I had a very negative reaction to the Dove ‘evolution’ video that’s doing the rounds today. It’s a sophisticated marketing tool which says nothing women (and many men) don't already know – that models used for advertising and women’s magazine features are skillfully made up and the resulting images may then be digitally enhanced.
Dove says: ‘No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted’ and refers to something called the ‘Dove self-esteem fund’ for young women, which of course is welcome – but who benefits from women’s aspirations towards these distorted images? Well, Dove is part of the Unilever group, and sells skin and hair care products. One of their ranges is ProAge, an intensive moisturising collection aimed at older women. Dove may focus their charitable work on the young, but they also play on older women’s insecurities to make us believe we need special shampoos, deodorants (FFS!) serums and body moisturisers, to make ourselves look or at least feel younger. So I take the claim that ‘beauty comes in all ages, shapes and sizes’ with a very large pinch of salt.
Any woman putting on her make-up in the morning knows that images of women in advertising are not ‘real’. We know they are used to sell us clothes, make-up and other fancy things, and many of us go along with it because it’s fun, and because our self-esteem is not solely connected to our appearance. But others really do suffer.
The reasons why ‘beauty’ marketing contributes to poor body image in women are more complex than that we don’t understand what’s going on. The truth is that society values youth and beauty, which is fine by me but the other side of the coin is not, namely that fat, ugly and older women are ignored or derided - often by both sexes. If a woman spends time and money on trying to improve her appearance, it may be an entirely rational reaction to the responses she observes around her. This is particularly so in some workplaces or social circles, or at certain times in women’s lives, and sometimes also, sadly, in families.
So give us more credit, Dove. It’s still survival of the 'fit'test out there and no marketing campaign by a brand which relies on this will lead to real change. When men – and other women – start treating everyone with respect, without derogatory reference to their looks, then women will stop being insecure and a bar of soap will just be a bar of soap. Until then, it holds a dream.