Real beauty comes from within

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.

10 Comments

  • geneva says:

    What really got me about the video was that fact that the sketches on the left most likely resemble a piece of the general population in one way or another.

    So, you are more beautiful than you think, unless you happen to look like the women on the left.

  • Amaris says:

    I like the idea of a forensic artist trying to capture beauty. What a fun advertising twist! However, yeah, it’s advertising with terrible, emotionally manipulative music (“sad piano meets sad epiphany”).

    Also, when asked to describe your physical appearance, who gives such detailed narrative descriptions (my mother always said…) instead of simple, declarative sentences (my eyes are brown)?

    And why does it have to end on the “we should spend more time appreciating the things that we like” line while showing a super cute, young couple nuzzling and giggling? Why not a set of hairy middle-aged folks nuzzling? Or a woman with a cat, some tea, and some Jane Austen? Or a woman watching Hoarders and applying Dove facial creams in her own hazardous house?

  • Kathryn Houghton Kathryn says:

    Plus, the women in the video are largely traditionally attractive anyway: skinny, white, long hair, etc.

    • Exactly. What about folks who really aren’t traditionally attractive at all? Are they more beautiful than they think? Would other people describe them differently than they themselves would? We don’t get the chance to find out, because no one like that is featured. I also noticed the Dove/Axe dichotomy and find it hard to take any of it as a step in the right direction.

  • Liz Rognes says:

    Kathryn,
    I really appreciate this post. You’re right–the disturbing thing about this ad is that it’s acting like a kind of commodification of self-esteem. I agree with you that because it’s playing on the insecurities of women as a means to advertising for a product, it’s really not that different than ads that feature women with unrealistic body types or flawless skin. The intention is the same: to appeal to women’s insecurities in order to sell a product. And this feels manipulative. Thanks for posting and for articulating what made me feel so uncomfortable about this ad!

  • Melissa says:

    I’ve seen so many articles and comments piling on about this video, and I don’t have the huge problem with it that so many seem to have. It’s attempting to further a conversation about self-perception & insecurity, problems which we know exist but make no real effort to change in ourselves, even when we identify the behavior in friends. Dove isn’t mentioned at all until the end credits, and no products are mentioned or shown or referenced in any way. Dove doesn’t sell makeup or Botox or fake eyelashes or fake nails; they sell deodorant and shampoo and lotion, which are about as practical of “beauty” products as you can find. I think criticism is good and always expecting more from these discussions is good, but I also think it’s fascinating that when a company makes an attempt in the direction we’d like them to go, they get criticized from all quarters for attempting to do so. Is the video perfect? Nope. Is the concept perfect? No. Do I understand that some of you feel manipulated by this video? Yes. But there are some huge generalizations being thrown around. Not all the women in the video are white & skinny, nor are they all young. I’m not saying we fall at Dove’s feet and fawn over them for “trying,” but I think the tsunami wave of criticism ignores that an effort toward a conversation is being made, and it ignores the positive things about their advertising as compared to 99% of other companies. I’m great with demanding more and expecting more, but all of the criticism I’ve seen could be summed up with a look of disgust, throwing up of hands and turning away. Shouldn’t we save that behavior for the Go Daddy ads?

    • geneva says:

      I like that people are being skeptical, but I think you’re right. The video is getting a little more flack than it probably deserves.

      I wonder if the reaction to the video would be any different if it wasn’t associated with Dove, or any other brand for that matter?

  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    Who’s to say that the sketch artist wasn’t told to make the 2nd drawing “more beautiful.” Or more appealing, or whatever. And what were the observers told — the ones who described the subject for the second drawing? And were NONE of the first drawings “more beautiful or appealing or whatever” than the second drawings? And I agree with Amaris: The sad but somehow healing music is just so absolutely nauseating.

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