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Column: Despite ad campaign, Dove doesn’t care about ‘real’ beauty

The beauty brand is just trying to sell products.

Elise Moser

April 16, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

This one is for all the girls out there who think Dove’s recent marketing campaign is empowering women. It’s time to take a stand against Dove’s manipulative advertising campaigns and talk about them for what they are: not empowering battle cries against the media’s depiction of women, but a continued emphasis on the importance of beauty from none other than a beauty product company.

You know the series of commercials: They started with a 2013 ad in which women are sketched by an artist based on their own descriptions of themselves. Tragically, each of these women sees herself as an ugly being unworthy of love. Once they see their portraits, they realize they are, in fact, worthy of happiness because they are much more beautiful than these images portray.

That ad was followed up by an ad in which women are shown hiding their faces from cameras. This “camera shyness” is juxtaposed against young girls, ages 4-6, who are seemingly proud of their beauty and not at all afraid of the camera. Dove asks viewers this poignant question: “When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?”

The most recent commercial shows women who think they’re participating in a study. They wear a patch on their arm and talk for two weeks about their self-esteem. Each woman becomes happier about life, and at the end of the ad, it's revealed the patches were just stickers made by Dove that do nothing. The women are shocked — SHOCKED! — to learn they have changed their own thinking by wearing this placebo patch.

On the surface, all of these ads seem to bring to light what Dove considers an epidemic, in which women don’t see themselves as beautiful. To Dove, there is truly nothing worse than thinking of yourself as ugly.

But I see two major issues with this line of thinking. First, Dove’s bold notion that being beautiful (or seeing yourself as such) is the ultimate prize to be won and, second, that Dove feels it can use this desire to be beautiful as a veil hiding the fact that at the end of the day, it is touting products to make women more beautiful.

Let’s unpack these two ideas. First, I take offense to the idea that your life is meaningless if you don’t see yourself as beautiful. I question Dove’s insistence that these women are broken because they don’t recognize their own beauty. Sure, there’s plenty to be said about positive self-worth, but why does it have to be tied to your outward appearance? I would much rather women value themselves for their bodies’ abilities to do amazing things like run, jump, lift heavy things, grow a human life and get them through another day. What if women spent more time taking care of their minds and less time putting on makeup?

Maybe the media’s insistence that women must value their own real beauty is what separates women from men. Just like female politicians are recognized first by their clothing and second by their ideas, women are always taught that beauty comes first and everything else comes second. For men, society values their abilities and success before their clothing and outward appearance.

My other problem with these ads is this: Dove is selling beauty products by making women understand the value of beauty. They’re just doing it in a more creative way. Instead of overtly marketing their products in the name of bettering women’s outward appearance, they instead try to make us understand our own beauty. Because of this, we become compelled to purchase Dove products because we believe they are somehow better than other beauty companies. They understand “real” beauty, instead of just the superficial ideal of beauty.

But this just isn’t true. Dove is still a business and its ultimate goal is to sell products. Dove itself is owned by Unilever, which owns a wide range of beauty and food brands. So in addition to marketing Dove products, it’s also selling Axe, Suave, Degree and Slimfast. There’s no higher moral power at play here: The company is selling a product.

So next time you see a Dove commercial and are compelled to share it on your Facebook wall, consider its ulterior motives. Ask yourself how the ad is selling you a product. Think about how beauty is framed in a way that makes it the only route to happiness. And then take a look in the mirror and remember what you see looking back at you doesn’t really matter.

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Article comments

April 22, 2014 at 7:23 p.m.

Georgianna: The argument is irrelevant for three reasons- just because Dove is advertising for beauty products, doesn't mean you have to buy the products, comparatively, Dove's message is years ahead of other companies, and, most importantly. when you think of all the positive effects Dove commericials have had (especially the commercials that show how much a model can be touched up physically and digitally before an ad) this argument is just yelling about for the sake of yelling.

April 25, 2014 at 4:34 p.m.

Jonathan Salem Baskin: I wonder if Dove chose to focus more on the "real" part of its business, and less on the "beauty" made-up marketing content, the resulting conversations would be more meaningful?

May 21, 2014 at 11:04 a.m.

t: I cannot stand Dove's campaign. I haven't bought anything from them since they started this. I'm already ugly as it is, I don't want Dove too make me feel uglier.

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