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Dear NY Times: Why let Dove's "real beauty" ads off the hook? - The LAMP

Dear NY Times: Why let Dove’s “real beauty” ads off the hook?

By April 19, 2013 News 2 Comments

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.

–Emily Long

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  • Another issue with that campaign (even beyond the brand itself) is that in promoting the idea of “real beauty” it’s also inherently implying that there are female features that are more beautiful or desirable than others. They portray words and images like “small” and “thin” “bright” (what the other people describe the women as) as being the positive images and descriptors like “wide” “fat” “dark” (how women describe themselves) as being the negative ones. They’re not really saying that we are ALL beautiful regardless of our features, but rather saying that the women aren’t as fat or wide or wrinkled or whatever as they think they are, and therefore actually are beautiful. As lovely as the concept might be, the underlying message is still that there is a specific box (which based on the descriptions is pretty much caucasian/western as it excludes more ethnic features) that people must fit into in order to be considered beautiful.

    • We couldn’t agree more. Setting up restrictions as to what is and is not beautiful is exactly the type of behavior that leaves so many women feeling bad about the way they look. And what’s with the woman saying that feeling beautiful “couldn’t be more critical to your happiness”? Imagine what the world would be like if we put as high a premium on being healthy and happy as we do on fitting into tight standards of beauty.