Dove beauty campaigns are renowned for making an impact and standing out from the crowd in terms of their message and aesthetic, and with over 18 million views on YouTube so far it would be fair to say that their newly released Real Beauty Sketches film has stirred global feeling.
The advert centres on a group of women arriving at an unknown location and befriending a person whom they’ve never met before. The women then go into a room and are asked to describe their facial features next to a man hidden behind a curtain. The women soon realise that the man in question is drawing them, but what they don’t know is that the artist is not simply sketching a single portrait of them; he will later sketch another according to the overwhelmingly more positive descriptions of them relayed by the person that they initially befriended (also interviewed from behind a curtain).
What neither parties are aware of is the identity of the sketcher, namely FBI trained forensic artist Gil Zamora. Zamora draws features based on a subject’s memory, and his profession calls for objectivity, which all the more reinforces Dove’s point; that women judge themselves too harshly. While the women themselves refer to freckles and other apparent flaws with disdain, the strangers that they have just met describe their features in a positive light. At the end of the experiment both sketches are displayed side by side, exposing the women’s negative self-perception and revealing the positive views of others. It is at this point that the women also meet Zamora, who gently asks them how and in what way the two sketches differ. It’s an emotional encounter for all of the women involved as the disparities between the two sketches are profound and telling of every woman’s fault-finding and lack of self-esteem.
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The campaign has received a mixed reaction - some have been moved to tears and inspired by it, others have criticised its reinforcement of beauty stereotypes and apparent implication that beauty should be the source of our self worth. The advert has even been parodied; with the comedy group My Feelings Time releasing a video with the missive ‘Men - you’re less beautiful than you think’, with the team behind it ‘committed to creating a world where illegitimate beauty is not a source of confidence’. As with all great comedy, there’s truth behind it. Men’s appearance is much less examined and focused on in the public domain (possibly leading to a touch of arrogance in the looks department?); while women are judged by impossible standards and find themselves wanting physically, as revealed by a Dove survey in which only 4% of women worldwide considered themselves to be beautiful.
‘You are more beautiful than you think’ is the message of the Real Beauty Sketches campaign, and to condemn the advert for spotlighting beauty seems reductive. Dove are, after all, a beauty company, and we would also be naïve to deny that beauty and appearance are key factors when it comes to women’s self-esteem. Perhaps they shouldn’t be, but they have been throughout history, and if feeling beautiful makes a woman more confident in herself and empowered in other areas of life then it is to be applauded. While valuing our own self-worth shouldn’t depend on the opinion of strangers, if others lead us to challenge our perception of beauty and recognise that it does not come in one guise or another, that is a step towards being nicer to ourselves, and therefore caring less about what society thinks.
Dove is not pushing a product, sexualising women or trying to ‘cure’ us of our flaws, as most adverts do. It is emphasising that we are the ones who can change things and that we are capable of levelling the playing field so that projected ideals of beauty are not a constant source of inner torture. It’s a complex issue, but let’s not knock Dove for taking a step in the right direction amid the constant stream of celebrity endorsements and outrageous claims that confront us during every ad break. If we adopt Dove’s attitude, we’ll have more time to get on with the rest of our lives and stop agonising. Beauty is just the beginning.