Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign is B.S.

Dove recently embarked on an experiment to find out how women truly see themselves. The company recruited a group of women of different backgrounds and asked Gil Zamora, an FBI-trained forensic artist, to create sketches based on descriptions of the women's own facial features. In the above video, produced by Dove, the company attempts to highlight how most women don't see themselves as beautiful. It is by all accounts, an eye-opening experiment brought to us by Dove, a company whose "Real Beauty" campaigns have aimed to uplift women in recent years. It is a brilliant marketing strategy, one with an earnest social message perhaps. But, this is why I'm calling bullshit.

The big problem with this experiment is fails to point out that a possible reason for the disparities in both sketches is not that women see themselves as ugly, but rather more accurately. If you listen closely, the "stranger" who was asked to describe the person had only spent a few minutes with them. You can see they are being polite and careful in their description, using flattering phrases such as "she had nice eyes". This is typical for anyone trying to describe a friend or new acquaintance. If these same folks had been asked to describe this person for forensic reasons (i.e. to solve a crime), their depictions would be more practical and realistic.

On the other hand, the women describing themselves are doing so honestly. We know our faces better than anyone. We know every freckle, wrinkle and bump on our face. Therefore it is natural to describe ourselves in more specific terms than a total stranger. For Dove to ascribe self-hatred to the person is to claim they can somehow read their minds and hearts, which they cannot. This is a subjective assessment devoid of any real psychology or science.

The saddest part of the segment is the moment the women see their sketches for the first time. Some are brought to tears, and Dove quickly concludes this is due to the women's sudden realization that they see themselves as unattractive when compared to everyone else. In reality, they are reacting the way any person would react upon seeing an unflattering sketch of themselves. 

If these women did not see themselves as ugly, they sure did after Dove told them so --and that's the ironic twist. Dove convinced them they were weak, self-loathing women with no grasp of reality. Dove, therefore, becomes the vehicle for self-awareness and female empowerment, forging a very powerful link between the brand and feeling good about ourselves. Saying you need the brand because you're emotionally insecure is a brilliant strategy employed by the beauty industry quite effectively. 

As an artist depicting women of all ethnic backgrounds, I've learned to deconstruct my subject's description of themselves to find their true essence. A "true to life" sketch isn't about drawing every physical detail but rather about capturing the spirit of that person. For me, I don't listen for what's said, but rather how it is said. I believe a third sketch, one created by a graphic artist, would better reflect how these women truly see themselves. 

This was a daring experiment by Dove but sadly it missed the mark. What a shame.