So this ad has been doing the global rounds – worshipfully on Facebook timelines and scornfully on outraged feministy blogs (see, eg, here and here). And incidentally achieving exactly what it set out to achieve, no doubt – Dove’s name on everybody’s lips; tapped out over and over again on everybody’s keyboard.
Well yes, it is now on my lips too; and my keyboard has been sullied.
I watched this ad, and as I watched I remained curiously detached about the whole ‘social experiment’. Now, I like to think (don’t we all?) I usually achieve a certain level of detachment as corporations attempt to sell me stuff, but this wasn’t conscious detachment, like when I’m thirsty and there’s a very chilly-looking glass of Coca Cola on the screen and I say to myself ‘NO Daisy, water is cheaper, better and ethically more sound’. It was unconscious: I didn’t feel like I was being sold to.
It was after a trip to the loo some time later that I realised what was going on. As I was washing my hands I glanced in the mirror, as is my custom. And before I could think about it I had thought idly to myself, ‘Looking good there Dais – loooking goood’. In that moment, I liked my eyes, my nose, my chin. My recently sculpted eyebrows in particular. Bam! There it was. It turns out I am one of the 4 percent of women who DO think they’re beautiful.
Dove pulls out every stop (cheesy music, soft lighting, an elegant New York loft interior, sympathetic, humble faces of the sisterhood) to sell us the revelation that We Are Not Actually Ugly! This message relies on the huge and unquestioned fact (it is actually a fact; Dove’s ‘research’ verifies it) that most of think we ARE.
And by relying on that fact and using it to push a message that is explicitly aimed at every woman, isn’t this campaign normalising, if not approving that attitude?
As soon as I realised that I thought I was OK-looking, I had a stupid flash of dismay. Oh God, I thought desperately, I’m one of the 4 percent! I want to be one of the 96 percent; I want to feel solidarity with my sisters! What’s wrong with me?
Bam! There went my detachment. I wanted a glass of ice-cold Coke. I had just been sold Dove’s REAL message.
This is what I mean about the campaign’s effect being to normalise the ‘I’m so uuugly!’ message.
Here is the thing: Dove doesn’t actually want to convince you that you are beautiful. In fact it NEEDS you to feel Not Beautiful, so that it can sell its message of ‘hope’ to you. As soon as you feel Beautiful, you don’t need the message: you are not Dove’s target market; not someone who Dove wants to talk to.
YOU: I’m ugly.
DOVE (patronisingly): No, no! You are more beautiful than you think!
YOU: I am? Well … Thank you. That’s quite a self-esteem boost; all women should feel this way! If only there was a way to spread this warm fuzzy feeling you’ve given me …
DOVE: Well, now that you mention it … are you on Facebook?
YOU: Oh wow … you’re telling me I can be a part of this social revolution? YES! (pauses to Like and Share)
DOVE: Um, just to completely change the subject … do you need some new deodorant?
YOU: Actually, yes!
DOVE: (*ka-CHING!*) That’ll be $3.50, please!
YOU: Wow: this $3.50 feels less like a portion of my grocery bill and more like a charitable donation that’s ultimately going to contribute towards making the world a better place! Keep fighting the good fight, Dove!
DOVE: Aw shucks.
To maximise its target market, Dove needs you to believe the message ‘Normal women think they’re ugly’.
I think we need to acknowledge that this campaign is therefore a lot more insidious even than some women are accusing it of being. Sure it focuses on physical appearance as the measure of success for women – but not in as compassionate a way as it wants us to believe. And let’s not forget (I’ve been surprised at the people who haven’t stopped to note this) that Dove is not a person, so it doesn’t owe us empathy or respect. It’s not a charity, so it doesn’t need to be a force for good in this screwed-up world. It is merely a brand, which is run by a corporation, which like all corporations has one purpose alone, and that purpose is not a philosophical ideal, it is to make money.
Come on, sisters!