What’s Up With The “Real Beauty” Backlash?

A few weeks ago my Facebook page lit up with posts from girlfriends eager to share a new video from health and beauty manufacturer Dove. Eager to see the next installment in Dove’s legendary “Real Beauty” campaign I didn’t hesitate to jump right in, click and view. I have long respected Dove for promoting a healthy body image among women both young and old, so I was amped for a great new message about women and beauty. And the initial payoff was exactly what I wanted. For those of you who have yet to view it, here’s a quick synopsis: The video, presented in three minute and six minute versions,  shows what happens when a series of women describe their appearance to a forensic sketch artist. But wait there’s more. We are told that before filming began, each woman was instructed to get friendly with another woman participating in the shoot. First the woman being interviewed describes herself to the sketch artist, next  her “new” friend describes her to the sketch artist. Both sessions are private so the woman doesn’t know she is being drawn twice. The result is two very different pictures. The sketches are then hung side by side for comparison.

The image on the left is from the perspective of the woman being interviewed while the one on the right is from the perspective of her friend. Quite a difference, right? The message here is powerful and clear: as women, we can be our own worst critics. This idea comes across in all of the self-described drawings where wrinkles, dark circles, and sagging skin are the central focus and blown out of proportion. I have to admit that during the video’s big reveal, tears welled up in my eyes and I had to run away from my desk for a tissue and to compose myself. I even forwarded the video to a few of my colleagues so they could get in on the self-love bonding. And then the backlash hit.  It seemed only a matter of hours before women started accusing Dove of presenting something other than “real” beauty to women. Here’s a  list of complaints:

This is a classic example of how even the best intentions can backfire. I’m sure Dove’s main objective wasn’t to tell women with moles or unwanted facial hair that they are ugly or to promote a slanted, exclusionary view of beauty. I’m certain their motivation was simply to remind women to not be so hard on themselves while also doing a little work on the back end  to connect all the gushy inspirational emotions the video serves up with the Dove brand and products. Perhaps instead of pointing finger. s and placing the blame, we can take a moment to look at this viral video fiasco in a new light. In 2004, Dove began it’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” with one simple goal: “Our mission is to make more women feel beautiful every day by broadening the definition of beauty” said Phillip Harroseau, Dove’s marketing director. The main point here is that Dove has been successful in starting tongues wagging about what beauty is, isn’t, and could or should be. And face it,  whether the feedback is good or bad what matters most is that people are talking.

What’s your take on  Dove’s “Real Women” campaign and the latest viral video? Tell me what you think in the comments.




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