Feminist & artist. Writing & visuals.

Why I'm not entirely convinced on Dove

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1.5.15

For the most part, Dove's adverts make me happy. I feel represented when I see women my size in their campaigns, I find growing up less daunting when I see their pro-ageing posters. A few years ago they used a powerful time lapse video to reveal to the public what can be done on Photoshop, and that we should question the depictions of beauty we see around us. This is all great, but it's not doing anything to change the fact we're still valued on our appearance, and beauty is still our goal.

Unilever, the company that owns Dove, along with many others, is run by men. It is also the company that owns Lynx, infamously sexist in their advertising (warning: links offer possible explanation as why so many boys overcompensate with deodorant). Their name is on both the complimentary Dove campaigns and the offensive ones of their male-demographic counterpart; so you can see why I'm ambivalent.

In their latest video, women had to choice between walking through one of two doors labelled "beautiful" and "average". For the women presented with this question, it was a handy reminder on their unconsidered shopping trip that they are in fact, still being watched. Still under scrutiny in a society that measures a women's worth by her appearance. All Dove are doing are asking us to accept this fact, and claim our beauty for ourselves - which is fine, but it's hardly progressive. For Dove, the message is still the same as the countless other brands, but worded differently: instead of 'hate yourself, buy our product' we have instead the brief feel-good gift of a compliment wrapped up in a kind of liberal feminism that requires no deeper analysis of our society and how its images and messages shape us.

Women are encouraged to be beautiful, and scorned if they do no comply. Though less so for Dove, they still do not feature women who are noticeably nonconforming. For example, the figures in their pictures are women who put on weight in a socially acceptable way. Also, a woman who has body hair? Nope! For all Dove's problematic talk of 'real women', I've yet to see them show a real woman with real, unaltered hair - whether she's thin or fat. In fact, they promote using their products to calm the irritated skin caused by shaving.

Their website states, somewhat comically: "only 4% of women globally would describe themselves as beautiful. Just FOUR percent." Taken at face value, it's an unfortunate statistic - I'd love to live in a world where girls are bigging themselves and other girls up - but a cynic might say a world fixated on the need for women to be beautiful is in itself the reason why so little women feel they are. The beauty industry's success relies on making women feel their natural state needs improving so that they buy their products, and for that, there's always a better one: a more lightweight foundation, a celebrity-endorsed lipgloss, a revolutionary new mascara wand. The industry relies on us not feeling content, let alone beautiful.

The beautiful women we are presented with, as Dove rightly sheds light on, are the result of makeup, lighting and Photoshop. They do it subtly - your whole life - until you put your face on each morning 'for myself'. Dove realise this isn't ok, but what they fail to realise that to really liberate women we need something a little deeper than broadening what is considered to be beautiful. Both Dove and the companies they separate themselves from promote a individualistic, capitalist, and short-sighted answer; that we'll be content once we come to terms with their guidelines for beauty. By all means, know you're beautiful, but also, that it doesn't determine your worth in this world.