Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I'm Fat and Ugly and Dove Knows It

The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign is something different in advertising. An April 18th article by Erin Keane in Salon.com asserts otherwise. 

In the article, Ms. Keane offers this observation of a Dove “Real Beauty” ad: “since the target demographic for this ad is clearly women over 35 with access to library cards (which is to say, women who have had some time to figure this reality out), it is baffling that Dove can continue to garner raves...”

Is Ms. Keane really suggesting that library-attending women over 35 don’t have what she calls ‘body image baggage’? I find that comical. In fact, that statement should be placed in a box next to a rational statement and used as one of those ‘list what’s wrong with Box B’ puzzles.

Women over 35 have as many, if not more, body image issues as younger women. We’ve suffered longer! And most women over 35 aren’t going to the library to read up on feminist body image protocol. They’re going to entertain the kid for an hour so they can lean against a bookshelf and sleep.

So why is speaking a truth now considered pandering? The truth, as they say, shall set you free. All of those women standing longingly in the cosmetics aisles at Bloomies are not there because they love their chins.

Our critic friend, Erin, goes on to scold, “The only interesting thing Dove has done since it began this campaign... is overtly shift the emphasis from sexual attraction to peer approval. The real take-away is still that women should care whether a stranger thinks she is beautiful.”

Gasp! Women want to be both sexually attractive and beautiful? Shocking! Tell me why that’s bad, again?

“That’s not radical,” the article continues, “It’s the thesis of every beauty product ad campaign ever.”

Yes. Dove sells soaps, lotions and beauty products so its ads sell - you guessed - soaps, lotions and beauty products. Also, the ship sinks at the end of Titanic.

But there’s more. These Dove people are pretty darn evil, as Ms. Keane establishes, “It’s never OK for a woman to admit that she knows she’s kind of average-looking and she’s OK with that.” 

Yes! So many places we, as a society, extol the virtues of mediocrity: work, school, sports, the bedroom. Embrace the average! It’s patriotic!

“In the radical world of Dove, nothing matters more than being perceived as beautiful — not being a kind and generous friend, not being a smart and talented professional, not even being decent to kids,” Ms. Keane warns.

Right. Wanting to feel pretty and have soft skin means you kick bunnies. That’s what those Dove ads mean. (This gal is good.)

If the Dove ads speak to women who’ve had a hard time finding clothes that fit in the women’s department, or women who’ve grown their bangs so they can hide what they perceive to be a too-long forehead, or women who’ve used their palms to pull back their cheeks to emulate a younger self’s skin -- if Dove wants to acknowledge those women exist and target their product needs I not only have no problem with it, I’m glad for it.

In the end, the gist of Ms. Keane’s critique about the Dove ads is that they don’t really change the conversation around women’s sense of self. We’re still encouraged to care about how we look, but from a different point of view, in these advertisements.

I think it’s about time a health and beauty company asked us to do just that.  If Ms. Keane doesn’t want to buy health and beauty products and would prefer a deeper examination of women’s self-identity issues may I suggest she stop lingering over online advertisements and check out the library?

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