When I saw the company's newest real beauty campaign ad, "sketches," last week, I was less than charmed. The three-minute ad features women describing their appearances to a sketch artist. An observer then describes the same woman to the sketch artist. The images are compared and—lo and behold—the woman has described herself "uglier" than the stranger has.
"Do you think you're more beautiful than you say?" asks the rather patronizing, noticeably male sketch artist, as if the participants needed a man to tell them that women hold themselves to unrealistic beauty standards.
I saw the video through a Facebook share that had some comment like, "This will make you cry, ladies." After my first round, I thought, "Awwwww, that is kind of sad." I felt pity and maybe some empathy, but I did not want to cry. And I felt a little unsettled—and manipulated.
So I watched it again. And I noticed that the women were mainly thin, younger and white or light-skinned. Their positive features included absurd things like "nice thin chin." This Dove ad wasn't like the one I saw years ago, an ad that went against the beauty status quo and empowered women. This one enforced the unrealistic standards society already holds women to: be thin, be white and be young. And what's worse, it doesn't empower. It blames women for their "ugly" feelings.
All of this comes from the company that also sells Axe body spray. The same people who are hawking obnoxious man musks by splashing the screen with underweight, bikini-clad women also trying to sell us their idea of "real" beauty. Because at the heart of the matter, that is Dove's job. It's just selling things.
And we are buying. We believe beauty is somehow key to our happiness, and are so desperate to have our own appearances validated that we want Dove to be on our side. It's not; it is always on the side of firming lotion.
At one point in the ad, a woman says beauty affects the friends you have, the jobs you apply for and "couldn't be more critical to your happiness."
Folks, this is not true. Beauty is not the essential missing ingredient to your happiness. And for the record, Dove, neither is VisibleCare Replenishing Creme Body Wash or Pro-Age Cream Oil Body Lotion. Neither happiness nor beauty is sold in a plastic container.
Niki Fritz is a RedEye special contributor.
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