Isn’t Dove Supposed to be a Sign of Peace?

800px-Dove_IIIFirst there was this ad, which began popping up a few days ago.  It’s an ad from Dove, which attempts to make the point that we are more beautiful than we realize.  I think it does a great job.


Then came this dressing down and picking apart of the ad, entitled, “Why Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Video Makes Me Uncomfortable…and Kind of Makes Me Angry.”  It basically applauds the attempt, and appreciates the message, but also points out some real problems and deficiencies with it.  It could do so much more, lacks diversity, doesn’t do enough to show how much more than our beauty we really are, etc.  The author also points out the hypocrisy of the parent company, Unilever, who owns both Dove and Axe.  Axe’s commercials are sexist and objectify women.  I think this author does a great job, too.  It’s not how I came away from the ad feeling, but I can understand her points.

Then came this piece at Salon entitled, “Stop Posting That Dove Ad: ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign is not Feminist.”

Whaaaa?  Who said it was feminist?  And I’m not supposed to share ads that don’t overtly adhere to Erin Keane’s notions of what qualifies as feminist?  “Stop sharing things I disagree with!!!” Here’s why I’m not so receptive to her ideas:

1.  I don’t like being told what to post and what not to post.

2.  I don’t particularly care if an ad that appeals to me qualifies as feminist.

3.  Keane contradicts herself all over the place.  Let’s break it down.

Keane writes, “Take-away: Women are our own worst critics!  Except we’re not — at least, not naturally.”

Except we are, too much of the time.  How many eyeballs read pieces criticizing Marissa Mayer – ripping her apart, really, for saying what she planned to do, doing it, then making a harsh business move that was not family friendly?  How many poured over pieces eviscerating Sheryl Sandberg for her attempts to empower the working woman?  How many commenters on blogs have said how JUDGED they feel for ANY decision they make?  Stay home with the kids?  Judged.  Go back to work?  Judged.  Eat at McDonald’s?  Judged.  By whom?  Most of the time, other women.  Judged by passers-by, by bullies, by “experts” citing “studies?”  Too many, says me.

The funny thing is that she goes on to — wait for it – wait for it – CRITICIZE AND JUDGE people who are pulled in by the ad, and those who created it.

She derides further, writing, ““Do you think you’re more beautiful than you say?” asks the sketch artist, who is not, according to his on-screen credits, a licensed therapist.”  Who thinks he’s a licensed therapist?  Dove says right in the ad (remember, people, it’s an AD!) that he’s a forensic artist.  Do you have to have a Ph.D. in psychotherapy to ask a person that question?

Keane continues,’“Yeah,” she affirms, albeit weakly. Because that’s the right answer. It’s never OK for a woman to admit that she knows she’s kind of average-looking and she’s OK with that. In the radical world of Dove, nothing matters more than being perceived as beautiful.”   That’s a good point, about how people should be okay with being average looking, too. I’ll give her that.  I’m not sure how she knows why the woman answered the way she did, but it’s possible she said, “Yeah” because it was the truth.”  It’s an AD for a beauty product.  That it focuses on these women’s natural beauty and self-perception strikes me as kind of cool.

Groundbreaking?  Meh.  Is it Jesus throwing a tantrum in the Marketplace at the Temple of Madison Avenue?  Nope.  But who cares?

Listen, Dove should take note of the impression that it may be reinforcing the stereotype it’s trying to break down.  Dove should be more sensitive to trigger words, like “fat” and “thin.”  Dove should include more diversity in its next campaign.  Coming from this writer, though – one who can take the ad for what it is – an ADVERTISEMENT from a BEAUTY company, I appreciate Dove’s effort.  Maybe it didn’t get it quite right, but I appreciate the effort.  I sure as hell don’t see Ralph Lauren attempting to make women feel BETTER about themselves.

Keane can’t understand that, “… 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.”  Now, I am 43 and have had a library card since I was five, and I loved the ad.  I agree with some of the criticism, but I’m not telling people how to react, or that their reactions aren’t valid.  So let me explain why I responded (and yes, shared) the ad around the interwebs.

1.  Women do have gross misperceptions about their beauty, or lack thereof.  I am only now, at the age of 43, beginning to wrap my head around the idea that throughout my life, boys and men were attracted to me because of whatever beauty I possess, not in spite of  my flaws.  Kudos to Dove for trying to get that message across.

2.  The assertion that how we feel about our beauty “…impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything,” made me wince, too.  I get that.  Beauty isn’t everything.  But I interpreted that line to mean how we feel about ourselves matters.  If this ad can plant the seed that lightens a woman’s furrowed brow, motivates her to smile more, moves her to include herself in pictures with her kids, makes her look at others with a little less envy, way to go.  Way. To. Go.

3.  It’s an AD.  I’m not a sheep. I didn’t run out and buy everything with the Dove label on it after I watched it.  I take it for what it’s worth.  It’s a lovely idea that can use some improvement in its further execution, but a lovely idea nonetheless.

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore, MD. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Catonsville Patch, Kveller, and has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her writing has also landed in the “Winner’s Circle” on Midlife Collage twice. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • Hear hear! Well said, my dear. Well said indeed! One can appreciate the message, and let it lead them to self-introspection, without drinking the Kool-Aid.

    • Ezzzzzactly. 🙂 Thank you.

  • THIS.

    As someone who posts a lot of feminist topics on G+, I seem to thus be open to snarkage from some uberradfems when I post something that’s not pure on the cause. I share a lot of random nerdy stuff too and sometimes get scolded because oh em gee this topic relates to some other topic that isn’t very feminist at all.

    And then I have to spend half of my feminist discussion time defending feminism because of how uberradfems attack non-purists.

    I liked the Dove ad and didn’t share it precisely because I didn’t want to deal with crap from all sides. Sometimes I swear I don’t know which is worse: the MRAs or having my own side punch me in the back of the head for being insufficiently pure.

    • Kimberly, I totally feel your pain, as someone who has been called all sorts of not-so-nice names in the feminist spheres for not adhering to certain areas of group think.

      • HAHAHAHA, I had to tell you that the notification for your reply came seconds after a Dove email. Too perfect.

        • Haha – that’s good marketing, right there…

  • I applaud this post on several levels. As a feminist and an advertising writer, I know two things for sure. One. This ad made me bawl. Not just tear up. Bawl. And, on a good day, I wouldn’t say that I’m average looking. But the fact that on most days I can’t see how beautiful I am, either inside or out, profoundly affects the way I parent my children, how I conduct myself in my marriage and how I run my business. So, I related to this ad on such a deep, emotional level that it brought me to tears. If an ad can do that, it’s powerful. Period.
    Two. For an ad to be this powerful, it also has to be simple. That’s just advertising 101. In order for this Dove ad to make every single point that Miss Little Drops wanted it to make, it would be a thesis paper, not an ad. And nobody would be writing blog posts about it.

  • I thought the ad was beautifully shot, produced and concepted. It was going for maximum emotional appeal, and it hit a home-run. I imagine it might be too sentimental for some.

    My only complaint was that it showed a woman clinging to her man at the end — would have been nice to throw in a kid, a friend, a wife as well. Or just a woman sitting being happy by herself.

    As far as the ad’s effectiveness on me? It didn’t make me want to buy Dove (oh wait, I already do) but it made me want to see the same commercial with men instead. Better yet, where can I sign up for the experiment myself? Very curious as to what results I would get.

  • So glad that you wrote this post. I am a mom to three daughters, an ad agency owner, and a person who cares both about women’s rights and how I feel about my looks.

    I have loved the ads. They have made my husband and I both talk about the way a woman’s relationship with her body can be very out of whack.

    Ads won’t fix the world, neither will products, but every once in a while the conversations sparked by how they are marketed can bring important topics to the forefront.

Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Hillary Clinton, Shake It Off, Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton Campaign song
Six Reasons “Shake It Off” Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Theme Song
Nancy Reagan dies, Just Say No, Ronald Reagan
A Not-So-Positive Ode to Nancy Reagan’s Frothy “Just Say No” Campaign
I Married for Health Insurance
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Trump Reality Check, Now with Actual Facts!
Fascism Facts
I Married for Health Insurance
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
Paris attacks, Paris terrorism
Is Paris Burning?
Chinese government and women's reproductive rights, adopting Chinese girls, international adoption
Dear Xi Jinping, I Am Writing to You as an American Mom of a 19-Year-Old Chinese Daughter
The Vital Voice of Hillary Clinton: Part 1
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
The Eyes Have It!
Ashley Madison, Jared Fogle, sex, rape, sexual affairs
Ashley Madison vs. Jared Fogle: Rape, Sex and Hacking in America
women's viagra, Viagra, Flibanserin, sexual arousal, women's desire, sex after menopause
That “Little Pink Pill” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread