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Real Beauty, Real Talk: the SPARKteam Responds to Dove’s Latest Campaign

Have you seen Dove’s latest “Real Beauty” campaign? It’s been making the rounds and causing quite a stir:

The video, which shows women describing themselves as ugly and then other people describing them as beautiful, leading up to a big reveal where we all realize that we are our own worst enemy, is drawing both praise and criticism. And of course, it’s a complicated issue. Below, the SPARKteam weighs in. Leave your own thoughts in the comments!

Celeste: I’m always suspicious of any “real beauty” stuff that Dove puts out, because their ultimate motive is to sell products. They want women to trust their brand so that they’ll spend more money on the company’s stuff; they’re building an image.

Dove is portraying itself as this trail-blazer in a new kind of advertising that makes women feel better about themselves instead of crappy, but they’re not really so different from other companies at all. They’re preying on our insecurities just like anyone else, though perhaps more indirectly. Instead of going, “you’re ugly so you need our products to fix it,” Dove is saying, “we believe you’re beautiful, so you should buy our products instead.” They’re still banking on women wanting to be beautiful (since society says they have to be). Not only does this video take advantage of our desire to be attractive, but also our desire to be TOLD we’re attractive.

I don’t feel like Dove would put these nice messages out there if they didn’t have something to gain. It’s not that Dove actually cares about our feelings, it’s that addressing our insecurities is another tool in their marketing arsenal, a marketing ploy. But regardless of whether Dove is trying to be a positive or negative influence, companies shouldn’t be manipulating my self-esteem for profit in the first place.

Annemarie: Also, even if Dove seems to care about our self-esteem, the brand is owned by Unilever, who also makes the misogynistic Axe advertisements that majorly objectify women. Unilever knows its demographic and how to toy with their desires in order to sell a product. For Dove, it’s boosting women’s confidence in their own beauty; for Axe, it’s boosting men’s confidence in getting action.

Looking at the advertisement again, it’s also tough to watch because I know that not everyone would describe me as beautifully as those strangers featured in the video described the young women. I remember growing up, hearing comments about how my hair was frizzy, my glasses were nerdy, and my overall appearance was just unattractive. Maybe now that I’m older, the stranger describing me to the sketch artist would say kind things about how I look. But maybe they wouldn’t. For those of us who are put down constantly by our looks, whether it’s because we are people of color or LGBTQ or curvy or just not in the constricting box of “beautiful,” we know that the sketch from someone’s else’s description might be even worse than our own.

I love the last line though: “we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like.” No matter how others perceive you, you have to look in the mirror and see what makes you lovely and unique. It’s important to love ourselves, and part of that is learning to love your body. Just remember that it doesn’t need validation from others. It’s beautiful because it’s yours.

Crystal: Just the idea that feeling beautiful (by being gazed upon by others not even your own definition) is like super important to your everyday life & how you treat your kids? No. This is a wreck. And some people AREN’T beautiful and have no interest in being beautiful and that’s okay! Beauty (whatever that ACTUALLY means) should be self-determined; you shouldn’t have to look to others for validation about something you were born with.

Ty: I like Dove’s products. I really do. Their deodorants, lotions, and soaps are far less overpoweringly smelly than many other brands. I appreciate the natural-ness. My liking Dove only further perpetuates my disheartening feelings in regard to their new “Real Beauty Sketches” advertisement.

This video suggests that “loving your body” means realizing that you’re actually skinnier than you think– and focuses largely on people’s perceptions of their weight. It’s sad. The message of this video is “you are more beautiful than you think”—which would be a cool message if Dove spent resources on focusing on inner beauty and not random people’s opinion about how you are skinnier and how your eyes are bluer than you thought this morning.

Not to mention, the message is just plain creepy. Dove is suggesting that a woman’s own acceptance of her beauty needs to be validated by strangers looking at them. Hey how about we teach people to look inside of themselves to find beauty for a change?

Guess what, women come in lots of different shapes, sizes, and colors. There is no such thing as conventional beauty—it’s an idea created by companies for advertising purposes. Beauty has far more to do with personal characteristics than a person’s looks.

So here’s an idea, Dove, how about you change your slogan to “your personality is great,” “your kindness is overwhelming,” or “your empathy is inspiring.”  How about you just change it to anything that does not have to do with physical beauty “validation” from strangers?

Seila: For the most part, I guess that Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign” is a step in the right direction. It doesn’t use female sexuality to sell its products (kinda), it questions mainstream beauty ideals (sorta) and it uses “regular” women (whatever that means) who actually look like the people they are marketing to as an alternative to airbrushed models. That’s good. But it’s not good enough.

I can’t help but think that this whole idea came out of a focus group where they were able to target a niche market of 15-45 year-olds who they thought might respond positively to this kind of campaign. Sure it’s marketable, but in its quest to be marketable it’s lost any of the credibility it might of had as a piece of feminist media.

My biggest problem with these campaigns is that beauty is still assumed to be a central component of women’s lives. Dove creates a false dichotomy between “real” beauty and “fake” beauty that positions women against each other. It also does very little to question the structural components that force women to become so concerned with beauty in the first place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how can Dove get away from these implicit beauty-centered marketing ideas. How can we expect them to sell a beauty product without selling the idea of beauty? What if instead of marketing the effect their product is supposed to have, they actually marketed the product. So, instead of implying “Dove will reveal your ‘true’ beauty” they could say “Dove will make your hair soft” or  ”Buy dove if you want to have nice smelling skin.” This puts the focus back on the product and it doesn’t assume the consumer is insecure about how they look or that they want to be more beautiful or that the soft-focus, glowing white world of Dove commercials means anything to them. That is a campaign I could get behind.

YingYing: I recognize that a lot of my teammates critiques are correct, but I can’t deny that watching the Dove videos is inspiring for the less feminism-savvy majority of the population. I think that although Dove’s purpose is to sell a product, they set an excellent model for other beauty companies to emulate: instead of selling us insecurity, Dove tries to affiliate their public image with something positive. Even if sometimes, this positivity can lack the proper amount of sensitivity to issues like fat-shaming and beauty’s affiliation with self-worth, there’s no doubt in my mind that Dove’s branding strategy is a step forward from most of the beauty products out there today.

If we’re looking for girls and women to find real self-esteem, it will take more than a Dove video. But a Dove video on photoshopping can raise an introductory level of awareness about media images. A Dove video on self-image can start the first reminder that perhaps we are too hard on ourselves. It’s obvious that no video is going to solve a population’s or even a person’s insecurities. But if that video reaches one girl who was going to self-harm or one woman who was considering an unhealthy diet to lose weight and dissuades them for even a day, I would say Dove has done good.

Progress comes one step at a time. If we want to a create a society where businesses and media-creators step away from sexualization, we will need forerunners like Dove, warts and all, product-placement and all, to show that yes, self-esteem sells too.

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5 Responses to “Real Beauty, Real Talk: the SPARKteam Responds to Dove’s Latest Campaign”

  1. Kaleigh says:

    Thank you so much for these thoughtful, articulate responses to this campaign, especially to the shortcomings, yet also ending on that positive note addressing its potential for reshaping consciousness. Very well done!

  2. Its interesting the different takes on the campaign. I’ve read a lot about its affliation with AXE and how those ads contradict the Dove Campaign. I blogged about it recently. I gave my thoughts as a Korean American, really before seeing all the other criticisms. Heres a link to the post:

    http://daechoongmama.blogspot.com/2013/04/dove-beauty-campaign-ad-questions.html

  3. Tova Leigh Harris says:

    I also feel that Dove shouldn’t be treated so uniquely as the first company to capitalize on this “positive ” version of marketing uniquely human insecurities using basic reverse psychology ….

    This deemed brilliant type of “forward- thinking” subliminal, marketing format has been used in America’s visual media since the 1960′s and 70′s; when cigarette tycoons posted television commercials that adamantly proclaimed ” You, and only you know what’s best for yourself ” themed ads …

    These seemingly straightforward messages were in fact the direct result of exhaustive research that revealed the invaluable profit hidden behind the flimsy guise of carefully played self- actualizing statements…

    These ubiquitous commercials spouted rhetoric that argued that individuals indeed ” knows what’s good for them” combined with the idea that ” you are smart enough to know what a [man] really wants and deserves ”

    * men were initially the only demographic seen as marketable in the cigarette industry

    The answer to me thus is clear – to buy this product you are not only acknowledging and validating your self worth ( though additionally it hints that you should gawk at what every company has tried thus far to get your attention as well as a dash of rationalized self entitlement). You are subsequently intelligent enough to know this product will ( or can) inhabit that role effortlessly.

    Until this is noticed, and more importantly, dissected by the general public , the power, resourcefulness, and intensity of its overall impact will continue to go unacknowledged, and worse, unchallenged.

    So why is this important to acknowledge in trying to begin to examine this, admittedly clever side effect of our words ?

  4. Mellissa says:

    I cannot believe there are CRITICS of such a BEAUTIFUL idea and message!!!!!! But, UNfortunately, I’m not too surprised now that I learn of it. Sad world we live in. The message is this…and the “critics” should take this to heart…FORGET color, FORGET shape, FORGET body type….YOU are your WORST critic. PERIOD. Others see you in a much less critical way…cut yourself a break…love yourself. Take time to enjoy life and less time worrying about your looks. You…–WE– are beautiful!!!!

  5. It is sad at how beauty is used against everyone. Even the most beautiful people. I made a video about this topic as well.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivrbrJZRSSM

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