Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dove's Real Beauty Sketches and Ironic Marketing of Shame

Have you seen the Dove's Real Beauty Sketches video?

I first came across this when my friends were sharing it on social media, talking about how powerful it was, that women should watch it. I also saw some posts in my social network feeds about what's wrong with it and I made my own observations, too.

1. Women aren't their own worst critics, as the video suggests. Society is.

Yes, many, if not most women, are very hard on themselves about how they look, but that comes from somewhere.

It comes from the media who bombard us with Photoshopped images of a very narrow perception of beauty: thin, curvy, pale skin, etc. It comes from companies that profit by making us insecure, constantly telling us to diet, to eliminate our wrinkles, to dye our grey hair, to push up our breasts, erase our acne, so we can be happy and successful.

It comes from companies that like sell products like Axe, which objectifies women in commercials to sell shit. And you know who makes Axe products? Unilever, the company that makes Dove products. Unilever also produces skin lightening products in "countries like India."

2. The commercial wants us to think: "See! You look young!" and dispel other testimony from the portrait subjects, like they are qualities to be ashamed of. Looking youthful or not is irrelevant to healthy body image. What matters is what you think of face shape or age or eye colour,  and what society thinks of these and others. And look again at the sketches that are based on the portrait subjects. They aren't ugly at all! They just don't conform to our society's perception of beauty. The sketches based on the subjects' friends' testimony produces socially acceptable images of beauty. The message here is that, if you feel better about yourself, you'll identify conventionally beautiful characteristics in your appearance.

3.  "Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds. " I think that says it all. There were also no older women in the video. For a social experiment, this commercial is very socially exclusive.

4. This commercial ironically reinforces the high value our society places on external beauty. Why is the solution to women's insecurities always to make her feel and look or beautiful on the outside? And these women's insecurities (If they're even real... There is obviously some serious coercion in this commercial) aren't even about external beauty, if you think about it. It's about perceived worth. You don't think you are ugly unless someone has put you down. Insecurity is always socially constructed. 

It breaks my heart that we're supposed to be moved by the fact that, at the end of the commercial, the portrait subjects are moved to see that others perceive them as conventionally beautiful. It's supposed to be (and is) a relief. It's supposed to be (and is) the solution to unhappiness.

Dove hasn't changed a thing. I'm glad so many people have seen through it, but frustrated that this commercial exists and that many people did buy it. That sad background music probably didn't help.
Dove's Real Beauty Sketches reminds me of other backhanded, supposedly positive examples of beauty marketing. I wrote a post a while back about why I hate beauty counters in department stores.

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