For too long,
beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes.
You've told us it's time to change all that.
Because we believe real beauty comes
in many shapes, sizes and ages.
It is why we started the Campaign for Real Beauty.
And why we hope you'll take part.
Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty
From February 27 to March 26, 2004, the beauty product company Dove commisioned a study to find out about women's attitudes toward their own appearance in industrialized nations. The report produced as a result of this study, entitled "The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report," states that 42% of women feel uncomfortable describing themselves as "beautiful," and that around 70% believe that they are "average" in terms of beauty and physical attractiveness (Etcoff, et al).
In April of 2004, Dove's ad agency Ogilvy started a campaign for Dove's Firming Lotion which "featured a curvaceous woman in white underwear" and octupled sales of said lotion in the UK (Adland). The Campaign for Real Beauty ("C4RB"), started in January 2005, is an attempt to capitalize on the success of the 2004 "Real Women" campaign, an ambitious extension of that campaign, and, arguably, a major step forward in fashion product advertising.
As the "mission statement" above alludes to, the stated purpose of the C4RB is to flaunt conventional notions of feminine beauty as tall, thin, bronzed and busty.
One part of the campaign, which originated in the "Real Women" campaign, centers around six women, who were apparently basically just picked up by Dove off the street for interviews and a casting call. The women are decidedly not thin (neither are they unhealthily obese) but any hot-blooded American man or impartial woman would be hard-pressed to call them unattractive. Which is, undoubtedly, what Dove is trying to get across. The six women -- Shanel, Julie, Lindsey, Sigrid, Gina and Stacey -- have become minor celebrities. They are featured in ads in fashion and other magazines wearing just white underwear and looking pleased as punch to be doing it.
These print ads are backed up by five posters featuring women whose appearances vary more widely than the six mentioned above, accompanied by checkboxed choices and questions challenging the commonly held viewpoint that people in their "category" just can't be beautiful. Those five are:
- 95-year-old Irene Sinclair ("Wrinkled? Wonderful? Will society ever accept old can be beautiful?")
- Silver-haired, 45-year-old Merlin Glozer ("Gray? Gorgeous? Why aren't women glad to be gray?")
- Size-14 Tabatha Roman ("Oversized? Outstanding? Does true beauty only squeeze into a size 6?")
- Rail-thin Esther Poyer ("Half empty? Half full? Does sexiness depend on how full your cups are?")
- Heavily freckled Leah Sheehan ("Flawed? Flawless? Does beauty mean looking like everyone else?")
The Web site for the campaign allows visitors to vote for one of the two options for each person. Predictably, the latter of the two choices is far in the lead every time.
That same Web site also houses a "Million Faces Photo Album," collecting photos of "faces of real beauty" sent in by visitors to the site. As of my writing this, they have only 2179, but their goal is to get a million pictures.
Each photo sent in supports a donation to the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, which could merit its own node. In short, though, its goal is to help girls feel better about themselves by widening their definitions of beauty.
Why the C4RB is a Bad Thing
It's not. It's a good thing, and it could be a really, really good thing. But it's not perfect.
Why the C4RB isn't Perfect
I've been surfing around the Interwebs collecting responses to the C4RB from random blogs, and also gotten some feedback from smart friends of mine. Here are some of the main objections to the Campaign for Real Beauty:
- It's still a corporate-sponsored advertising campaign. Whatever their stated goals may be, they are trying to move product, and it's possible that underneath it all there's just some jaded ad exec making a fortune and just laughing and laughing.
- Not only that, but they're selling firming lotion, which directly implies that as beautiful as you should feel for Just Being You™, your thighs still aren't firm enough. And so, by extension, you still aren't beautiful enough!
- While it's a good idea, and one that doesn't get used often enough, this is not the first time anyone's ever used "normal" women in advertisements:
"A few years ago, the up-market mail-order brand, Boden, photographed customers alongside professional models in its glossy catalogues. At around the same time, Marks & Spencer ran advertising featuring "average" (i.e., larger) women, with whom it thought its customers would identify." (Clegg)
So does Dove have to be so self-satisfied about it? Just reading the "mission statement" above, you can detect the smugness oozing from every word, and it's more than a little annoying.
- Also, and I don't think I can put it any better than this:
"Campaign. Take part. Join. Debate. The suggestion is that this is about action, this is about a change in consciousness, this is something that you should do for the sake of other women. When such rhetoric is used as an advertising gimmick to sell more soap, then the rhetoric itself becomes meaningless." (Walter)
- Dove's parent company, Unilever, is responsible for the sexist travesties of "The AXE Effect." This would seem to undermine the legitimacy of Dove's message. Now maybe if we saw the AXE-wearing playaz scoring some foine size-12 hotties... but no.
Why the C4RB is a Good Thing Anyway, And Probably About As Good As We Can Hope For
I suppose I should preface this section by saying that I am a guy, and as such I can't really have as intimate an understanding of the issues here as most women probably do. Still, I don't think that totally invalidates my opinion, which is this: In spite of all the problems listed above, the C4RB is a step forward in advertising for beauty products. It's been done before, sure, but this time it's being pushed hard by a big corporation with loads of cash, and that -- like it or not -- makes a lot of difference.
As much as we need a revolution in this area (and the C4RB doesn't qualify, not by a long shot), we're not going to get one unless corporations realize that it will make them money. Girls get sucker-punched right in the self-esteem from the moment they start getting bombarded by the media, and so it's the media that has to change. The massive success and positive PR that the C4RB has generated might be the catalyst that it takes to start a revolution or, at least, get people thinking.
So, yes. Dove is trying to make money. This is nearly unavoidable in a capitalist society, and I feel that if people are making boatloads of cash money from this, more power to them. Yes, they are implying that people could be more beautiful by trying to sell them beauty products. This is true for anyone. For most people, beauty takes work, and I'm willing to accept that buying things can help. Yes, Dove is co-opting feminism's terms. Are they sincere about it? Does it matter, if they manage to bring about helpful and needed change in popular attitudes toward beauty? Yes, Unilever is responsible for some really backwards advertising in its other companies, but I suspect that if Dove tried to mess with Unilever's other brands, none of this would ever have happened. Yes, they're really complacent about it. Time will tell whether that complacency is justified, but I'm optimistic enough to think it just might be.
If other companies follow Dove's lead, this could be pretty important. Anyone else want to hope?
Clegg, Alicia. "Dove Gets Real." brandhome. 18 Apr 2005.
Etcoff, Nancy et al. "The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report."
Walter, Natasha. "Learn to love your tree, baby." The Guardian. 6 Jan 2005.
mralarm. "I like silky hair, but I'd prefer equal pay for equal work, reproductive choice and political representation." (I just linked this one for the title.)
caffeinegoddess. "Embracing Real Beauty." adland. 18 Jan 2005.
There's also, um, this:
Dove official advertising campaign websites.
"Campaign for Real Beauty.":