I’ve watched the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign with mixed feelings over the last couple of years.
On the one hand, it’s a counterpoint to intense cultural pressures to be thinner and prettier. Women I know have said it’s a relief to see a mainstream voice that praises women, instead of undermining them.
But there’s something troubling about the whole thing: at its core the “Real Beauty” campaign isn’t about redefining beauty, it’s about slightly pushing the envelope on the current definition.
“You’re thinner than you think you are” isn’t an empowering message for women (watch the video a couple of times, you’ll see what I mean). It’s not as bad as “you’ll never be thin enough” but it’s a long way from changing the current problematic cultural messaging.
“Just as ads of yore leveraged the attitudes that made women feel bad about their looks in order to sell products, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty leverages the response to those attitudes in order to sell products. It allows for exactly one way that women can feel about our looks—bad—and creates a template for women’s relationship with their looks that’s just as rigid as the beauty standard it’s challenging.”
As someone who believes that a significant amount of change happens in the space between the mainstream and extremes, I want to like the Dove “Real Beauty “Campaign, I really do. I think they’re one of the first brands to acknowledge the way our culture is hurting women, which is a powerful thing to do and the reason why women respond so positively to the campaign. I just wish they were doing something different with that moment of acknowledgement.