Why the backlash against Dove’s Real Beauty sketches?

by thewheatandthechaff

Champions League pitch deck - dortmund

Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” quickly became a viral phenomenon. But as it blazed past 1 million views on YouTube, the video has racked up its fair share of critics, too. The Ogilvy-produced clip, which shows a police sketch artist drawing women as they perceive themselves versus how strangers see them, has been praised by thousands of women as a heartwarming wake-up call for women to stop being so hard on themselves. But some feel the video actually reinforces beauty stereotypes by depicting one sketch as “uglier” than the other.

AdFreak has catalogued a few of the specific complaints about the campaign that have been bouncing around the Web this week:

1. It features too many traditionally attractive white women.
Jazz Brice on Tumblr: “When it comes to the diversity of the main participants: all four are Caucasian, three are blonde with blue eyes, all are thin, and all are young (the oldest appears to be 40). The majority of the non-featured participants are thin, young white women as well. … Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.”

2. It seems to define beauty as being thin and young.
Kate Fridkis on PsychologyToday.com: “Looking at the two portraits of herself, one woman described the one meant to be prettier as looking ‘much younger,’ which seemed to be true of all of them. The more ‘beautiful’ facial representations seemed to all be thinner and younger-looking. If that is the crux of beauty, then I guess we’re all pretty screwed by that obnoxiously inexorable bastard called time.”

3. It positions beauty as the yardstick by which women measure themselves.
Stacy Bias on StacyBias.net: “Is the pinnacle of success always beauty? Believing that others see us as beautiful? Believing that we are beautiful? I want people to question their negative self-perceptions, sure. But I would love for that to happen in a context where beauty doesn’t always end up valorized. This is a mindfuck—’everyone is beautiful, so you are beautiful, too!’ still reinforces beauty as an aspirational value.”

4. It shows women as their own enemies rather than victims of a sexist society.
Erin Keane on Salon.com: “All of that body image baggage is internalized by growing up in a society that enforces rigid beauty standards, and 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 for its pandering, soft-focus fake empowerment ads.”

5. It is hypocritical because it comes from Unilever, which also makes Axe, Slim-Fast and more.
Charlotte Hannah on Twirlit.com: “[Dove’s] long-running Real Beauty campaign has shed light on some important truths about the media’s unrealistic portrayals of women, but given the fact that Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe (ugh) and the company that produces Fair & Lovely skin lightening cream (double ugh), the campaign comes across as hypocritical and patronizing—a way for the company to pander to women for sales while practicing the very evil it preaches against.”

AdFreak decline to take a view here, but I think Laura Armbrust’s response in the comments section, reproduced in full below, offers a pretty decent rebuttal to these criticisms:

The argument you missed is that all of the above arguments are missing the point. As is said below, the point is “you are more beautiful than you think”. It’s a beauty company. 

1. Probably most people that buy their products are white, middle-class women in the 30-40 range. Wow, big surprise that they picked their own target demographic to make feel better about themselves! Or perhaps it was filmed in a predominantly white city/suburb, and that was just chance at work. Even the most random sample can be skewed.

2. The video doesn’t define beauty as being thin and young, PEOPLE do. The video is not about “beauty=success”. 

3. The video is a self-esteem booster for women, because, for reasons beyond sexism, looks-obsessed culture, and all that crap, girls, and women of all ages WANT to be beautiful. It is in our wiring. 

4. Victims? Can we please stop using that kind of language toward my sex? Calling us victims MAKES us victims, more than we already are. I don’t sense sexism. I feel like I can do anything! Until someone says the word “sexism”. Then I suddenly feel like my gender is something to overcome.

5. If doing something good is hypocritical because you also do bad things, then we’re all hypocrites. Should we all stop doing good things?

(What she said)

While we’re still on the subject, have you been wondering what would happen if you tried this same experiment on men? Check out the brilliant parody below from New Feelings Time Comedy. “Men. You’re less beautiful than you think.”