Michelle Gillett: Far more than skin deep



The Unilever company's Dove soap Real Beauty campaign is getting as thin as the women who are featured in the video that went viral a week and a half ago. The video, Real Beauty Sketches, shows FBI-trained forensic artist Gil Zamora sketching different women not by looking at them, but by listening to them describe themselves. Then he does another sketch based on a description by someone who has recently met the woman being portrayed.

The women are amazed when Zamora shows them their portraits. The ones depicting self-descriptions are not as attractive as the ones based on others' impressions. The women are almost weeping at their inability to see themselves accurately despite the fact that the sketches make them look like crime suspects.

Why did Dove choose a forensic artist to portray women? Is it really a crime to think your chin sticks out when you smile or that you have a few more freckles now that you are older? Is Dove declaring us guilty of being critical of our looks now and then?

None of the women in this video is overweight, dark-skinned or appears to be over 40. But that should come as no surprise. Three years ago, the company placed an ad on Craig's List for a New York casting call for an ad it was making. "Absolutely no actresses or models or reality television show participants" were to apply. Dove wanted "real women only" as long as those "real women" had "flawless skin, no scars, no tattoos, nice bodies, not too curvy. Beautiful skin and hair is a MUST." According to Fernando Machado, the global brand vice president for Dove Skin at Unilever, the mission of Real Beauty Sketches is "to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety." The campaign was created by Ogilvy & Mather Brazil.


Brenda Fiala, a senior vice president for strategy at Blast Radius, a digital advertising agency, said the ad "...hits on a real human truth for women... Many women undervalue themselves and also the way they look." Mea culpa. That human truth is a universal truth made worse by advertisements like this latest one from Dove. But we are increasingly duped by ads like this that are supposedly telling us not how to be more beautiful but to have more confidence in our looks. "YOU are more beautiful than you think you are" is the ad's tag-line even though we have to have flawless hair and skin, no scars, no tattoos and flawless hair and skin to be real.

As part of its commitment to "making women feel more beautiful and inspiring them to take great care of themselves," Dove has initiated another new campaign, Dove Movement for Self-Esteem, "to educate and inspire girls and women to embrace a wider definition of beauty." I am all for making a difference in young girls' self esteem and inspiring the next generation to reach its full potential but do I really have to buy products to do that? I would like to mentor the next generation without having to celebrate real beauty -- at least not the exclusive kind of real beauty the Dove campaign promotes. If their ads start embracing "a wider definition of beauty" and include women who are curvy, have scars and tattoos, whose hair and skin are not flawless, then I will believe their concern for women is more sincere than their concern for selling women beauty products.

One of the participants in the Real Beauty Sketches ad says after seeing the two differing sketches of her face, "I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, they way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn't be more critical to your happiness."

This is not the epiphany I want to be sharing with young women to help them gain self-esteem. When Dove says that being smart, being curious, and being kind to others are critical to your happiness, personal relationships and career, and starts broadening its definition of real beauty, then maybe I will not feel discouraged and disturbed by its campaigns. For me, the message in those real beauty sketches is a little sketchy. We are still being manipulated by the beauty industry.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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