center report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013, points out the finding that “At its current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.”

What does all of this mean? It means that every step counts. It means that there is nothing wrong with getting excited about a company choosing this:

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Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.33.26 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.34.06 AM

Over this:

Kate-Upton-Guess-Ad-Campaign-Photo-Shoot-2011-Photos-6
Of all the naysaying, there is a key issue that is very elegantly addressed on this tumblr, and that (unsurprisingly) is the issue of race. I am in complete agreement that the Dove ‘real beauty’ ads consistently do not reflect the true diversity of the population. This video in particular features women of color for about 10 seconds in a video that is over 6 minutes long. The man drawing the women appears to be Hispanic, but he is not the target of the ad, he merely plays a role in it. I was hoping to see more from the women of color in the full version of the video, and I was disappointed to see that it was in fact more women who were white, most of whom were blonde.

I then read a comment on FB from my friend Anne who said she was on board with the video until her daughter, who is nearly seven, asked what she was watching. At that point Anne realized, “…as I explained it to her, it became clear to me that the video’s very narrow definition of what beauty looks like, as well as the idea of its supreme importance to a woman’s life, are actually antithetical to what I try so hard to pass on to her.”

Again, I agree. The idea of beauty’s ‘supreme importance’ must be turned on its head before women will be taken seriously as complex individuals with a great deal to offer the world beyond their looks. The unfortunate reality is that there is currently an intense amount of emphasis placed on a woman’s beauty, and this emphasis is Everywhere. Any instance of encouraging women to feel beautiful in their own skin should be built upon to challenge the current ideals even further. Celebrate and promote instances where you think media is doing it right, and call out the instances that aren’t. Go ahead and contact Dove and say “Your real beauty sketches ad had great intent behind it, but it’s a shame you didn’t see fit to be truer to your own message and feature a more diverse group of women. I’ll consider buying your products when I see genuine diversity in your ads.” Or something to that effect.

Anne then referenced a friend who questioned what the Dove ad means for women who “actually look like the photo on the left”…and honestly my first thought was, ‘but do you? Do you look like one of the photos on the left, or is that only your impression of yourself?’ I have to stand behind this campaign’s challenge to women to Be Aware of how you see yourself versus how others see you. This blog was started based on the frightening statistic that 97% of women, on average, have thirteen or more negative thoughts about themselves every day. Even more disturbing to me has been the number of women I know who hear that statistic and are entirely unfazed, because that sounds normal to them. It has become a personal ambition of mine to reverse that statistic, until 97% of women have an average of thirteen positive thoughts about themselves every day. In this endeavor, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Issues of gender and race are huge, complex, and deep-rooted. It is always important to question and challenge what we’re exposed to in this era of mass information, and to exercise our media literacy. When it comes to representations of women in the media that aim to be positive, I believe we need to acknowledge them and push for them to go even further. As I see it, the ultimate goal is to free women of the preoccupation with how we look. If in fact only 4% of the world’s women think they’re beautiful, and it’s certainly true that the vast majority of the world’s media is telling them that beautiful is what they should strive to be, that preoccupation is inevitable.

I’m compelled to quote the Contentious Ad Campaign here, because I think it’s a crucial point: Imagine a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. If we don’t even Begin to look deeper, to build confidence, to expand notions of a woman’s worth, we will never get to the point where girls and women value themselves beyond their beauty.

My final word is this – if nothing else, I am fucking thrilled that we are having these conversations. Any and all opinions are welcome here.

Now go forth, and be your amazing self.
Note: For above and beyond the messages of Dove, Beauty Redefined has a list of “doable strategies” to redefine and reclaim notions of beauty and health, encouraging all of us to push the boundaries and “promote real fitness, confidence, happiness and love for yourself and others.”

4 thoughts on “Real Beauty in Advertising

  1. All day, as I listen to and read comments about this ad campaign, I’ve wondered what RLB’s two cents would be. Great thoughts, RLB!

  2. All day, as I listened to and read reactions to this new piece of the Dove campaign, I’ve wondered, “What will Real Living Beauty” post about this? Great thoughts, RLB!

  3. You miss my point about those of us that look like the drawing on the left. How I see myself is neither here nor there. I wasn’t even talking about myself, specifically. The reality is that there are MANY women out there who DO like like the drawing on the left, and will see this ad and watch those women get all teary and verklempt because they are so THANKFUL that they don’t have to think they look like that anymore. And then the real life drawing-on-the-left women will feel even crappier about their appearance than they did before. And that makes me so sad to think about.

    So yeah, still not on board. I appreciate youir point of view, but my feeling is that when an ad like this reinforces both the same old (that is: young, white, thin, visible cheekboned, small nosed, non-crows-feeted) very narrow definition of beauty AND the idea that this standard should be a driving concern in the lives of women, I don’t think it IS encouraging women to feel beautiful in their own skin. I think it encourages self-criticism and the preoccupation with what others might think of us, specifically our appearances. And I think these things stand in the way of developing the real confidence and character that allow a woman to not only feel, but know, that she is beautiful. No matter what others may think.

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