What should beauty be worth?

This has been written about to death, but what’s one more post?

By now, you’ve probably seen Dove’s new ad. (Marketing question – did they even release this ad through traditional media? Or just the internet? JOB SECURITY.)

Too long; didn’t watch: Women describe themselves to a forensics artist who can’t see them, then strangers describe the same women to the same artist, he draws portraits based on both descriptions, and they compare the side-by-side results. The women who described themselves were very harsh, the strangers were positive. The point? “You’re more beautiful than you think.” We are our own harshest critics, all women think they are ugly trolls, but in reality, we’re all gorgeous, so get over yourselves, ladies! In a nutshell.

From the first time I watched this video, it didn’t sit well with me. It seemed so contrived, and while I think it was supposed to leave me feeling inspired or comforted, it didn’t.

I appreciate that Dove is trying to encourage women to get over their self-criticism, but I think what bothers me most is how much emphasis the ad places on physical beauty. I assume they are trying to be progressive – ladies! you’re prefect! [Well, your looks are perfect.] Don’t change!

But they are still using the oldest trick in the book – telling women that they are only worth as much as they are physically beautiful. As long as they are physically beautiful in a conventional way. And of course, playing into women’s insecurities, even if it tries to come across as encouraging you to feel better about yourself.

And it’s missing the more important issue – why are women so hard on themselves? Could it be because a lot of the why is rooted in mainstream media’s portrayal (and emphasis) of conventional female beauty? And Dove is a part of that? Dove advertises in magazines that are a part of that? On mainstream television channels that support that?

Self-esteem is a complicated issue. I don’t expect one video to fix that. (Well … maybe Jean Kilbourne‘s videos can help, or at least start a much better dialogue.)

I will give Dove credit for one part – when one woman says “We spend a lot of time as women* analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right. We should spend more time appreciating the things that we do like.” I can sort of get on board with that. Sort of because it still assumes that something about you is “not quite right.”

*As women – because men sure as heck don’t do this to themselves to the same extent. I never see my husband or my brothers or my dad looking at a picture of Brad Pitt and saying “damn I need to lose 20 pounds and use better face cream.” Although growing up, I never heard my mom criticize her looks either. (And I’m thankful for that.)

When a brand tries to be progressive, it’s frustrating when it really isn’t, and they still reinforce the emphasis on women’s looks, and other people’s opinions of women’s looks. Once again, we’re getting the message that our looks are what matter. I’m not naive, I know looks are very important, unfortunately. But being reminded of that isn’t very empowering.

What do you think? Yes? No? Tired of this topic? 

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19 Comments on “What should beauty be worth?”

  1. Uhhh, you’re beautiful…but still buy our shit please! When you get down to it, they’re just another company trying to capitalize on women’s insecurity about their looks.

    1. Maybe that’s what sticks in my craw – so many women responded to the video all “this is amazing! it will make you cry!” and I was like “what?? no! this is more BS capitalizing on the fact that women hate themselves.” Can’t they just use “real” women in their ads without acting like they deserve a medal?

    1. The men’s version is hilarious! I lost it at the description of his eyes.
      I think the topic needs a lot more than a few commercials, more of a cultural shift. But I love reading honest feedback like this!

  2. I think it’s an interesting topic. I am certainly very hard on myself and my appearance, and always have been, but some of that is because I am sincerely passionate about fashion as art, and my body limits my ability to participate in that culture. Of course, I don’t blame myself entirely; I think about how society impacts the expectations and the “standards” of beauty, and therefore impacts the fashion industry. I was just talking a bit about this last night — if you look at Betsey Johnson or Anna Sui, I highly doubt they can try on any of the clothes they are releasing into stores. A phenomenon I’ve never understood.

    The funny thing about this commercial is that I don’t think of Dove products at all. Whoops! Was that a commercial for forensic artistry school? Yes, yes, I think so.

    1. Haha, yeah, I think it’s just a PR kind of ad, not really to directly sell products but so you’ll associate Dove with positive thoughts. Failed with me, I guess.

  3. So glad someone else agrees with me! This showed up so many times on my facebook feed with people saying things like, “Oh my god I cried!” while I was giving it the biggest eyeroll ever.

    The feeling these women in the video are sharing is like, “Thank GOD I’m prettier than I thought. We all agree being ugly is the WORST, so it’s such a RELIEF to hear I’m not ugly after all! Now I can go live my life! Thanks, strangers and forensic artist”

    People always seem to forget that Dove is just one brand of a company that also owns Axe Body Spray. So I think Dove, as a company, has no genuine interest in — and actually negative incentive to — think even a little deeper about women and body image.

    1. I also hated how some of the “negative” stuff they listed wasn’t all that bad – freckles, big forehead. B.F.D. I have those things. But I guess I’m not insecure about them so, whatever. Also I hate how this video seemed to just assume this is the normal female experience. ALL women do this. Um, no. They don’t.

      1. So I have been digging around on the internets for this science and nature article I read recently, and naturally I can’t find it now, but basically it talked about how if you post a sign in a park that says, YOU PEOPLE ARE DESTROYING OUR PARK, STOP LITTERING! you’re actually encouraging people to litter by telling them that everybody’s doing it. But if the sign says something educative about how the park is flourishing and the animals are all happy and shit because nobody litters, it more effectively discourages littering. So it’s kind of the same idea with the Sketches ad: they’re telling us that it’s normal for women to feel insecure (or at least that THEY think all women are insecure), which like you said, is untrue and also very belittling.


        1. Ooh that sounds really interesting. It’s amazing how much different the same message can sound depending on how you word it. (Again, more job security for me … )

  4. I didn’t watch the video, but then again I really avoid ads and solely make my purchases based on quality of the product + not pissing me off with mindless stupid ads.

    From what I’ve read, it just seems to perpetuate “standards” of external beauty. It’s like constantly talking about different ethnicities to reduce racism ad discrimination. The more you talk about people’s race, the more you segregate them. In Brasil there is very little racism an practically no emphasis on race. Brasil is full of Japanese, black and fair skinned people. They don’t identify themselves as “African Brasilian, Italian Brasilian, Japanese Brasilian.” They are just Brasilian. So constantly hearing whatever ideals exist for beauty just makes it worse for people that are insecure. Don’t focus on your nose- I just bet you thought about your nose. Hope this makes sense 😉

    1. Definitely makes sense! You’re right, the more we talk about something, the more aware we are of it. And the less you hear or read about it, the less you think about. I feel that way about political leanings. Most of my friends are liberal, so when I see or hear a comment from someone on the far right, it’s jarring, like, “People like that really exist? I thought they were just a figment of Fox News’s imagination.”

  5. When I first saw the ad, I didn’t know what to think about it. It didn’t move me because something didn’t really feel right about it. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It didn’t move me. It didn’t seem realistic or heart-felt. I think you are right to point out that this ad focuses on physical beauty only. “We are only as good as we think we look.” I definitely agree that they missed the mark. Dove really needs to hire a feminist in their marketing department. It might help them from falling flat on ads like this.

    1. Normally with big ad campaigns, they run them past focus groups – I wonder if with these “viral” internet-only campaigns (as this one seems to be) – they don’t. They should though. OR, at least, I hope they are listening to ALL of the feedback.

  6. I finally watched this last week and it pissed me off SO much. It just reminded me of all the insecure women I know and that I hate how hard women are on themselves when they don’t need to be. Sigh. If someone asked me to describe myself, I would never say some of the things those women did.

    Also! Who pays attention to detail enough to describe someone so that a sketch artist can draw them?! Really?!

    1. Sometimes I’m surprised by how much other people care about someone’s looks. Two recent examples – Kelly shared a link to a blog that basically calls an NFL (or NBA?) cheerleader fat, and is all like “what do you think??” to her readers. UM, who the F cares? Why should our opinion matter? Second example, my co-worker shaved his face yesterday to start a “playoff beard” for the Blackhawks. I jokingly said I would stop shaving too and have “playoff legs.” He posted on FB (with my OK) that his female co-worker was going to stop shaving and have playoff legs, and then some of his (male) friends commented like “that’s gross.” Newsflash: I don’t care. I love how guys who have NEVER MET ME think MY legs THAT THEY’VE NEVER SEEN are gross. By the way, my leg hair is blond, and I think only Robert gets close enough to tell if I’ve shaved or not. I could probably go the entire playoffs without shaving and only the two of us would know. Anyway. Just kills me how other people’s opinions of someone’s looks can carry ANY weight.

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