in Other

Dove Real Beauty Sketches

“You’re more beautiful than you think.”

Dove shares the same parent company as Axe Body Spray (whose marketing team continually objectifies women) and various skin bleaching products in South Asia (whose commercials unabashedly shame women into purchasing said products). So, I’m a bit dubious about these feel-good commercials that Dove has been known to put out.

Exhibit A:

The commercial features women of all ages, but mostly average-looking, able-bodied white women, who meet with a former FBI sketch artist. He draws a portrait of the women, as described by the women themselves. There’s a curtain set up in the middle of the warehouse, so the women and the FBI sketch artist don’t see each other. Then, the women proceed to describe their looks and the FBI sketch artist draws their portrait based on this description. Next, a stranger who had been talking with the women prior to the experiment comes in, and that person describes what the woman they talked with looks like to the sketch artist.

When they compare the two portraits, the end result is that the first set of portraits, as described by the women, are less flattering than the second set of portraits, as described by the stranger – the lesson being that women don’t think of themselves as beautiful, and have a very unflattering image of themselves in their head that doesn’t ring true. “You’re more beautiful than you think.”

While the second portraits were generally more accurate, there are several problematic elements to this commercial.

As women, we’re burdened by the all-consuming sexist catch-22: be beautiful but never acknowledge your beauty. Rather, women are expect to act humble and demure, meek and insecure. Since birth, we’ve been conditioned to undervalue ourselves, and so, to exude confidence means we’ll eventually get torn to shreds. So I wonder how women who acknowledge that they’re beautiful, and believe that to be true, would have been treated in this scenario? Would they be looked upon as conceited?

Moreover, the message presented in this commercial is very conflicting. On one hand, we’re supposed to believe that beauty is skin deep. At the same time, this commercial places value on beauty by showing the women that they are more beautiful than they realize. So, there’s an implied insult attached to the first portrait. Women who resemble the first portrait don’t seem to be taken account, which is even more interesting given the fact that all of the women in this commercial would be considered pretty according to Western, mainstream standards of beauty.

The emphasis is placed on physical looks, rather than personality and innate characteristics like humor and intelligence. I do appreciate the message that women need to embrace the way they look, rather than being ashamed of their looks. But the way this message is presented in the new Dove commercial is problematic.