I have a love-hate relationship with my body. Every day I try and fail to accept myself the way I am. I’m constantly aware of my body, my unhappiness with it, and how uncomfortable I feel in it.
So when I see advertisements telling me how I should look, I pay attention. It’s like watching someone on "Fear Factor" drink alligator pee: nasty as hell, but impossible to look away.
That’s pretty much how the Dove Real Beauty campaign caught my eye, minus the lizard piss. From a glance, the campaign seemed like a cool, empowering way to celebrate nontraditional bodies. The ad at least had some different bodies on the screen.
But the models were polished and glowing, and I was red-faced, acne covered, and awkward. This ad—an ad intended to expand the definitions of beauty to include more people—still made me feel like crap. What was up with that?
Let’s start with the name of the campaign: Real Beauty. By stating what real beauty is, Dove creates a limiting and exclusive definition of beauty. If an individual does not fit within this narrow definition, one is not beautiful. The Dove campaign may include different body types and attributes from other campaigns, but the word real still enforces an in circle and an out circle. That’s just as bad as traditionally stigmatizing beauty standards.
People of all shapes and sizes suffer from body image issues. Why is this campaign targeted specifically at women? Dove’s exclusion of other genders further illustrates its extremely limited definition of beauty. And the Dove campaign completely excludes disabled bodies from their advertisements. Aren’t these bodies just as real and just as beautiful as curvy or skinny bodies?
Dove sends a message to all unrepresented individuals that they are not good enough. Individuals who cannot identify with the body types in the campaign feel worse about themselves after seeing these ads. They are not real, and they are not beautiful.
Dove may have tried to create an innovative campaign but it made some serious mistakes, starting with a problematic name. If only Dove would have quietly started using models of different sizes and appearances than their usual models, without making a huge statement about it and giving it a preposterous name.
But then again, why would a corporation centered on profiting from individuals’ insecurities want to help consumers foster healthy self-images?
Self-acceptance is a rough road. I still don’t know how to travel it properly. In the future, do yourself a favor and don’t even give yourself the option of watching people ingest amphibian excrement. It may be entertaining, but it’s really not worth the personal pain.