This week, we’re going to focus on beauty/body image because that’s all us ladiez ever think about, amirite?
If you’re a lady, you’ve doubtless had Dove’s latest ad campaign posted on your Facebook wall. “Women are their own worst beauty critics,” says Dove. “Only four per cent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.”
So, the good folks at Dove decided to conduct what is, admittedly, a fairly cool social experiment. A bunch of ladies sit down with Gil Zamora, an FBI forensic artist, who sketches portraits of these women based on the physical descriptions they give of themselves. Zamora never sees them during the session. Those same women were then asked to spend a little face time with another participant. Another verbal description of the women is then given to Zamora by the strangers they just met.
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Now, for the big emotional reveal: the women are confronted with the two sketches, side by side. I’m sure the conclusion is pretty obvs, especially if you’re a woman: the sketches based on self-descriptions look like dysmorphic funhouse cartoon faces and the other sketches just look like faces. Tagline: “You are more beautiful than you think.” (Which sort of reminds me of Scotiabank’s “You’re richer than you think,” minus the LOL. No, Scotiabank, I can assure you I’m exactly as not rich as I think.)
It’s a powerful video, to be sure; most of these women — which were all what I’d consider conventionally attractive, BTW — wept at the end.
That said, I HAVE PROBLEMS WITH IT. (I know. Of course I do. Lousy feminists, ruining all the things.)
First of all, I don’t like how being overly self-critical is presented as an inherently female trait and not a learned, socially/culturally conditioned behaviour. It’s all well and good to feel sad about the fact that four per cent of the world’s women think they’re beautiful — which sounds a little Convenient Theories For You, frankly — while completely ignoring the fact that the reason women feel shitty about themselves is because we’re stuck in a shitty spiral of negative self-talk, fueled, directly and subliminally, by decades of shitty ads.*
Dove succeeded in creating an ad for soap that DOESN’T make me feel like ass about myself, so credit where credit’s due — but Dove also avoids talking about WHERE that body-snark actually comes from. And telling us what we already probably know — and then trying to use it to sell us BEAUTIFYING — isn’t exactly groundbreaking. I think most women know they are their own worst critics. And not just about looks, either.
I know I am. I’m definitely guilty of drinking the self-hatorade, too. Like the women of the video, I, too, zero in on very specific flaws that most people don’t notice. (For example, for a long time, I felt like I had short, baby gorilla arms and was envious of people with long, willowy yoga teacher limbs.) Obsessions with specific body parts come from a lot of deep-seated places: bullying, a critical parent, not fitting in with the accepted norm. They don’t come from simply being a woman. Which is why it bothers me when Dove comes in and is all like, “Ladies, ladies, ladies. You’re all beautiful! Don’t you see? You’re crazy. These flaws exist only in your head! Now buy our deodorant which will fix those unsightly discoloured underarms you should probably be embarrassed about!” Because Dove is in the business of selling beauty products, not self esteem.
I also take issue with the “you’re more beautiful than you think” language. Like, what’s my reaction supposed to be? “THANK GOD. I can now continue roaming the Earth secure in the knowledge that OTHER PEOPLE might consider me beautiful.” This Dove ad, like most other beauty ads, still places a high value on beauty/what other people think — it just does it in a different way. Forgive me, then, for not seeing this campaign as being particularly spectacular. It still underlines the point that being beautiful is still the MOST IMPORTANT THING A WOMAN CAN BE.
Besides, people generally get more beautiful as you, you know, actually get to know them — a point that the Dove ad circled around but, disappointingly, never really ran with. The descriptions the interviewers gave were still very superficial. “Her chin was… nice.” All the ladies in my life are babelicious babes, and they get more beautiful every year I get to know them.
For my part, I’m trying to quit the negative self talk. I’m endeavoring to be grateful for my body. Because I have lots to grateful for. I’m strong and fit. I have a body that allows me to enjoy the pleasures that life offers. I’m healthy. I can get myself places. I have a big juicy brain.
Forget the Dove campaign. Here’s a Regina Spektor lyric:
I’ve got a perfect body, but sometimes I forget/I’ve got a perfect body because my eyelashes catch my sweat.
Jen Zoratti is a Spectator Tribune columnist and a freelance music journo. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti.
*Or shitty linkbait articles. I’m not going to link to the absolute gem I saw this week — entitled 10 Subtle Ways To Tell Her She’s Getting Fat — but it exists and you can find it if you have to. Real tip: “If she seems content staying at home eating donuts in her track pants, why not start taking her to places where she has no choice but to wear a swimsuit? As she awkwardly looks around at all the slender bodies having a great time, she’ll more than likely vow to do something about her recent weight gain.” You know, how you treat people you love.