Dove's "real beauty" campaign has been causing controversy (and garnering accolades) for several years now. The last time the company attracted serious media attention was when a group of average-sized women in skivvies stood around looking comfortable and happy in their bodies. It created an Internet firestorm because so many people commented that the women were "too fat" to be pictured in their undies in the national media. Average-sized women everywhere were insulted and angered — understandably.
Dove's new campaign is decidedly more subtle and brings a softer approach at examining current standards of beauty — and it is, arguably, more effective at questioning our standards of what is beautiful and how it affects us all.
In the online video (there is a short, three-minute version and an extended six-minute version), women sit with a sketch artist, who draws a portrait of them in pencil, based on the descriptions they provide of themselves. Then, another sketch is drawn, but this time, it's someone else' description of the same woman. The two images are hung next to each other, and the differences between them are vast; the first portrait invariably shows a pretty unattractive face (homely is the word that comes to mind), whereas the second shows a more attractive — and, since we can see the women who are being sketched — a more accurate version of the woman's face. The women's faces as they examine the two images are heartbreaking, because we see what they do; most women's descriptions of themselves are not just mean (pointy chin, too-small eyes, thin, lank hair), but inaccurate.
The sketches show specifically how women see themselves, and it is not pretty, and certainly not beautiful.
The video has gotten plenty of attention (the three-minute version has gotten more than 13 million views in six days), and, so far, not much of it has been negative (although there is now a parody video made with men, which mostly just reinforces how men are not subject to the same negative image issues that women accept as normal). Mostly, it seems, it has made women sad — for each other and for themselves, since as one woman points out, how we feel about ourselves impacts what jobs we apply for, our confidence in the world, and even how a mother interacts with her children.
Of course, not everybody loves the ad: one commenter on the video wrote, "I really don't like how this ad implies that women conduct themselves mainly based on whether or not they think they're pretty. As if we have nothing better to do with our lives than to look good. As if women with low self-esteem make bad mothers."
Blogger Jazz Brice also took issue with the ads, writing that although she does see the value of the video: "Why are so many females I know having such a strong reaction to the sketches video, being moved to the point of tears?
Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty.
"Brave, strong, smart? Not enough. You have to be beautiful. And 'beautiful' means something very specific, and very physical. Essentially every movie and TV show and commercial shows us that, right? It doesn’t matter what other merits a woman posses, if she is not conventionally attractive, she is essentially worthless (go watch 'Miss Representation' for more thoughts on this). And my primary problem with this Dove ad is that it’s not really challenging the message like it makes us feel like it is."
Whatever you think of the video, it is one that really gets you to think — about your own beauty and self-esteem, the impact it has on others, and, as the blogger above writes, what your own definition of beauty really is (and how much of that is the physical, exterior part of yourself, and how much is all the something else that make each of us unique individuals). Getting girls and women to think and talk about those things is important, and the ad succeeds in doing that — almost to an uncomfortable degree.
What do you think of the videos? Have they changed the way you see yourself?
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