If you were on social media at all last week, you probably watched the new video from Dove telling woman we are more beautiful than we think.
It’s a lovely message. I loved the video at first – and really, I still do. It’s beautifully done, the concept is interesting and the reactions seemed meaningful and real. Ignoring the obvious contradiction of Dove being part of Unilever, a company that literally survives by telling us something is wrong and providing a product to fix it, the video provides a very tangible way to communicate a message of beauty.
“This is not an issue of vanity: this is a pervasive problem that is paralyzing a generation (if not generations) of women from reaching our individual potential and from advancing as a gender,” wrote blogger Julie Zeilinger, founder of The FBomb. “Which is why the concept of being more beautiful than we think we are is akin to feeling a burden being lifted from our shoulder — even if just for a few minutes.”
I watched it several times last week and something began to feel off to me. Something about it made me uncomfortable (aside from the previously stated Unilever issue) but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Until I read this blog from The Body is not an Apology. The post author Megan Rylan asks an important question: What is considered beautiful? “Thin, white, abled, young. ‘Thin’ was consistently used as a positive, while ‘fat’ was always used negatively. Signs of aging were also seen as flaws,” Rylan wrote. One of my first thoughts watching it was that anyone non–Caucasian in it seemed an after thought.
Rylan gave my uneasy feeling words with this line: “Really, the big reveal at the end of the video was that the women participating were closer to the stereotypical standard of beauty than they thought, not the realization that they themselves are uniquely beautiful.”
Now, I’m not sure addressing our standards of beauty was the ultimate point of the video; it was more about how we perceive ourselves compared to how others look at us. I think that’s a very important piece of the loving–our–bodies puzzle. I just wish Dove had taken that additional step of saying, “So what if I have wrinkles? So what if I see them more than someone else does? Those wrinkles represent the life I’ve lived, they make me beautiful right now and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
Someone else doesn’t like them, too bad. Society tells us those are wrinkles make us look old, and that old is a bad thing? Oh well. I won’t buy into that nonsense anymore. I’ve told myself those things – I’ve even told other women those things! We are bombarded by negative body image messages all the time, so at the very least, let’s stop sending those messages to each other, women. We can redefine our own standards of beauty.
Again, Rylan expresses it better than me: “We need more. Dove’s reinforcement of the beauty standard, the limited representations of beauty and bodies, and pinning the blame on women for having internalized negative messages make it fall far short of being an empowering, radically unapologetic message.”
All this thinking led me to do a little social experiment of my own. First, I jotted down some descriptions of my face, like the women in the video.
• I have long, extra thick dark hair. So thick it’s really a pain to manage. My hair falls into the wavy category, which means it can’t decide if it actually wants to be curly but is still a bear to straighten. I also have plenty of grays cropping up the last couple years.
• My face is thinner than it used to be, but I’ll always have those “baby fat” cheeks. Likewise, though my face is thinner, some double chin–ness happens when I smile.
• My eyes are easily my best facial feature. My eyelids, however, are pretty droopy, so my blue eyes aren’t shown off as much as they deserve.
• I’ve never had an acne problem or anything wrong with my skin. I do have plenty of freckles and light Irish skin that just turns into a tomato in the summer.
• My teeth… well, they’re never going to be perfect. More than four years of braces couldn’t fully straighten them. A crown in the front makes it hard to whiten. It is what it is, and I will never have braces put on again.
Next, I asked my husband to describe me (having not seen what I wrote yet).
• She has thick long flowing curls that falls to her elbows and is rich in tones like mahogany.
• She has a light complexion and her face is pointed to the chin with rounded cheeks full of freckles. Her face is almost perfect thirds at the top of her eyes and top of her mouth.
• Her eyebrows are low and pencil-thin, and her eyes are almond-shaped and the bright blueish-grey of the sea after a storm.
• Her nose isn’t small but does not flair out wide, and her lips are full but not puffy or exceptionally wide and when she smiles it is a big teeth grin that lights up my heart.
This is from Jon, so he should say sweet things, but this is quite different from what I first wrote. The face shape description took me most by surprise.
Finally, I went back and took an additional step Dove missed. I asked why.
• My hair is bothersome simply because it takes more work to look nice. But is that actually true, or am I just saying that? Having my hair longer is easier; I sleep with a braided, then just pull it out, add some quick hairspray, and it’s wavy and nice for the day. Shorter takes more work, but it’s also cute. Thinking again, it’s not so bad after all. Would I trade my incredibly thick, wavy hair? Actually, no.
• Why do I have problems with my face shape? Much of that is probably residual from being heavier and I need to stop thinking those things. When I make myself stop and honestly consider, I can’t think of a single thing wrong.
• Yes, my eyelids bother me, but do you know where that thought came from? Someone told me once that I’d probably have to get brow lift eventually because they’ll just get droopier. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind before that conversation a few years ago. Women, let’s stop talking to each other like this.
• Teeth, well, I know what they used to be like, so I’m satisfied with the smile I have now. A “better” smile is not worth more dental work. Period.
Guess what? I am my own beautiful. I believe it, my husband believes it (and really, does anyone else count? 🙂 ). Thank you Dove, for taking steps toward positive advertising. Truly, despite some shortcomings, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is more empowering than most advertising to women.
I just need to remember that I am not Dove’s beautiful.
I am not Vogue’s beautiful. I am not your beautiful.
I am my own beautiful.
What do you think of the Dove commercial?
If you did this yourself, could you answer the “why’s?”
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