The latest feel-good video from Dove came out a few weeks back, and I’ve been wondering for a while now how I feel about it. For those that haven’t seen it, I’ve linked it here, but the quick version is that women were asked to describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist. Then, another person was brought in the room to describe the same woman. When the images were revealed, the image of the person described by someone else was more beautiful than the image described by the woman herself. The message is this: You are more beautiful than you think you are.
On the one hand, I can appreciate this call to increase self esteem among women. You can’t deny it’s needed in a world where boy bands can sing songs about women being more beautiful because of their low self-esteem, and instead of there being an outcry, the song winds up climbing the charts. As women, we are taught to deflect, to be kinder to others than to ourselves. We are called names if we have the same type of self-esteem or confidence (or even ego) that exists without comment in men.
And yet I still don’t like this video. First, the obvious: Dove is still trying to sell us products. Dove is still trying to sell us products to make us more beautiful, because apparently we are not, in fact, beautiful enough the way we are. The scrolling image on the front page of their site right now goes from telling me I’m more beautiful than I think I am to telling me that I can’t wear a sleevless top unless I’m wearing Dove deodorant. Heck, the title of the webpage (up in the web browser bar) says, “Hair Care, Body Cleansers, Lotions & Beauty Tips.” What this says to me is that beauty can be measured, and if you aren’t beautiful, you aren’t trying hard enough. I mean, come on! Look at all these tips.
Second, I can’t help but notice that Dove is owned by Unilever, which owns Axe. Axe has run some horribly sexist ad campaigns. Mixed message, much? Or is it that advertisers will do whatever it takes to sell their products and that, for Dove, what it takes is to market to insecure women and, for Axe, to market to machismo men? Either way, I’m not buying that this campaign is really about making women feel better about themselves.
But let’s assume for a minute that the ad campaign IS strictly about helping women feel better about themselves. I still don’t like it. It’s still selling beauty as a commodity, and it’s still prioritizing beauty over things like, say, personality and kindness. What’s more, it’s clear to everyone in the commercial—and those of us watching at home—that beauty can be defined, and that is something we should all strive for. The ad doesn’t tell women they’re beautiful just the way they are, it says they’re more beautiful than they think they are. Think you’re a two on the one-to-ten-scale? Don’t worry! You’re really a three!
When will we, as women, be encouraged to start defining our worth based on something other than the way we look? A woman in the ad says that she needs to recognize her natural beauty because it “impacts everything.” Everything.
And they call this a good thing.