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?