A little while ago I posted the new Dove campaign video, Real Beauty Sketches, on my Facebook. I was immediately infatuated by the idea behind this so-called social experiment. To be honest I found it downright moving. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and you’d rather not watch it, the basic gist of it is this:
Dove got seven women of different ages and backgrounds to describe their faces and had FBI-trained forensic artist Gil Zamora create composite sketches based on the descriptions they gave. The women were also asked to spend time in a room with strangers who were asked to get to know them, though neither knew why. These strangers were later asked to describe the women to Zamora who made another sketch based on their descriptions. The two drawings of each woman were then hung side-by-side. The difference between them were significant. The tagline of the campaign is: “You are more beautiful than you think.”
The idea, if you set aside the fact that it’s an ad for someone who in the end wants to sell you something, is brilliant. If an artist had done a similar experiment I’m sure we would all be having a whole other discussion.
Before I continue let me just say something about the images below. This is me, without any make up or photoshop, in the morning before I shower. This is my naked truth. I’m showing you this because at my most vulnerable and raw, I am still me, and I am more than my appearance and I don’t need anyone to remind me of that.
Shortly after I posted the video some people raised some eyebrows towards the whole thing, and perhaps rightly so. Dove is apparently owned by a company that also owns Axe which a lot of people feel make ads that are terribly degrading towards women. Like for instance this one, which makes a woman out to be headless boobs. I just watched it and you know what, I wasn’t offended. Not one bit. Sure, I see where the critics are coming from and I’m not siding with Axe, but I just wasn’t offended. I actually found it kind of funny. Am I outrageous? Perhaps. Of course if you want to be offended, then this is the ad for you. Anyway, I digress.
The day after I posted the video a friend posted a link to this blog which is very critical of the campaign, and I’ll admit it does make some good points. If that’s the way you want to see it. It lingered a bit in my mind for a couple of days and here’s the thing; Do we really need an ad to tell us beauty is more than skin deep? And isn’t the message itself still speaking a fundamental truth when it says “You are more beautiful than you think”? Now, you’re probably thinking something like “but the media is distorting the way we view ourselves and what we think beauty should be”. Yes, I agree, but you know what?
Each and every thing I feel unhappy with about myself stems from what people I know have told me about me. Not the media, but friends and relatives — and occasionally also strangers.
When I was little I was so often accused of being both anorexic or bulimic because I was skinny it’s sickening. I was constantly trying to prove that I did indeed eat, and eat a lot, and was terrified of going to the bathroom after eating at someone’s house in case they thought I was vomiting. I was just a skinny girl. It took me years before I dared to wear skirts because I was always told my legs looked like toothpicks. I was teased for not having any boobs long before you could expect them to even be there. I never really grew big breasts, but I was forever looking down hoping that one day they would sprout and put an end to the name calling. I was teased for wearing glasses, to the point where I was cornered at school one day and bombarded with snowballs by a gang of older boys because having glasses apparently makes you an easy target. Then when I got contact lenses I was told I looked like a fish out of water. That wasn’t good enough either. I still remember sitting outside in the school yard in the sun in year 7 when someone told me I had an ugly moustache. When feeling bad about having my skin breaking out and desperately needing some comfort I was told “yes, it’s ugly”. After I had a baby I was mistaken for being pregnant again several times because of my new mummy pouch.
I’m sure I could go on, but you get the point.
So if you asked me to describe myself to you I’m sure all of these insecurities would come out in a word here and a word there. But not everything I said would mean that I think I’m ugly. For instance, I’d say I have many grey and white hairs. That’s just a fact. I have unruly curls by my temples. I would say I have a broad chin. I’d say my skin is prone to break outs. I have freckles. I have a red dot on the left side of my nose. I’d say I have beginning crows feet. I’d say I have darker hair on my upper lip, that I have blue, grey eyes. A slim nose with a round tip. Thin lips, a thin face etc etc.
I love my greys, I think they are dignified. The curls at my temples sometimes drive me crazy. I love my crows feet because to me they say something about how often I smile. My skin sometimes makes me want to hide. I like my freckles, but if you asked me to describe myself in a matter of factly way I wouldn’t say any of these things. I’d stick to what I said above.
Because I use the words slim, thin and blue does not mean that I am “enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”, it’s just me trying to describe myself with ordinary words while trying to be as objective as I can when talking about my own looks. Something which is not easy, I might add.
Despite my description being without any positive adjectives doesn’t mean I don’t know that beauty is more than skin deep. Of course it is. I don’t need media to tell me that. I know I am beautiful in many ways. And I am not afraid to share with you what I look like before I have a shower. I’m not afraid of my naked truth however unhappy I may be with pieces of it. And this is the message I want to pass on to my son. I want him to be able to watch an ad like the Dove ad and think, yes, I probably am more beautiful than I think because he will be. I want him to understand the difference between what we think of ourselves and what others think of us. My son thinks I’m beautiful no matter how shit I may feel about myself. My partner thinks I’m beautiful on even my worst of days, my friends think I’m beautiful because they know me and love me. Sometimes even I think I’m beautiful both within and without.
I’m losing my trail here, but my point is this. We should be able to take the positives for their positives and not always pick them apart until they become ugly shadows of themselves. We should stop assuming we’re so stupid we need to be spoon fed, and we should stop expecting advertising of all things to be 100% politically correct. It is of greater significance how we treat each other, of what words we choose to describe each other than what the media tells us. The media is made up of people. It needs to change, this is true, but the biggest and greatest change lies with us, with you and me, and how we interact with each other. What I say about myself will shape my son’s view of beauty more than what the media says about it. If I am mindful of my words about myself and always mindful of my words about him, what the media says might not have such a big grip.
And lastly, this is me, after I have a shower. The difference in my eyes is not so big, but hey, it’s still me.