The Campaign for Purchased Beauty

We got lots of great feedback on this post on the Dove campaign both here and from being blogged by Lauren on Feministe.

People made good new points: once again women’s bodies are being set up to be judged. To paraphrase Dodo, if you choose wonderful are you supposed to be pretending she’s not wrinkled? At the same time, we inadvertently set up our own polarity between doing good and making a profit.

Any good that comes from this, as Vito Excalibur says, is not “Dove’s pro bono effort to raise the self-esteem levels of women at large. … So what? … We get the side effects for free anyway.”

Many commenters see the ads as a “step in the right direction,” summed up by Sunya Harjis saying, “So … all I have to do is buy Dove products, and Dove starts marketing a beauty ideal that moves away from the stereotypes of women’s mags and TV and movies? Shit, sign me up. Here’s my money. It’s just like a cultural theory-crit charity except I get free soap!”

Lauren also points out, “The overall message seems to be that women are entitled to ‘feel beautiful.’ By buying Dove products, you too can reach your full potential.”

And we agree with Janet: “The entire concept of a “firming cream” is both ridiculous (they don’t work, people!) and offensive.”


Laurie says: My initial response to the giant women in my BART station was to stand there for five minutes checking out the details and appreciating the partial reality of their bodies. I am so visually starved for media images that are not emaciated that anything that isn’t ghastly looks good.

My first reaction to the images on the website quiz was that these women looked so good that the words didn’t matter. Then I realized that this wasn’t a question of images versus words (where the image always wins), but of images calling for judgmental actions. The physical clicking of a checkbox makes it different. When I select “outstanding” instead of “oversized,” I’m confirming Dove’s stereotype that oversized is not okay. When I vote for the individual woman’s image, I’m voting against every other woman who is described by the negative. Being manipulated into always making negative choices sucks.

The balance ends up feeling pretty delicate. The women in the ads are enough outside the normal media scope to feed our hungry eyes, and their smiles look much more genuine than most models’. But, the diversity of bodies is very strictly limited, and the message is still, “You can’t be beautiful without our thigh-firming creams.”

3 thoughts on “The Campaign for Purchased Beauty

  1. Yes that’s what struck me too, the uniformity. They are lovely people but its not exactly a radical departure. They are uniform, healthy weight, roughly the same size and shape and age. Somehow the theatre trailers had primed me for little girls in braces, mid-life and all heights and weights. The 6 women with curves came across as more of a non-event.

  2. If the “campaign” were being run by, say, a company that sells food or furniture, I would be all for it and would think it’s a step in the right direction. But it’s run by a company that sells cosmetics. That makes it part of the beauty industry, and the beauty industry is all about selling women overpriced products that don’t really do anything and encouraging women to overfocus on our external appearance. We are given the choice between bald and beautiful. What about the choice “I’ll answer that after I’ve finished my physics homework”?

  3. I’ve been buying the Dove two-in-one shampoo/conditioner lately, because the reviews on were really good. And it does work very well in my hair. I also got some free samples of some other Dove products, and I might buy some of them, too.

    We all have to wash our hair, right?

    The “campaign” means something different to everybody. To educated feministas, it’s underwhelming. To clueless fat teenage girls, it’s a positive message. To shallow guys, it’s a slap in the face. To Dove, it’s profits. And I say, in this day and age, that’s all pretty darn good.

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