Picking Up Where Dove Left Off

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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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zitonaDOVE AD

Art Credit: Zitona

Few people haven’t heard of the latest video from the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty—as of this writing, the video has been viewed over 49 million times on YouTube. By now the buzz surrounding Dove’s campaign has died down and the rounds of love snaps and “amen sister!” from the blogosphere and media have mostly fallen silent. I was one of them, and now I am left here wondering, “what now?”

Just in case you missed it, the video is a highly successful shock-and-awe campaign to highlight women's poor perceptions of their own beauty. In it, Dove enlists a forensic-sketch artist to portray a group of women according to the way each one described themselves, and then to sketch again the way a stranger described them. Was anyone really shocked that the women in the Dove ad exhibited an overwhelming tendency to undervalue their physical beauty?

It’s no secret that the majority of women today struggle with body image. Research is constantly ringing the alarm that all is not well with women, and study after study connects low self-esteem with the magazines we choose to read. A 2008 UNC and SELF Magazine study reports that 65 percent of American women report disordered eating behaviors and an AAP study reveals that 69 percent of women claim that magazine pictures influence their ideal body shape.

The facts are out there, and I applaud Dove for boldly demonstrating to women that they are more beautiful than they think. But what good is my applause and accusatory hot air when I turn around and support the very same media with my readership?

Like all women, I am drawn to beauty. I love to feast my eyes on images that inspire, and for years I turned to magazines to fill that need for inspiration. But these magazines suggested that beauty comes in one size and that to be desired is to be objectified. Over time, these suggestions penetrated my psyche, and I began to believe that the evocative visual and written messaging in those pages was the truth.

But the truth is, women are tired of media that peddles unrealistic images of femininity and narrow definitions of beauty—and have been tired of it for a long time. Dove's own surveys, conducted in conjunction with Harvard and London School of Economics researchers, show that "when it comes to strictly physical attributes, the images of manufactured femininity are rejected as too narrow, as inauthentic and as insufficient." Yet we still get cover lines such as, “So You Ate a Cupcake? Fast Moves to Burn it Off!!” or beauty advice such as, “How to Look Hot Now." (Yes, these are actual cover lines!) Even so, these same magazines have seen a steady incline in circulation over the past four years, with Cosmo’s circulation peaking at over 3 million in 2012.

Awareness campaigns conducted by well-intentioned brands and organizations like Dove may be the first step towards something better, but are not in themselves change. Women need to take a stand for themselves, to remember that we are the ones who direct the conversation. Women don’t have to keep digesting media that tells them who they are is not good enough. If we stop buying the product, the product goes the way of the Hostess Twinkies--RIP.

Dove does a wonderful job of highlighting the need for media that truly inspires and affirms women, and magazines that intentionally taunt women with false expectations of beauty do not fill that need. Women know what they want and should stop settling for what is being offered. But does Dove still advertise in and give money to magazines that compete with this message?

The question remains, what happens after the dust has settled around Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty? Will women continue to settle for unmet needs? Or will we create a demand for something more?

(Photo by Zitona)