U ROCK & I ROCK: And the Continued Tale of Why the Dove Campaign Pissed Me Off Part 2

Female toddler in yellow outfit playing on floor with plastic container.
Me in 1971. This photo captures what I hope still comes through as an adult – a happy, playful, open soul. 

DISCLAIMER: My critique is not with the women featured in the newest Dove Campaign. I appreciate that they demonstrated vulnerability in opening themselves up as they did. If this was a documentary presented by an independent female filmmaker with opportunities for productive dialogue I would have a different opinion – but consider the source.

“Only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful.”

Let me begin by saying I don’t buy that stat!

When Dove first came out with their “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, although in big agreement that there needed to be more diversity in beauty advertising, I wasn’t buying into their feel good message because their products contain chemicals that are known to be toxic, carcinogenic and damaging to a woman’s body and health.

Years ago I owned a green cleaning business. I researched deep into Sick Building Syndrome and how what were using to decorate and clean our homes with was making the inside of our buildings more polluted than the LA freeway at rush hour. The more I researched the sicker I felt at the incredible hole we were digging ourselves into. My research also included personal hygiene products. There and then I simplified – baking soda, vinegar and tea tree to keep my house clean; organic coconut or olive oil and glycerin soap for my beauty routine with the occasional indulgence of vegan body cream when the funds allowed.

Because of a serious car accident my business ended shortly before it got off the ground but I never let go of what I learned and the knowledge I gained allowed me to become more informed as well as critical to brand brainwashing.

So yes, I thought Dove, owned by Unilever, was hypocritical in its proselytizing about its love for women and its desire to promote healthier self-esteem while they sold products that encouraged us to slather our skin with some pretty unhealthy stuff.

I tuned Dove out – that is until the “You are more beautiful than you think” Campaign went viral and I could no longer ignore their damn brand.

I am tired to the bone of mixed messages and beauty campaigns that plug into female self-loathing.

When speaking to a friend just after watching the video my first critique was that despite their promotion of diversity the women featured are predominantly white – the opening scene begins with the thin legs of a young woman walking into a room. She is white, blonde, model proportions looking like the Nordic nemesis from my youth. Next scene – young, dark haired, thin, white woman. Next woman – white, blonde, middle-aged. Back to the dark haired woman shown walking with slender legs in skinny jeans, cute in a Charlotte Gainsbourgy kind of way. Another white woman appears…

More images of white women, many of them slender, young, attractive and fashionable with only brief seconds of non-white women and one black man slipped in, each with little to no dialogue.

My friend’s rant on her Facebook wall:

“The sad music with the message ‘you’re prettier than you think’. Because that’s all we are, right? That’s our only currency – being pretty. Tears of joy “I’m prettier than I thought!” This is feeding some gender bs that makes my blood boil.”

Yet again our self-worth is being bound to our appearance. When do we get released from that yoke?

One comment on her wall wrapped it up well:

“The main message is you should recognize your natural beauty and that you’re less fat than you think? I guess it’s a step up from other beauty ads, but it also ain’t really liberating.”

Self-deprecation is defined as the act of belittling or undervaluing oneself.

Thin, blue-eyed, short-nose used as positive descriptors and fat, dark circles, wrinkles as negative.

After our rant this blog post, by Jazz Brice, popped up on my feed:

Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry

She did the math on the diversity (or lack thereof).

“Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.”

Jazz’s post echoed much of what my friend and I discussed.

“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.”


She goes on to say:

“My primary problem with this Dove ad is that it’s not really challenging the message like it makes us feel like it is. It doesn’t really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and it doesn’t really tell us that fitting inside that definition isn’t the most important thing. It doesn’t really push back against the constant objectification of women. All it’s really saying is that you’re actually not quite as far off from the narrow definition as you might think that you are (if you look like the featured women).”


And like her I also felt unsettled by this woman’s words that wrapped up the commercial:

“I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, the way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

Who was the focus group for this marketing campaign? A panel of J Crew models?

As I watched the clip for a second time while writing this post it finally hit me what I was unable to put my finger on before. Dove, for all its “movement marketing“, has aligned itself not with the hopeful “beauty-is-all-encompassing” message. What it has aligned itself with is the white aesthetic notions of the dominant culture and at the same time plugged into the culture of shame regarding the body, culturally sanctioned self-deprecation and privileged guilt regarding fat that can only surface in a capitalist system where constant consumption is the goal. You will not find people starving themselves to be thin where there is scarcity of food. You will not find people complaining about their crows’ feet in places where all-inclusive vacations to the sunny South aren’t the norm. Pinge. Burge. Guilt. Shame. But don’t forget you are more beautiful than you think which makes you worthier than you know (to the marketplace).

That folks…is a white thing!

I will bet that the real reason they didn’t use more non-white women was because the dialogue would not be to the level of self-deprecation for the sound bites they required. Who better to perpetuate the message of shame (cue tears of guilt for saying bad things about yourself) and take the scolding that you are not appreciating the natural beauty you really have (but we aren’t going to free you from that nagging notion that you are somehow not enough).

Growing up in this culture I know it well. Putting down one’s body and lamenting over appearance became ritualized behaviour upon leaving the innocence of adolescence and a rite of passage for moving onward into womanhood. Not only was it accepted it was expected. Walk into any women’s change room at a mall on this continent and listen in on the conversations. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Thanks Dove for nothing…but slick marketing; soft shots of white loft spaces with white girls, camera pans of skinny legs, predictable (read sterile) décor and manipulating music. This is the Forrest Gump of marketing campaigns.

To criticize the miracle my body is and the vehicle it gives me to be present in this world is not something I am willing to partake in.

It took time for my Mediterranean-featured self to come to terms with my looks but when I stepped out of this culture for the first time I encountered non-North American aesthetics of beauty that were less binding then the ones I was experiencing back at home. Upon returning, I started the process of deconstructing the anxiety the advertising had created in me. By the time I accepted my own appearance and decided I actually loved my features I also realized that that journey brought me to a place where I found my outward appearance mattered less than I thought. It took a car accident and wondering if I would ever be able to walk again without pain to love my body for its ability to heal, be grateful for that and to understand I do stand in a place of privilege.

I will keep my lop-sided laugh lines as to me they are proof that I smile often and wink with my left eye as I do. 😉

So I declare it here – I am not one of the 4%.

I am beautiful for the same reasons I see beauty in the other women who are in my life and who I value for what they offer:

Vibrancy. An engaging smile that says – “I am accessible, let’s have a chat.”

Intelligence. A way of looking at the world with a discerning mind so when something isn’t working and they have the skill set to make a change they go after it with gusto and suggesting – “Maybe our skill set can be combined? Let’s collaborate”

Playfulness. Even though they question the world around them they don’t lose that child inside that still believes in magic, serendipity, surprises, and unexpected places just around the corner – “Let’s go explore together sometime.”

Compassion. They are not going to just walk by someone who is visibly hurting. They will take the time to stop and listen. Saying – “If you ever need help let me know.”

Empathy. Fundamentally believing that we are connected and if we don’t acknowledge the stories of others we lose the chance to enrich our own experience as a human being. They are the type of women to say – “Maybe there is something in my story that will strengthen and inspire a part of you. I am not afraid to open up and share.”

I really hope the reactions to this campaign will move women to collectively to say enough is enough. To not echo these words:

It (outward appearance) couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

But rather:

“It’s nice but not a necessity to defining my value.”

Dark haired woman smiling in mirror as she takes a photograph of herself. Me at 42 years old. Sweaty with no makeup covering the ‘dark circles’ under my eyes, unthreaded brows and hair askew but happy after a spring afternoon spent outside and quite digging how healthy I look!




Some more antidotes to the Dove Campaign!

Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”

Vulnerability – where real beauty lies.

They (people who have a deep sense that they are worthy of love and belonging) believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable nor did they talk about it being excruciating… they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say I love you first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…the willing[ness] to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental”

Thandie Newton’s Ted Talk on “Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself”

Thinking beyond the value of self-worth to the value of oneness.

“I still believed my self was all I was. I still valued self-worth above all other worth and what was there to suggest otherwise. We’ve created entire value systems and a physical reality to support the worth of self. Look at the industry for self image and the jobs it creates the revenue it turns over. We’d be right in assuming that the self is an actual living thing. But it is not. It‘s a projection that our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death. But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self’s struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it is connected to its creator, to you, and to me and that can happen with awareness – awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood.”

Some more opinions on the Dove Sketches Campaign:

Globe & Mail
Dove has it wrong. It’s probably better not to think about your looks by Adriana Barton

The Toronto Star
Dove Sketches video manipulates our emotions by Tracy Nesdoly

The National Post
A Cultured Life: Dove’s latest ‘Real Beauty’ ads are about selling soap, but they raise debate over body image, too by Maryam Siddiqi

The Huffington Post
Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry by Jazz Brice

The Problem With Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Campaign by Kate Fridkis

Who Could Benefit from the Dove Real Beauty Sketch Campaign? Men.  By Sheila Moeschen

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Ad Campaign Tells Women ‘You’re More Beautiful Than You Think’ (VIDEO) by Emma Gray

Ladies: Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Are More Condescending Than You Think by Rondi Adamson

Dove, Your ‘Sketches’ Idea Is More Beautiful Than Your Critics Think by Will Burns