One of my favorite Columbus comedians Laura Sanders has this great joke about the Dove Real Beauty campaign. It’s much better when she tells it, but the idea is that while the ads’ overarching “believe in yourself no matter what you look like!” message is one she can get behind, it’s pretty frustrating for anyone with A-cup sized wobbly bits because all the women in those commercials are lugging around some decent-sized knockers.
“Yeah, real ‘fuckable’ beauty.”
Laura. So on.
Apropos that I heard her tell this joke the weekend before the beauty brand’s newest installment of the Real Beauty campaign went viral.
My Facebook feed blew up on Monday with this video. My friends loved it, and, I agree, it is really moving. Ad synopsis: a forensic artist (those people in “Law & Order,” and I guess in real life, who draw crime suspect sketches based on the recounting of their physical appearance from an eyewitness) asked a group of women to describe their own faces. He then asked them to describe the face of the woman they had been assigned earlier in the day to get to know.
Quelle surprise! When placed side by side, the sketch that represented the women’s own descriptions of themselves were much less flattering and less accurate than the sketches that represented how the other woman described their faces.
It reminded me of my own struggle to find myself beautiful, physical or otherwise. I have not always been this glorious, model example of female physicality, dear reader! In eighth grade the group of boys my group of girls were “friends” with (you know how that goes) decided to give us girls really mean gag gifts as “just a joke.” They didn’t follow through but we later heard what they planned on giving all of us. One girl was going to get a pack of razors (tres hairy!). Another a push-up bra (tres tittyless!). And another — me — a small bag of dog food (tres unattractive!).
Quelle horror! At least Sister Sasquatch could actually use those razors. But a face is a face, bro. I could have used a commercial like Dove’s latest at that age.
Point is, on the surface, this commercial is beautiful. But, alas, beauty is about more than what we first see, yes? (Teachable moment copyright Dove Inc.)
Watching the sketch artist video reminded me of watching Christina Aguilera’s music video for “Your Body.”
Christina, so talented, so poised to be a role model for sexual, independent women getting older and growing emotionally and physically. Instead, this song, while kind of admirable in its pro-sex attitude, has a video that makes her appear to be a grown woman stunted at age 19-level promiscuity. She could have taken this platform and said something newly positive, instead she just seemed to be hyping a very overdone, unilateral point of empowerment even though at first glance it seems like she’s doing something liberating for herself. (We’ve even, if this vid is any indication, run out of visual euphemisms for cum. See: realistic in consistency but blue stuff spraying everywhere in the bathroom scene.) While kind of awesome on it’s surface — do what makes you feel good without shame! — “Your Body” is functionally flawed and ends up doing underhanded damage to the intended message.
A la, forensic artist Dove commercial.
First is the frustration that Dove could really make a difference by doing these kinds of self-acceptance experiments with women whose appearance tangibly challenges conventional beauty standards (eg. women with disabilities or whose physical appearance has been malformed by illness).
Also, I think there’s maybe one woman of color in this sketch video. Feeling good about oneself isn’t just a #whiteladyproblem. In fact, it’s not just a lady problem.
Why does beauty only seem to be something we need to quantify for women? Beauty or feeling beautiful is still a predominantly feminine must-have. I guarantee if you had men do that same forensic sketch experiment, they’d have the same outcomes; however, we (general sweeping societal “we”) don’t feel the need to empower men to say they like the way they look. We don’t really care. Men are taught early to not put too much value of self in physical appearance. And it feels insulting that finding myself beautiful is something, as a grown woman, I’m encouraged to think about and say out loud.
Dove’s message creates a self-perpetuating cycle; it’s rash with conflicting messages — being conventionally beautiful doesn’t matter but you better fucking believe thinking you’re beautiful does. It’d be nice to reach a point where feeling beautiful is not associated with being a strong woman, a point where it’s just a second tier trait, much like it is for guys.
The Dove commercials give me the same uncomfortable feeling that someone in a big glass tower somewhere is thinking “silly women, I know what we can tell them to get them on our side.” Like when the Republican party brought Sarah Palin on board to get the women vote for the 2008 presidential campaign, or when pro-gun advocates tried to get women on their side by scaring them with rape. Just talk to me like a person. I want a gun because I want to protect myself; that’s not a woman’s issue. You shouldn’t have to gloss it up in pink and a pretty polka dot bow to get us to pay attention.
Per usual, lots of things are at fault for this covert disconnect. This morning while watching the local news, the anchors talked glowingly about this Dove sketch commercial and about how sad it was that only four percent, or something ridiculous like that, of women found themselves attractive. The next story was about a study that found new parents would rather have a boy child than a girl child because girls were more difficult to raise.
If you don’t see the connection here, you’re not paying attention. Maybe life would be a little less of a roller coaster ride for girls if they weren’t give such mixed messages about who they are and what they should become.
To the brand’s credit (lest we forget this is a brand), Dove is taking a step to alleviate some of this uneven playing ground of worth of physical appearance. I do see the good in the Real Beauty campaigns, but we should also consider them critically.
Plus, there were some real women’s issues that the morning news could have and would have covered if women put less time into thinking about whether or not they think they’re beautiful. Like the fact that the day before members of the Ohio House of Representatives added an amendment to a state budget bill that would fine schools for teaching anything but basically abstinence only sex ed.
OK. Let’s just let Christina and “Your Body” give kids the general idea and they can figure it out from there. “Whaa? Cum isn’t blue?!”
And all of this isn’t to say I don’t like trying to make myself more attractive or think that trying to be beautiful is demeaning. Putting on mascara every morning has become a near religious ritual for me. I think we should approach it is how I’ve been (trying) to approach gender differences with my five-year-old nephew and three-year-old niece.
Niece LOVES makeup. For her birthday I bought her lip gloss. I see nothing wrong with that. That’s what she’s interested in and I think it’s overcompensating/detrimental to the point of gender neutrality to just not give a little girl something innocent that she likes because I think it could make her think being beautiful is all that matters. Instead, to make myself feel like I’m helping, I catch myself when all I am saying to her is “You’re really beautiful!” I’m shocked at how often this is all I can think of to say to her. I then try to add in things that are also true, but said less often to little girls, statements about her impressive intelligence or running speed. I also try to throw in a few “You are very handsome!”s to my nephew while also cooing over his stupidly accurate description of what an Apatosaurus eats for a snack. I try to make their physical appearance seem like something they can’t really control and thus something both of them shouldn’t worry too much about.
Maybe we can stop worrying about it so much too. You’re beautiful (male and female reader). Inside and out. Let’s move on.