Imagine you’re a woman walking down a city street and you’re about to enter a building. You wouldn’t usually think twice about going in, but today something is different. Two doors loom high above you and above each door hangs a sign. One door says ‘Beautiful’ and the other says, ‘Average’. You want to go inside, but before you can, you must choose which door you are going to walk through.
You turn around and notice other people walking by, some are going into the same building as you, but you pause to wonder how much you’ll be judged on the door you pick. Maybe if you go through the ‘Beautiful’ door those people will assume you’re arrogant, maybe if you pick the ‘Average’ door you’ll come across as insecure. Based on this scenario, which door would you pick?
The described scene is the backdrop of Dove’s latest #choosebeautiful campaign; a half-baked social experiment, which attempts to get women to question how they perceive themselves in order to feel more “empowered”.
When I first watched this short film, I didn’t feel empowered. Not at all. I imagined myself as one of those women, innocently trying to get into a building, then suddenly forced to run a gauntlet of unexpected self-measurement before I could go in.
If I had been there, my reaction to Dove’s little test would not be too dissimilar to the lady at the video’s 1:40 mark. First I’d peer up, stifle my horror, then turn and walk away. Soon after, I’d feel insulted and angry and all too happy to let them keep their stinking building, regardless of the reason I’d gone there in the first place.
Despite the intentions behind the #choosebeautiful campaign, there’s really nothing all that new or enlightening about it. The video points out and exploits something that almost everybody already knows – that many women just don’t feel all that confident about their appearance.
But this video gets worse. In the days that it’s been out, few people have questioned why the campaign’s makers thought it okay to actively put a bunch of women in a wholly embarrassing and difficult predicament. They essentially asked participants to measure their self-worth in a public arena, and risk looking conceited or insecure based on what door they picked.
Participants were in effect lab rats for something that had more to do with Dove making millions of dollars, than anything that sought to make any real improvement in women’s lives.
But then again, for Dove, pseudo-empowerment does mean big money:
“Dove’s “real women” campaign – which aimed to challenge beauty stereotypes – increased sales by 700%,” – The Gaurdian
And let’s not forget Dove’s parent company, Unilever, which also happens to sell skin-whitening products across Asia and India. How’s that for loving your ‘real beauty’?
Throughout the short #choosebeauty film, there are overtones of, “if you don’t think you’re beautiful, there’s something very wrong with you”. However, it would be a struggle to find anyone who doesn’t at least sometimes falter in how attractive they feel. And even then, beauty is so subjective, and some people have real reasons for not feeling positive about their outer looks. Something the #choosebeauty video completely glosses over.
Now before the naysayers lampoon me, let me say I’m very aware that this is a marketing campaign, I’m not even saying there’s anything wrong with the desire to sell products. I have no problems with anyone’s wish to look and feel beautiful. Hell, I love my cosmetics and the various companies that create them. My problem with #choosebeautiful is that it pretends to be something it’s not i.e. a beacon of light and positivity.
I take issue with a campaign that parades itself as something deeper than what it is. Especially when #choosebeauty doesn’t go anywhere near deep at all. It points out women’s insecurity, but it doesn’t ask or answer why; or even what could be done to remedy the issue. It merely says, “you all have a problem”, and then leaves the issue there. Thanks Dove, really helpful!
And with that said, why is Dove dumping on the word ‘Average’? What’s wrong with being “Average”? Sure, it’s fine to strive for greatness, but in essence average means to be on par to everyone else. Though you might have some strengths, overall you are not better or worse the next person. That’s not such a bad thing.
Ask anyone at the bottom or top of anything and they’ll tell you that their position holds pitfalls too. ‘Average’ in itself holds valuable lessons, along with a sense of solidarity with those in the same boat. The denigration of this word sees the #choosebeauty campaign add pressure for women to be “better than”, rather than saying who we are is enough. This push to elevate above others, or the ‘average’, is in itself a symptom of a growing narcissistic culture that isn’t good for anyone.
Lastly, I want to mention the intrinsically sexist lean to Dove’s #choosebeauty campaign – not just against women, but against men also. My partner loves his Dove shampoo, I’m sure he’s not the only guy who buys Dove’s products, so why didn’t they ask men if they felt beautiful too?
This gaping hole in their ‘research’ not only spotlights the focus on women to constantly feel ‘Beautiful’, but also the sad lack of attention on men’s beauty in general. I’m sure plenty of guys wouldn’t mind a little more love and positivity when it comes their looks. Heaps of self-conscious guys exist, except their plight is for the most part silenced. Men deserve to be included in the beauty discussion; their self-worth means something too.
Regardless of how ‘empowering’ this campaign may present itself to be, it’s far from it, and far from qualified to offer any guidance on how to improve one’s own self-perception. If you are reading this and you want to build more confidence, take my advice and please don’t look to Dove as your saviour. There are a myriad of wonderful resources and organisations out there, many of which aren’t looking for a quick way into your pockets. Chances are they’ll be a whole lot more helpful as well. No woman or man should ever have to choose between ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Average’, or feel pressured to measure themselves in a way that #choosebeautiful asks us to. Don’t ‘choose beautiful’, choose YOURSELF. You, as an individual, are enough. And you have more to offer the world than outward appearance.
So Dove, if you ever wish to welcome me through one of your doors, please take care to ask me how intelligent, creative, loving or productive I am first. Maybe then I might decide to wander in.
Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.
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Image credits: dave patten, Pedro Ribeiro Simões
Jenni Trent HughesApril 12, 2015 - 5:21 am ·
In the past 15 years research is regularly done in the UK and it averages that 95% of the women in this country are seriously unhappy with their appearance. I’ve done conferences on it. And for the record Dove (who I don’t work for) has done more for women and body image than any other commercial entity in this country. Jenni Trent Hughes
Katerina SimmsApril 12, 2015 - 6:13 pm ·
And how much of that unhappiness comes from the pressure and focus placed on women’s appearance to begin with? It’s not hard to see that women, more than men, are burdened with the need to be attractive – as if it’s our main contribution as human beings. Of course we’re going to be unhappy about appearance if that’s what tips the scale on how worthwhile we are. This Dove campaign merely fuels that.
Perhaps if the discussion was shifted from looks to ability women would feel more “empowered” – as the Dove campaign quoted as its goal. I can say for certain that growing up, I would have loved for people to focus on my capabilities more than my need to look pretty. Heaven knows it would have been a whole lot more useful to me, thus leaving me more “empowered”.