I was disappointed to read Tanzina Vega’s story in the New York Times about the recent commercial from Dove as part of their “real beauty” campaign. While it’s touching to read about the epiphany that comes with understanding the impossible standards of beauty to which women aspire, it’s also important to look at the industry behind those standards. Although it is acknowledged in the article that Dove is owned by Unilever, there’s no deeper look into the relevance of that connection. Consumers with tears in their eyes about how hard it is for women to feel good about their appearance should also question the sincerity of such messaging from a brand owned by the same corporation that owns the Axe line of body spray. Yes, Axe—the product that famously bills itself as the pied-piper to billions of beautiful,long-legged, string bikini-clad women. Yes, Axe—the same product whose commercials uphold and reinforce the stereotypes which have so many women feeling crummy about their looks in the first place. If the “real beauty’ campaign truly is about building a world of confident women, then its parent company needs to stop feeding the problem.
Anytime we look at a media message, we have to also look at the business behind the message. As mentioned in the piece, Dove’s bottom line benefits when the brand being associated with positive messages about beauty, but the business of media messaging deserves more than a passing glance here. Media must be held accountable for its messaging and business practices, and that starts with awareness, critical thinking and literacy. The Times and Vega missed an opportunity to provide readers with a more well-rounded and critical report that could increase their engagement with and criticality of news and journalism.