“Real Beauty” Does Not Come in All Shapes and Sizes


At least according to Dove. I have been seeing the Youtube video “Real Beauty Sketches” ALL OVER Facebook, and it’s really kind of shocking to me how effective these advertisements are in drawing us in. And to prove I’m not talking down to anyone who posted it: I was also slightly touched on my first watch, and it was easy for me to overlook all the problematic aspects as well as forget that I was even watching an ad.

These are the ads to watch out for, the ones that manage to masquerade as simply positive messages instead of actual commercials. If you haven’t had a chance to peep the video yet, press the play button below…

Now, I think we can all agree that the most fundamentally influential part of this advertisement stems from the emotional emphasis on our societal obsession with physical beauty. This is a big issue in our society, especially in the world of media and advertising, and Dove knows this. In fact this ad comes right off the heels of another recent blog post I wrote about the fact that Dove’s parent company Unilever owns both it and Axe, the body spray and deodorant line marketed in what some would consider an offensive manner, exclusively for young men (if you missed it, click here).


There are some definite problems with this commercial, as much as it appears to be diversity-friendly and pushing people to genuinely love and accept themselves, a closer look would reveal that the ad only really portrays a small demographic of people. Firstly and most obviously, it centers on women. They are the focus of attention, the ones that are being observed and picked apart. Not only is this suggesting that women are inherently insecure about their physical features,¬† but also posits public deconstruction and scrutiny over women’s looks as an inescapable reality of being female.

In other words, men shouldn’t have to worry so much about their looks, because they are allowed to be focused on building their character and proving their self worth first, whereas women don’t have this luxury. One of the most infuriating lines to me in this whole commercial was “I should be more grateful for my natural beauty. It impacts the choices that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children…” Really?? I just think it’s so problematic to put beauty ahead of all the other ways in which women contribute to society, and automatically assume that all women’s life choices depend on how they look physically. Even if Dove is trying in a way to discourage this line of thinking, the company is still reinforcing it in a way by showing only women in vulnerable positions that are forced to think about the ways in which their physical appearances affect the rest of their lives. One of the women even starts crying because she is so overwhelmed and I sincerely hate this portrayal of women. Not every woman is insecure like this or obsessed about her looks.

One of the ways in which this ad works is its manipulative representation of “regular people” with “normal issues”. This is a perfect example of the ways in which hegemony permeates as a regular part of our society. For those not familiar with the term, hegemony is the ways in which certain images, ideologies and representations work to enforce a narrow image of what is considered “normal” in society. In this case, we are fed the image of the thin, young-ish/middle-age white woman who is perpetually insecure about her looks–and by extension, her reputation and other talents–and we are told that this is normal. Dove is trying to act as a mediator of change concerning the insecurity part, but they are still implicitly telling us that this particular profile of femininity is the most desirable, and it is normal to think so. There are no concerns for how women of color may perceive themselves as situated in society as a minority, and the issues they have to face as a result of “universal” terms of beauty that work to exclude them.


Another interesting facet of this commercial is the fact that it isn’t even selling anything in particular. You watch the whole three minutes of it, and it doesn’t mention any of Dove’s products once.¬† This is a brilliant scheme on the company’s part because their benevolent message becomes apart of not only their brand, but the products they are selling. When you buy a Dove product from now on, you know you’re doing a public good. This ad is selling the brand, and transforming it into something relatable and positive.


When I critique these ads and messages, I don’t mean to suggest anything other than the fact that we should be aware of these things. I’m not saying we should boycott Dove (as we speak I have a bottle of their conditioner in my shower…) or their products, but I feel it is fair to question the message they are trying to send and not simply take it at face value. Whenever a corporation does anything positive, the message should always be deconstructed, and in this there is the opportunity to reflexively examine our own philosophies in life and how we come to perceive the world around us.

What do you think of the new Dove ad?

About The Girl on Bloor

I'm a busy 20-something about town living in downtown Toronto and creating fun, easy recipes for those on the go!
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3 Responses to “Real Beauty” Does Not Come in All Shapes and Sizes

  1. Oh my how I’ve really wanted to reply to this topic. I’ve seen the commercials, and I think they are brilliant. Taylor, you’ve done a more than brilliant job writing about this commercial and seeing it from every angle possible, in an open-minded, critical manner. In fact, you’ve impressed me about your knowledge towards brand development and marketing exercises. They are in fact creating an emotional attachment to a product in a way that is at least more positive than their counterpart Axe. I apologize, I’m about to go on a rant, and some topics you already covered:

    With regards to the Axe and Unilever problem… let me begin: Axe and Dove are two separate divisions of Unilever. While both are owned and funded by Unilever, they operate completely separately as brands, use different marketing strategies (everywhere from the actual product and packaging, right down to the advertising and pricing). This means the people at Axe do not in any way represent the views of the people at Dove. These are different people. They use different advertising companies. They have different products. They use different ingredients. They market to a different segment of the population. The only thing they have in common is where the profits go and who pays their paycheques… *UNILEVER*.

    Let me put it this way, Dove and Axe are children of parent company Unilever. Just because Axe is a bad child, does that mean Dove is bad too? You can blame Unilever, and you can refrain from purchasing their products (though it would be very hard considering the large product range in different markets that they have), However, the same problem occurs when purchasing competitors’ products – either Johnston and Johnston or Procter and Gamble – who engage in sex-marketing techniques too depending on the product.

    If you want to attack Axe, you can’t attack it through Dove or Unilever. The problem is bigger than that. You have to request Governments or NGO’s to convince companies (or regulate them) to reduce (or stop outright) sexual marketing techniques. Make it illegal to use sexual marketing techniques in products targeted towards minors. That’s the only way you’ll see a change.

    Now my comments on Dove: Well, for one, their advert is good. Too good. It’s genuinely convincing as you said, and leaves you thinking about yourself and society, and respecting Dove. What they have managed to do with this commercial, and their entire self-esteem campaign is make sure that anyone with low self-confidence and self-esteem feels emotionally obliged to turn to Dove to hear/feel like they are beautiful.

    This creates an emotional dependence towards the brand (the ultimate marketing goal is to create a brand that makes customers emotionally dependent). In fact, they’re very smart. There is no product in that commercial. They want you to feel this way about every single Dove product. It is a Dove ad, and every Dove product you buy will make you feel more confident about yourself, and leave you feeling more beautiful.

    IT’S GENIUS: Other companies are trying to sell you a product that makes you look beautiful. Dove, is trying to tell you that you’re beautiful, and their product does nothing to change your appearance. IT DOES NOTHING. They are telling you straight up that you are about to purchase into an idea, not an actual product. And people still buy it! They buy the brand’s products, despite never being told to purchase them! They have become the socially-responsible Apple of hair, body and beauty products. Kudos!

    You can’t bring down Dove for trying to be the (addicting) good child. I respect the people working for Dove at Unilever. I encourage them to keep “building up: self-esteem and confidence of women (and men) around the world, despite the fact their forethought is “Money Money Money”! To be fair, what company’s isn’t?

  2. wheresalex says:

    Reblogged this on Where's Alex? and commented:
    Read this.

  3. Pingback: Dove Real Beauty Sketches: Men’s Edition | onlytwentysomethingstopfronting

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