feministkilljoyI’m gonna go ahead and be a feminist killjoy on this one. Dove’s at it again with their Real Beauty campaign. This time they’ve asked 4 women to meet with an FBI sketch artist and describe themselves. Then they’ve asked 4 others to briefly meet the women and then describe them to the same sketch artist. Without seeing the women, the artist draws both sketches and then the women view the difference. It’s heartwarming if you watch it without your killjoy glasses on, but unfortunately, feminist media analysis once again ruins EVERYTHING.

1) These experiences are so plainly curated. They chose pretty, well-dressed women of a certain class and they chose people of a similar attractiveness-scale and social class to describe them. Politeness in this scenario dictates a courteous description. This whole set-up is skewed from the start to give exactly the result intended.

2) I’m struck that, after seeing the difference between the portraits, one of the first vocalized responses (and indeed the underlying current to all responses) is “I have a lot of work to do on myself.” This project succeeded in a) giving these women something else to be ashamed of and b) further encouraging the whole ‘self as project’ mentality that keeps people focused inward on their own failings, beavering away at loving themselves alongside (but not necessarily *with*) everyone else rather than attacking, say, Dove Beauty and its ilk for fashioning beauty as a worthwhile measure of worth in the first place.

3) “Do you think you’re more beautiful than you believe?” Is that really the end goal? Is the pinnacle of success always beauty? Believing that others see us as beautiful? Believing that we are beautiful? I want people to question their negative self-perceptions, sure. But I would love for that to happen in a context where beauty doesn’t always end up valorized. This is a mindfuck — ‘everyone is beautiful, so you are beautiful, too!’ still reinforces beauty as an aspirational value. And those who believe this, or believe they should believe it, yet also recognize that the social/economic hierarchies favor a specific kind of beauty, end up feeling doubly bad for failing to love themselves through injustice.

4) They focused a LOT on the other people describing women as not as fat as they thought they were. Fuck you for that, Dove. I don’t even have to explain that one.

  1. Yeah, I mean I understand what they were trying to do but they kinda missed the mark with this one.

  2. 1. Of course it is carefully curated. It’s an ad campaign And I don’t agree that “politeness” gets in the way of describing someone to a sketch artists. If you understand the artist is trying to get a likeness of the person, then you describe them as best as you can.

    2. What is wrong with being made aware that your image of yourself is skewed? I mean, I think most women know this, but to see it this way is telling. Further, I don’t think these women think this is “something ELSE to be ashamed of.” Again, women know this is a problem and they know where it originates. I think instead they see how beautiful others see them….THAT is new.

    3. Beauty IS valorized, an aspirational value….it always has been. The reader needs to read Plato.

    • And the commenter might consider studying up on neoliberalism, some feminist theory, zygmunt bauman, foucault, etc.

    • Also check out the Dove chapter in Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times. You can get some previews on Google Books.

    • I’m with you on this.

      Maybe beauty shouldn’t be the most important thing, but to a lot of people it is. if you’re less worried about your appearence, though, maybe you’ll spend time doing other, more productive, stuff.

      • Exactly, Ahmed. Beauty preoccupation is a really powerful way to keep us self-focused rather than working together cohesively to eradicate oppression.

    • Yes, beauty is aspirational and always has been. That doesn’t mean it has to continue to be that way.

      Beauty is an odd thing to desire. Coming from my own perspective as someone who doesn’t have it and never will my feelings on the exhortation “Love yourself and how you look!” are mixed. Because to be totally honest – and people who say you need to “see your own beauty” aren’t – what’s important when beauty is aspirational is not how I see myself but how others see me. If beauty is something of value, something we ‘should’ be working towards and a valid attribute to judge others by then what I think of myself is irrelevant – it is whether *others* see me as beautiful that matters. That alone makes this ad silly.

      The idea that I should love myself and how I look only works if it’s *not* linked to beauty.

  3. On point 4, I know from following JT Eberhard’s blogging about his bulimia that he actually suffers from hallucinatory delusions with respect to how his body looks to him. I agree that we should be striving toward a society where we’re not hung up on how much adipose is part of someone’s body and how it’s distributed, but I should point out that actually having a distorted perception of one’s body is a real and potentially harmful condition that can motivate (in part, maybe in whole?) eating disorders. There’s a difference between the kind of self-deprecating body comparisons in which women (and increasingly men) may engage (socially or alone) that are motivated by harmful media representations/beauty norms and actual distorted perception of one’s body. The latter could be indicative of depression or another psychological disorder. This doesn’t make Dove’s handling any better, really, but I wanted to let any readers know that if you or someone you know seems to have persistent or reoccurring delusions with respect to their bodies, medication may be able to alleviate those. Even if not, constantly comparing one’s body to others and finding it lacking isn’t going to be great for self esteem, so some counseling might not be a bad idea in any case (depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia run in my family, and I myself have been diagnosed with bipolar; I and other family members have been helped greatly by mental health professionals, so I’m certainly favorably biased).

    • Fair ’nuff. This isn’t the audience to whom Dove is speaking, however. These women’s descriptions of themselves weren’t wildly off base. Just less flattering. Body dysmorphia most definitely exists and absolutely is a factor in eating disorders and other disordered behaviors and help should absolutely be sought. People get really angry when I post critical things about seemingly positive messages. That’s the beauty of campaigns like this. They make critics look like jerks. And they’re designed to do exactly that.

  4. While I think that your critique is very much a valid one, I’m also inclined to think that the viewer of the advert can take something out of it, while maintaining critical thought.

    • Sure. We’re complex beings. We contain multitudes. But based on the number of really smart women that I love and respect I see posting teary-eyed accolades to this campaign, I think that the alternative perspective presented above is really important to voice. And based on the number of hateful comments (that don’t make it past my filter) I get any time I post something critical of a neoliberal ‘intervention’ or any other kind of commodity activism, it’s still counter-culture enough to raise the ire of many. I’m curious, as well, what your positive take-aways are from this campaign are. I love a good feel-good moment as much as the next girl. Hell, give me a flash mob any day of the week and I’ll be sobbing like a baby. I admit the emotional heartstrings got tugged a little by this campaign. But that actually just made me angrier about it. It’s really emotionally manipulative and I’m trying to think of one single thing I could walk away from this campaign with that doesn’t somehow continue the work of valorizing beauty and…I honestly can’t think of one. Is it that people are less critical than we think they are of others? Of us? OK. But my real-world bus ride home today with school kids talking shit about my fat body to one another, intentionally loud enough that I could hear, counters that experience pretty soundly. There are good people. There are bad people. There are kind people. There are shitty people. This was a curated feel-good moment intended to strengthen ties to beauty as a commodity by ‘helping’ women to claim it as their own while also building brand loyalty. I just don’t see what’s valuable about it.

      • Just so you’re warned, this will ramble a bit. In a good way I hope. I would argue that beauty is always encouraged, but not just physical beauty. I was reading little drops’ critique of the ad when this thought occurred to me. Qualities such as courage, bravery, intelligence are all examples of so-called “internal beauty.” So let’s say that I love my partner not just for their physical appearance (which I find appealing) but also their internal qualities, their intelligence, work ethic, personality, etc. I have a beauty standard (which is not just physical) that I impose on others. I validate it by adhering to it. My partner is someone I find attractive, inside and out. They are proud of themselves, and see themselves in a positive light. The same goes for me. Whenever we want to change something about ourselves, be it in our behaviour, or mental state, or even level of physicality we go about it personally and positively. This leads me to the part that can be taken away from the video. I’ll admit that it’s a small bit. I’d also agree that Dove shouldn’t receive any credit for it. I think that the benefit of the video, or rather just a positive thing to keep in mind is that beauty is subjective, and you are entitled to your own experience, and subjective notion of reality. No one can actually objectively describe beauty, and their reality only becomes your reality as you let it enter into and affect your experience, and your action. So what I’m really saying is that the Dove campaign just made me reminisce about Jean-Paul Sartre. Does that answer your question sufficiently? I have more to add, but it’s not really all that relevant, and before long I’ll start talking about the nature of objectivity which inevitably leads back to Plato, and probably Nietzsche.

        • Thanks for your explanation, Iain. You had to work really hard to find that value, though, and the benefit of it is that you already know about Jean-Paul Sartre and Plato and Nietzche. You possess a well-educated, critical mind that has the tools to dissect, combat and reappropriate the underlying messages. I don’t want to fall back into the line of thinking that pits people as blind sheep being lead by the evil media empire. I think we’re all smarter than that and most of us are receiving our media with some level of criticality. HOWEVER, lots of stuff sneaks under the radar and campaigns like this are specifically designed to do so. That’s what makes them so effective (and irritating.) So yes, you can pull something out of it that has value to you. And others can, too. But there’s a certain level of education (doesn’t have to be mainstream – it can come from anywhere) and idea-exposure that has to happen before that criticality becomes reflexive so it’s important to keep pointing things like this out when we see it. The Dove campaign doesn’t need champions. It needs dissenters.

  5. Ironically, this critique randomly appeared right after a friend posted the dove ad recommending it. haha. go scarleteen for sharing!

    I agree as well and what made me turn off the ad was when men started saying that the women were so good looking. I felt like One Direction’s “you don’t know you’re beautiful!” should have been playing in the background. It’s the idea, like you said, that somehow another thing we’re doing wrong is not thinking we’re beautiful but men can really see it. Oh yeah, okay. So if we internalize all this body hate we’re given in our society every day, we just don’t believe in ourselves enough. And men can tell us how to believe in ourselves. Thanks but no thanks…

  6. Because the whole point of feminism is to be a killjoy, right?
    I dunno. Yeah, it’s an ad campaign so of COURSE it will be CURATED. You can’t get away from that unless you turn this ad campaign into a PBS Frontline show or something.
    I think the better thing is to simply raise our kids to be whoever they are in all their beauty and strength, and then fight like hell for everybody’s right to live honestly in a society that would rather only see curated images.
    How do we cure society of its desire for curated experiences and images?
    Vote with your wallet. Don’t just consume culture, CREATE it.
    If Dove pisses you off, don’t buy their soap.
    It’s an AD campaign. You can choose not to buy in.

    • So then I should just be quiet? What does that accomplish, Beth? I shouldn’t make visible underlying systems of oppression operating as positivity? What’s your point?

  7. Thanks for this critique. I remember thinking some of the same things on seeing the advertisement: these women are all attractive and well-dressed, and boy-o is this a first world problem.

    As for the first world problem aspect, my great-grandmother used to say that if I cut my finger and you cut off your arm, my finger still hurts. Which is to say that I don’t want to take away from the real pain that people feel in not living up to impossible ideals just because that pain is lesser than the pain of living in famine conditions or in a war zone. But the solution to that kind of pain is not “Wow, I’m prettier than I think I am!” It’s to focus on the types of work and projects that we can all do to make the world a better place and make ourselves feel like worthwhile individuals. Beauty is nice, but it’s a terrible way to define ourselves, particularly when there are so many other ways to be whole and good and interesting people. No one ever put on a gravestone “Wow! She was a looker!”

    • Your Great-Grandmother sounds like a smart woman. You do, too!

  8. Thank you for posting this! The ad bothered me from the start, and I was finding it difficult to pinpoint exactly how to describe those feelings, and this is pretty spot on.

  9. I think I love you! For days I refused to watch it because I was irritated that my friends kept posting a COMMERCIAL to their timelines. I know, ADS on FACEBOOK?? What is the world coming to?!? But anyway, this article and subsequent comments hit exactly on what my husband and I were just discussing after I finally caved and watched it, which then led HIM to watch it. So we are part of the problem, of course.

    Is this ad better than those who attempt to shame people into buying product? Sure, I guess. Maybe? But it’s stil an AD. It bothers me that people treat it as some sort of public service message.

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