branding the new impossible beauty ideal is nothing new

following up on the smash success of its award-winning “evolution” ad, dove unleashes “onslaught“:

much like the evolution ad, which shows the intense makeup and photoshop augmentation of an image of an average woman and at the end offers, “no wonder our perception of beauty is distorted,” while directing viewers to take part in dove’s Real Beauty workshop for girls, the new ad–aimed at the same north american audience–warns viewers (ostensibly parents, but perhaps every woman’s inner child) to “talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.” the spot likewise ends with a plug for dove’s self esteem fund:


The Dove Self-Esteem Fund is a national resource established as a link to Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, a program aimed at changing the current, narrow definition of beauty. We believe that to make a real difference, we must take action and contribute in ways that will help women and girls celebrate their individual beauty.”


of course when dove claims to “change the current narrow definition of beauty” they only aim to do so….narrowly. unilever, which is responsible for dove, also sells the fair and lovely “skin whitening” product to areas of the world where a dark complexion means you’re not getting invited to the “individual beauty” celebration:

and see, what you think you’re seeing here is a contradiction….but the reality is you’re not. although, no doubt, it’s easy to get confused about how that could be.

the same way that light skin is now a beauty ideal in india, being–as the national youth anti-drug media campaign would call it–“above the influence” of the beauty industry is the new beauty ideal in north america. the new unattainable beauty standard is the transcendent personal victory over the distorted beauty ideal itself. as viable an achievement as a victory in the war on drugs or giselle’s body.

unilever is, in fact, selling just as equally an unrealistic standard in both messages. considering that dove is about as much a “beauty” (or is it “nonbeauty” now?) product as fair and lovey–which is essentially just sunscreen, more or less–is a “skin whitener” it makes perfect sense that the messaging likewise would actually be so consistent. and in the case of the north american version, unsettlingly prescient.

as someone who’s worked in fashion PR, i can verily attest that ain’t no one hates the folks in the fashion and beauty industry more than they hate themselves. will all that self-loathing one day be enough to launch a whole “war on beauty?”

if it is, i’m sure dove films will be winning awards for its PSAs.


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6 thoughts on “branding the new impossible beauty ideal is nothing new

  1. Interesting. Always fascinating to see how women are targeted in new and excitingly misogynistic ways.

    On a semi-related note, I am curious about your critique on my org’s site on pink-ribbon cause-marketing for breast cancer:

    This is Breast Cancer Awareness month, aka pink ribbon mania month, which was ironically started by AstraZeneca the drug company and has a very convoluted investment in cancer:

  2. it’s funny, it never ocured to me to consider it misogynistic. which is not to say it isn’t… just i’d never thought of it that way. is self-hatred necessarily misogynistic? that’s really what’s being targetted here. our self-hatred, not necessarily our gender.

    the new thing to hate about yourself isn’t that you don’t live up to some crazy ideal, but that you aren’t ABOVE CARING that you don’t.

    i honestly don’t even know how to tell which one is worse. altho one sure does feel more insidious.

    i’m sure men are being marketed to as failures in completely different ways.

  3. The marketing itself is not misogynistic, merely exploitive of the misogynistic fact that it is socially acceptable to scorn women who don’t comply with unnatural beauty standards. I mean, men have never been targeted for things like douches and Brazilian waxes, even though their bits are probably funkier and hairier than women’s.

    In a patriarchy, power rules. And since beauty has been a woman’s most likely route to power within that patriarchy, so is bodily self-hatred more likely among women, although not exclusively their domain.

  4. i do not think that dove’s “real beauty” campaign has anything to do with “exploiting the fact that it is socially acceptable to scorn women who don’t comply with the unnatural beauty standards.”

    i think if anything, it is exploitative of some basic human psychology–about as much as a prozac commercial is.

    i think it’s really about people’s own internal struggles, which are informed much more by biological predispositions than any noise about patriarchy.

  5. not sure about the misogynistic view of things, but just a quick shout out on the post itself… much has been written about this entire dove effort since 2005. despite the huge success, last week’s AdAge reported the dove brand has taken a hit/flattened since they recently started celebrating age with the annie leibovitz campaign. despite all the write-ups, this post is a new slant on things. nicely done.

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