Three days ago, Dove launched a new part of its Campaign for Real Beauty: a forensic sketch artist drew women as they described themselves and then a second time, as others described them. The differences are shocking.
Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has been running successfully since 2004, sporting images of women of all colors, shapes and sizes celebrating their life, experiences and wrinkles as beautiful. This week, the company ran a campaign showing the results of a recent experiment.
Dove's PR firm, Ogilvy & Mather, hired Gil Zamora, an FBI-trained forensics artist, to sketch women as they described themselves and then a second time, as other women described them. As you might imagine, the sketches were vastly different. Women often described themselves using negative attributes, such as "freckled," "scars," "fat," "starting to get crow's feet" and so on. However, when they described others, the terms used were more neutral or positive.
The video and sketches have been making the internet rounds today, and many women are finding the portrayal of women's deprecating self-talk moving.
However, others didn't. Some critiques of the campaign have arisen. They seem to take two major forms of objection:
- The women portrayed aren't diverse enough.
- Self-esteem is all well and good, but the focus is still on physical beauty rather than intelligence or talent.
The most popular reaction piece making the rounds on Tumblr was posted by JazzyLittleDrops, who makes both of the above arguments articulately:
When it comes to the diversity of the main participants: all four are Caucasian, three are blonde with blue eyes, all are thin, and all are young (the oldest appears to be 40). The majority of the non-featured participants are thin, young white women as well. Hmm… probably a little limiting, wouldn’t you say? ...Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.
Objection #1: lack of diversity
And I'm going to make an unpopular argument here: in order to make the
point that all women are harsh critics of their own appearance, it's
optimal to show traditionally attractive people doing that very thing.
In fact, I would argue that showing women who are traditionally
attractive criticizing their own appearance brings home the point: every
woman needs to have compassion in her self-talk. What does come across
loud and clear is that even thin, white, blue-eyed blondes describe
themselves in negative terms and have something to learn about the
damage that does to oneself.
There is power in realizing that the women you envy for their attractiveness experience the same negative self-talk as you. And this often leads to the realization that hey, maybe my own self-critiques aren't as accurate as I think they are.
Story: I used to spend my summers working at a chainmaille booth at the local Rennaissance faire. (Yup. I was a Rennie geek. Commence the mocking.) I spent all day putting fantasy chainmaille on moms, sisters, new wives and older women. I loved it, and I'll tell you why: for almost every woman I dressed, I saw an immediate transformation in her face as she looked in the mirror. It was as if, suddenly, she remembered that she was more than a mom, more than a competent project manager, more than the sum of her task list. I would see faces turned on by a kind of joy, and I'd say, "Yup. You are beautiful. You always were. That's not the chainmaille. That's YOU."
Women can get a hard rap in this life--we shoulder a lot of responsibility and often forget to take care of ourselves. My job was to remind women that, in addition to being capable and responsible and talented, they were also allowed to think of themselves as beautiful and have that be OK, too.
This isn't about you. And I'll make a second argument here: this particular campaign is about how women see themselves, not about how you see them. You see a lack of color; I see real women discovering the limits they are drawing on their own self-esteem. You see a lack of age representation; I see one real woman questioning the perception of herself she's held for years. You see a lack of body size diversity; I see a woman realizing that she is harder on herself than she would ever be on anyone else, and that she's been teaching that principle to her daughter.
Objection #2: Beauty is still physicalSo let's take a look at the second objection: the campaign still focuses on external appearance as "beauty" rather than on personality traits, accomplishments, intelligence or talent. As Jazzy puts it,
Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty.OK, essentially, this is true. She's right. The focus is on physical appearance and how women perceive their physical appearance and its relation to the word "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.
And here comes the part where I'm going to lose my girl card. Guys, come on--this is an ad campaign from a cosmetics company. Their goal wasn't to change the definition of beautiful, noble as that might have been; it was to create awareness about self-perception of beauty. This is a good thing for a cosmetics company to do and is a helluva lot better than what its competitors are doing! Shouldn't we be celebrating the fact that a company has opted to focus on something that is important to women--their negative self-talk and how it affects their self esteem--rather than bashing the company for not meeting every point of our own agendas?
This is one of those cases where I believe we should celebrate an organization taking the first few steps in trying to make a difference in women's self-esteem rather than bashing them for not meeting a specific agenda. In my opinion, this was a good step. Will women still think they need to change their appearance to be beautiful? Probably. But will these videos give some women pause and bring awareness about their own negative self-talk about their appearance, perhaps even lead them to change their behavior. Maybe. And that's a damn fine step if it does happen.
What do you think? Did the videos and sketches move you, or did they anger you? Did you find them relatable or alienating?