Thursday, April 25, 2013

On Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" Campaign. . .

Watch the video really quickly, if you haven't seen it already.

Okay, done?

I've just spent the last hour reading a whole lot of opinions about the content of that short video. I had been ignoring it before that, but Anne at The Belle Jar wrote about it, and so have several other very thoughtful women. So, I figured now was my chance to weigh in. And, while I respect their opinions that the video perpetuates the idea that the content of a woman's character is less meaningful than is her physical beauty, I'm not sure I agree completely.

Bottom line: It's an ad. Even if it isn't exactly structured that way, it's still an ad. Whatever the context, we can hardly forget that the purpose of an ad is to sell a product. In this case, a product that will affect how we look on the outside because Dove sells beauty products. If their ads didn't reflect the product, it wouldn't be a very good ad. But it's not just an ad, it's ad add geared toward making women feel good about themselves. Even if it focuses on external beauty, how can it be wrong when it's purpose it to raise women up?

How can we point to ads that promotes the idea that women must look a certain way--namely thin and flawless--and call them bad, then turn around and call the opposite bad, too? We should make up our minds. Either we want ads to stop creating an unrealistic, unattainable standard for beauty and stop featuring floating body parts that objectify women as less than the whole, or we don't. We have to have some standard, some baseline for which we're striving, otherwise we're going to find something wrong with everything.

Like this Dove campaign.

Because it's not a beauty product's responsibility to make us feel better about our intellect or our emotional health. It's their job to make us feel more beautiful and there's nothing wrong with that. There's no one alive that doesn't want to feel like they look good. Self-esteem is only half what's on the inside. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, how we feel about our appearances matters. It's the subject of a whole lot of distress for women of all ages, including young girls who're being told from their adolescence that they should strive to look a certain way. That they would be pretty if they just did this or that.

Dove's Real Beauty Sketches campaign says, to those little girls, that they shouldn't be so hard on themselves. It says the same to grown women. Yes, it's fragile. Yes, it's breakable. But so what? It's a step in the right direction. Objecting on the grounds that it's not a fully formed solution to society's insurmountable standards is like saying that we shouldn't do anything at all. We should do what we can, even if it's tenuous.

And we should remember that we're all a part of the dog and pony show society puts on regarding appearance.

Anyone who has ever bought one pair of jeans over another, worn one pair of shoes over another, or bought one shade of lip gloss over another, is attending to their physical appearance. If they've put lotion on their skin, washed their faces, or gotten a hair cut, they're conscious of how they look. Anyone who has ever felt miserable because they're having a bad hair day can't claim that physical beauty doesn't matter. We shouldn't obsess over it, certainly, but little decisions we make every day prove that even feminists aren't above participating in the behavior that seems to be so objectionable.

I mean, today, I overheard two feminist professors talking about shoes in the corridor. They're two of the smartest, strongest women I know, and they feel comfortable talking about fashion because they know that being conscious of how they look doesn't change how smart they are. There is absolutely no rule that says feminists shouldn't care what they look like. There is no rule that says feminists need to forsake physical beauty in favor of high ground.

So, I wonder why we're being so sensitive about this ad. I've read what's being said, but I still wonder. At least one objection seems to be that it's hypocritical because Dove is owned by Unilever, the same company that owns Axe, a company known for it's sexist approach to advertising. But I have a few small problems with this line of reasoning. First, Unilever is an umbrella company. The people who make the Dove ads don't make the Axe ads, they're completely different divisions. Second, the Axe ads are geared toward a completely different audience, namely, men. What appeals to men won't always appeal to women and vice versa.

If I were going to sell a car to a man, I'd emphasize it's power. If I were going to sell a beer to men, I'd emphasize it's manliness and I'd do that with women. Dr. Pepper Ten is appealing  to men by suggesting that it's not a weak women's drink, but we're not getting upset about that. Though, admittedly, I was appalled at the audacity. My point here is that advertising to men is a completely different ballgame and men like to see women.

Yes, it's deplorable that the same company would sell one product with sex by objectifying women and the other with self-esteem boosters, but the bottom line is that they're selling a product. Even if, as Anne points out, they don't actually give a damn whether women feel good about themselves, and there's very little doubt about that fact, the outcome is still the same. Women are still feeling better about themselves. They're still, potentially, seeing something less harsh about themselves when they look in the mirror. They're stilling saying, "Maybe I am prettier than I thought," and it's one less thing to beat at their already bruised self-esteem. And yes, I know it's not exactly that easy, but it is a step in the right direction and I'm okay with that.

I suppose my point is the positive body (and beauty) image isn't a bad thing and it doesn't matter where it's coming from. My husband is fond of saying that being environmentally friendly won't change the world until it becomes profitable. The same thing is true for beauty standards. When it becomes profitable for someone to stand up an take steps toward making women feel better about not being a size 2, then it'll happen. Dove is proof of that.

For further reading about this from a whole lot of very smart women, check out: