Monday, April 22, 2013

In Defense of Dove's Real Beauty Campaign

There has been a LOT of backlash against Dove's Real Beauty campaign piece "Real Beauty Sketches."

I know there are flaws in this campaign.  But it is still such a good thing.  Such a powerful, bold thing.  I think critics overlook the good in this campaign in the frenzy to point out why it's not optimal.

I don't know if the way I interpret this is right, but I've spent a lot of time in my undergrad in public health learning about media messages and how our thought processes and emotions are affected by them.  This is what I think.

  • Some of the things others have been criticizing that I don't think are worthy of criticism: use of beautiful women, focus on beauty as the most important value, lack of diversity, and they are created by a beauty company.

  • Some of the things I see wrong with this campaign: research design, artist bias and reporter bias.

  • Some of the things I see right with this campaign: focus on the emotions the women are feeling, focus on how destructive self-perception can be, bold stance against the beauty industry standard.

Let's get started. First, I want to clarify two points. (There's a whole post about how our brains interpret this.)  

Soooo many women think they are above being affected by this.  It makes me sad.  Because rather than learning to rebel against the system, they feel guilty for worrying about their something as trivial as their appearance.  And they feel guilty for not being perfectly "beautiful." (Read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.)

Criticisms I think are invalid:

The campaign only uses traditionally beautiful women.    
I want to be very clear.  The women in this campaign are lovely.  None of them will ever model for Victoria's Secret.  
These women are short and tall, young and middle aged, big and small...they are different.  Have you ever seen a line up of models?  It's like they dyed one girl's hair a bunch of different colors and put new makeup on her for each image to save on model salaries.  They look EXACTLY the same.  The modeling industry is very explicit that there is only one standard for beauty, only one way to be beautiful.  If you don't fit the bill, well, you can try to buy products to turn you into that ideal so you'll look less embarrassing, but you'll still probably never measure up.

There is no diversity. 
Okay. The simple answer is that there is more diversity in this quick clip than in 10 hours of beauty advertisement. The women shown for the longest period of time are white or white-esque people.  White washing in the beauty industry is a big deal.  I would just like to point out (again) that there are women in this clip that are different.  They aren't all white-esque. Could it use more diversity?  Most def.  But there is some diversity of race, age and build.  No one can deny that.  Baby steps.  People don't seem to understand that this is a process.  If there were a bunch of traditionally unattractive, unkempt women ranting that beauty is not important, it would just reinforce that beauty IS important. (This also applies to those who criticize Dove for editing real beauty images.)

They focus on beauty as the most important value. 
People are so upset that Dove's message is "You are more beautiful than you think," rather than, "Beauty is not important, so stop thinking about it."  Sorry, Dove's mission isn't "How to Be a Great Human Being." We're talking about beauty here. That's why we're focusing on it and not other important qualities.  I don't think anyone working on the Dove campaign thinks beauty is more important than being a good person. But I mean, I don't know them all personally, so who knows?:)  This is a beauty campaign, it makes sense that it should focus on our ideas about beauty.  It's not a life campaign.  I just want that clarified.

It's created by Unilever. 
There have been complaints that since Dove is owned by Unilever, it's an untrustworthy campaign.  Once again, Dove is part of the beauty industry, something it's never sought to hide.  The campaign is by Dove, not Unilever.  Yes, the Dove company is owned by someone who owns other companies.  I don't think this is worth losing any sleep over.

Criticisms I have for the campaign:

The criticisms I have all deal with the research methods used in this "experiment." This experiment is not scientific.  They didn't want to test a hypothesis.  They set out to make this campaign piece and manipulated the data to prove the point that they wanted.  I'm not too worried about it, because I think it's a pretty universal truth that women are self-conscious when they should be more confident about their natural beauty, and about other aspects of themselves too, of course.

Participant selection:
Not random.  They had to volunteer, then the volunteers were weeded through, then the footage was weeded through until Dove had exactly the proper evidence to support the universal truth they set out to prove.  Not scientific.

Artist bias:
The artist was biased.  He stated that he was interested in the campaign and wanted to help women (his daughter included) learn to feel better about themselves.  He knew when he was drawing a woman describing herself and when he was drawing a woman described by the stranger.  He used a lot of artistic techniques that probably had nothing to do with the descriptions and more to do with proving the point that women are more beautiful than they describe themselves.

Reporter bias:
The strangers who described the women are here for a campaign to support true beauty.  Are they going to be that critical jerk that says the woman was ugly?  No.  They are going to focus on her positive, inviting attributes and happy, open personality.  Since they knew the basic purpose of the campaign, they weren't free to be totally unbiased.
The women who are describing themselves are also aware of the campaign.  They know perhaps, that they would be called out if they weren't totally honest about how they look, rather describing themselves as they hope or want to look.  Again, biased by knowledge about the campaign (if not about the specific experiment.)

Take home message: 
This "experiment" is biased, and not 100% reflective of real life. But I think the point they're trying to prove is valid: we often think our "flaws" are a big deal when they're really not.  So, they are trying to promote a good, healthy message, but they are going about it in a non-scientific way.

The Good Stuff

Whew, that was a lot of negativity!  Let's talk about the things that are right with this campaign:

The focus on emotion: 
The filming in this campaign is incredible.  It captures emotion.  It says things that words are not saying.  I love how accurately it shows the women as they are talking.  It shows the guilt, the embarrassment.  When the women are talking about what they would change about themselves, when they are admitting to possessing features that are not traditionally considered beautiful, their eyes flit nervously to the side and shamefully to the floor.  They bite their lips.  They fidget   They obviously look uncomfortable, embarrassed.  The point being, they shouldn't feel this way.  They are lovely.  They need not be so ashamed of their deviations from the prescribed epitome of beauty. It shows the smile fading as a woman realizes she doesn't think she's beautiful.  It shows a smile grow on a woman's face as someone describes her positively.  It shows a broken nail, messy mascara- the unending, unwinnable battle to be perfectly beautiful. This is why the campaign exists: to help women with these destructive emotions.

The focus on destructive self-perception: 
The Real Beauty campaign tries to help women understand that they worry way to much about being beautiful.  This is a good message.  It supports the criticism some have had that it should not focus on beauty as the most important thing.  * Reemphasize: if you're not worried about your appearance, it becomes much less important.  If you are worried that you're not beautiful enough to be accepted, successful, a good friend, a fun will be a self fulfilling prophecy.

Bold stance against the beauty industry: 
Dove is a beauty company.  They sell soap, shampoo, deodorant and the like. But they are fighting against traditional messaging that you need a product to be more beautiful.  Since advertising has existed, the hook for beauty products has been: buy this.  It will make you more beautiful = accepted = happy.  Dove says, we support women the way they are. If you think that's good, support us by buying your toiletries from us.

And I totally do support that.  That's my stance.

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