So, Dove’s done it again. Another “heart-warming, confidence-boosting ad campaign.” I hesitated on watching the video as it filled my Facebook newsfeed because I’ve still not gotten over Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches stunt (hint: I was not a fan). But I gave in, if only to be able to provide informed commentary.
And it was exactly as bad as I’d guessed it would be.
There are so many reasons I am not a fan of Dove’s newest campaign, purporting to free women from the shackles of beauty standards. The number one reason for my disdain is that Dove is owned by Unilever, the same company that markets horrible products in horribly sexist ways (namely Axe Deodorant Spray) that are offensive to men and women, alike.
Dove creates products that it wants women to consume, and these feel-good “experiments” are not inspired by Dove’s desire to help women with their body image, but by a desire to profit off of the normative discontent that has plagued the West for decades, now. Once again, a company is finding a way to profit off of women’s insecurities by playing on those insecurities – this time by attempting to appear the “good guy.”
Another source of my chagrin at this “experiment” is that it’s not particularly scientific. But here we have Dove reporting on their “results” as though they mean something. There could be any number of extraneous variables to account for why a woman might choose to go through either of the doors. Yet from this poorly conducted experiment, Dove has concluded, and reported with authority, that “96% of women do not describe themselves as beautiful”? Dove, do you even science?
I think the thing that is most disturbing about this campaign, however, is that it doesn’t do what it purports to do. Dove makes this campaign about allowing women to #ChooseBeautiful, which reinforces that we have to be beautiful.
It reinforces that what is valuable in a woman is her appearance. Dove isn’t encouraging us to be: brilliant, courageous, confident, outspoken, scientific, athletic, happy, engaged…or any other number of wonderful things that women are and can be. No. Dove is reinforcing that our value inherently lies in our appearance, even if it attempts to look as though it is subverting that message. It is not.
And Dove is preying on our insecurities, just like any of the less “inspiring” advertisements do. It is preying on our failed attempts at body positivity.
Even with body acceptance movements becoming more pervasive, with messages attempting to counter the ubiquitous cultural calls to women that we’re not good enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, many women still struggle with body image issues. And then they struggle with the fact that they’re struggling with body image issues. Dove is further pathologizing women’s self-concept by pointing out that we should think we’re beautiful (in spite of all those media messages to tell us what is really beautiful and that it’s not us – not those of us with our stretch marks, acne, cellulite, grey hair, short legs, dark skin, light skin, fat bottoms, flat bottoms, small breasts, back rolls, body hair, and so on).
It’s genius, really. We start fighting back against a cultural pathology damaging girls’ and women’s self-concept and Big Corporation strikes back by pathologizing us for not doing it well enough.
And yet, people – my friends and family and women I love dearly – are watching this campaign and feeling moved and thinking about how they might not walk through that “Beautiful” door, maybe feeling badly that they wouldn’t think of themselves as beautiful. And Dove has done what any other corporation has done for time immemorial – made women feel badly about themselves to inspire women to purchase their products.
And that’s why I suggest we choose real freedom and stop allowing external evaluators to predicate what we should feel about our bodies. Beautiful isn’t the only thing we can be.