the problem with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign

Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for the message “seriously, though, you’re beautiful.” And I agree with the viral clip, so many of us get distracted by all of our perceived flaws. We get caught up in criticizing our appearances and miss out on our own beauty. We are often more generous toward strangers than we are toward ourselves.

I like that the Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign is pointing all of this out. I hope it starts a bunch of conversations. And I hope that my reaction is interpreted as a continuation of the conversation, rather than nitpicking criticism. Because I really don’t want to nitpick, I just want to point out some things I noticed as I was watching.

In the clip, some lovely, thin, mostly white women who are all pretty young describe their appearances to a forensic artist, who sketches them without looking at them. And then other people describe these women, and the artist starts all over again, based on the new description. At the end, the women are shown the two portraits of themselves, and they can see how differently the sketched faces turned out, based on the descriptions. They realize that they’ve been unnecessarily critical of their appearances.

Something felt a little off. And I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I was getting slightly teary over the women getting slightly teary on camera as they realized that they had been too harsh, describing themselves.

Interestingly, even the sketches based on the self-descriptions weren’t actually particularly unattractive, and I was faintly annoyed with the idea that one sketch was supposed to represent unattractiveness and the other beauty, when the distinctions between the two seemed to lie in characteristics like a mole, shadows under the eyes, slight roundness in facial shape, or a few wrinkles.

Looking at the two portraits of herself, one woman described the one meant to be prettier as looking “much younger,” which seemed to be true of all of them. The more “beautiful” facial representations seemed to all be thinner and younger-looking. If that is the crux of beauty, then I guess we’re all pretty screwed by that obnoxiously inexorable bastard called time.


And there was the slight issue of the artist being a man. He got to be the one to gently suggest to the women, “Maybe you’re more beautiful than you thought.” He got to present their “true” beauty to them. That felt like it might be open to some discussion in an earnest gender studies class at a liberal arts college somewhere.

But leaving this aside, because, you know, there are always details, and we can always analyze them until everything falls apart in ruins, I think what made me uncomfortable watching the clip was that all of the blame was on the women.

In the tiny world that Dove created for the sake of this campaign, we women all feel bad about the way we look. We’re kind of crazy that way. We focus obsessively on the one mole on our cheek and ignore our stunning eyes and upswept cheekbones. We look in the mirror and get everything wrong. And if we can just be shown the truth, the reality, we can start to move on with our lives, hopefully.

It’s true, many (though definitely not all!) of us obsess over small details or feel perhaps disproportionately frustrated with aspects of our appearances other people barely notice (if they notice at all). It’s true that this is distracting and impedes our ability to see ourselves for how we look to other people. It’s true that it interferes with our lives. But we don’t do this for no reason. We don’t do this because this is just how women are. We do it because we have learned that doing this is a part of being a woman. We’ve learned that beauty is really relevant and also it’s strict and specific and cannot reside in a face with a pronounced mole, so we agonize over the mole.

And Dove implicitly agrees with us. The mole would be a problem if it were larger and darker. There it is, making the portrait on the left look ugly! But luckily it’s only larger and darker in our minds, and so what other people perceive doesn’t have much to do with a mole at all, and therefore, we are actually prettier than we thought we were.

(seriously, Anne Hathaway, you’re beautiful! we swear! source)

In Dove’s world, as in the real world of beauty standards, there is definitely a better and a worse way to look, it’s just that, according to Dove, women are often mistaken about which side they’re really on.

We are not mistaken, though, in believing that we should be anxious about the way we look, if we live in a context where beauty is important enough to constantly occupy our minds and specific enough to result in some shadowy eyes equaling a loss of attractiveness. In this context, we’re totally right to worry.

And here’s the thing about beauty in the real world that Dove seems to be forgetting: we are not actually supposed to think we’re beautiful. That would be weird and vain and arrogant. It would be wrong and presumptuous. People are charmed when gorgeous movie stars reassure us that, actually, they feel unattractive and weird, too! They also hate that mole on their face. They also think their boobs are a strange shape. People are not charmed when a movie star seems to think too highly of herself, by being into her appearance, and they are certainly not impressed when a regular, normal-looking woman has the gall to think the same of her ordinary looks.

(I have to say, I really like their soap. source)

I don’t think that Dove is ethically obligated to lead an in-depth examination concerning potential causes for the modern woman’s body dysmorphia. I don’t think the Real Beauty Sketches campaign needs to include an hour of commentary from gender studies professors after the clip concludes. The clip serves a purpose. It points out how wrong our negative impressions of ourselves can be. It points out that it’s common for women to feel bad about the way they look, and it makes it clear that that is a sad situation.

But I want to point out, while we’re pointing out things about beauty, that feeling better about the way we look depends not only on the positive opinion of strangers (which is definitely powerful and important, as I just wrote about here), but on our being able to own our own beauty, in all its complexity. Including aging. Including moles. Including everything that we already are. And, unfortunately, we really can’t get there completely on our own, by changing our thinking and our attitude. The world has to meet us halfway, by letting us stop putting ourselves down and by celebrating our diversity, rather than beating us over the head with the same tired depictions of taut, slinky, lithe, teenaged beauty.

The world has to meet us halfway, by convincing us that there’s a lot more to us than the way we look, and that those things are, believe it or not, even more important than the way we look.

And if we happen to think we actually look good, we have to be able to say, “I am beautiful,” the way we can say “Oh god, I look terrible!” without it being a big deal.

Why is it still such a big deal? Because, annoyingly, people really, really care about beauty, and there are still a lot of rules about it, and that’s why women are thinking about it at all and feeling like we have to put ourselves down, even when we look like the kind of pretty, thin, white women that Dove would choose for a polite, non-threatening campaign about how, seriously, we should all feel better about ourselves.

*  *  *

What did you think of the Dove campaign? I know a lot of people loved it, and I feel like I actually almost, almost loved it too!

Unroast: Today I love the way the lines on my face make it more complicated, in an interesting way.


Kate on April 17th 2013 in beauty

67 Responses to “the problem with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign”

  1. Riana responded on 17 Apr 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    Good points all around, especially the part about blaming the women for not recognizing their own beauty. It’s really this messed up social contract–that you should be confident and love yourself, but don’t love yourself too much or else you’re arrogant. Wait, it’s probably better if you don’t recognize your own beauty, because then it’s ingenuous and endearing.

    Here’s anther take on the doce campaign, which I thought was really good. It kind of has the same point as your post on the importance of letting yourself be ugly.

  2. AMS responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 12:55 am #

    Wow! This sums up, eloquently, the mild discomfort I had while watching and enjoying the clip. I found myself wondering how I would have described my face, and I really don’t think I would have been harsh. I wondered if maybe the self-described portrait would have been more beautiful, and what that said about me.

  3. Claire Allison responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 1:27 am #

    I watched that clip and then I thought “Well that was… icky. Hm. Wonder what Kate has to say about this…” bang on, girl. Bang on.

    Can I just say it felt really icky and manipulative? Like I can’t stress how icky it felt to have the gentle voiced man reveal the true beauty to the gentle wilting women. It was icky.

  4. Sarah responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 3:28 am #

    Thanks Kate, I also had this weird uneasy feeling about it, and I just couldn’t put my finger on why that was.

    Oh, and AMS, I thought the same. though its more about my body shape/size. I think, in my head I’m still the same size I was when I was 18 or so (I’m nearly 30) then, occasionally I get glimpses of myself in mirrors in unexpected places (you know those mirrored shop fronts or out of the corner of my eye in the elevator) and for a minute I think, whoah, who is that girl that looks like a fatter version of me… then I realise it IS me… hmm…

  5. Claire M responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 3:43 am #

    Something else this ad ignores is that many of our so-called “flaws” contribute to our identity and sense of self in a positive way- like slightly crooked, not perfectly straight teeth might create a mischievousness, fun smile or a scar you might notice more than other people do because you got it playing your favorite sport in high school and see yourself as brave, determined and athletic. Or maybe you inherited a distinctive facial feature from your grandmother who you really looked up to and admired. Maybe you look more beautiful and glamorous with long hair but feel like a pixie cut is more fun and matches your personality better.

    Just because something doesn’t make us conventionally beautiful doesn’t mean it doesn’t make us happy about how we look. The ad shows women overwhelmed with happiness that they don’t really look like they think they do. Should I be happy if I don’t really look like “me”? Having someone tell you “you’re more attractive than you think you are” can come awfully close to “the things that make you uniquely you make you ugly”.

  6. Ambba responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 4:20 am #

    We are all prey to the stereotyping of beauty that has existed over the years and it has gotten even more rigid or selective with passing time. You have to have a certain type of figure that goes with a perfect complexion and an even perfect combination of all features being in the right proportion. If you dont have some of it you are under pressure to set it right…critisizing it to yourself does not help. In fact it makes you more depressed and erodes your self esteem. You are perceived to be a bit shabby if you get comfortable with your face and not so perfect body…The definition of beauty has to expand and embrace much more than just how you look physically. Till the beauty pundits dont genuinely propound that it aint gonna happen. And guess what even if they start doing it today it will take a few generations to buy into their genuineness. Beauty has to be the whole package. your personality and character are very critical in shaping it…..But I guess all in all its a good start and I do hope the conversation gets bigger and deeper

  7. Elisha_Q responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 6:24 am #

    Sorry, but I have to disagree about the picture on the left being just fuller faced, older looking and dark. To me they looked like a completely deferent person, not looking like the woman whose portrait it was supposed to be at all. May be a distant relative or something.

  8. Jessie responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Wow, I just read a very similar post to this on Tumblr that my friend recommended to me, and the writing style and thought-provoking topic made me think of you. I thought she’d like your writing so I came here to get your URL and it turns out you’ve just written about it! I guess I was right when I thought this was right up your alley. Great post, as always :) .

  9. Nat responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 7:46 am #

    @ Riana
    I think that link might be broken, is this the post? I found it really illuminating as well, particularly the fact that there are almost certainly people who look like the sketches on the left and how are they going to feel when they see this?

  10. Shannon responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 8:55 am #

    THIS. This is the weird feeling I couldn’t put my finger on while I watched this ad. Thank you for another excellent post!

  11. Amy responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:03 am #

    @Claire M, I agree with you 100%

    This ad and this post together remind me of a presentation I did in a class I took in college. It was titled “The Female Form in the Arts, History and Sciences” or something along those lines. The instructor was, and still is, one of my favorite humans in existence. We were asked to find advertisements featuring women’s bodies, one “positive” and one “negative”, show them and explain our thoughts. I took it, and like I do, flipped it. I chose an ad that I knew most of my classmates would find to be “negative” and presented the reasons why I found it to be empowering. And an ad that I knew most of them would find to be “positive” and pointed out how I found it to be manipulative and actually really negative.
    I hope that class is still being taught and I hope they explore this ad throughly.

  12. Rapunzel responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:20 am #

    I was torn about the message to when I saw it. I thought it was a good point that they were *trying* to get at, but in the long run it still failed because, like you said, they used all the same type of women. Your average thin female, some of them pretty and some of them plain, and some of them looking like your best friend’s mom. But that’s as far as it went. I’d like to see how random strangers would describe a fat woman with moles on her face (coincidentally…me!). And it would *probably* still turn out that I would be more harsh to myself than a stranger, but the stranger in this situation would be falsely gentle too I bet, and it all STILL wouldn’t add up to the “look, you’re actually beautiful to everyone else!” thing. It would be more like a “meh….maybe if you lost a few pounds in the face” sort of thing.
    Or maybe I’m just to attached to that particular battle with my body.

  13. Leslie responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:24 am #

    While I see the point in what you are saying Kate, and the other posters here as well, I am a little frustrated with the nitpicking – Dove (while certainly not perfect in their “real beauty campaign”) is trying to do something positive and we are just trashing it and pushing it aside. At least this company is addressing the body image problems facing women that are largely influenced by media. Obviously they have a lot more work to do to get it right, but when I saw this ad I was impressed because of the message they were, honestly I believe, trying to convey – that women do judge their physical appearances harshly and unrealistically. The ad said nothing about where these thoughts of unattractiveness came from – so I don’t think it is fair to say Dove automatically is pointing to the women as the originators of their poor body image.

    I think it is just as important to take the ad at its simple and honest purpose – to maybe look at yourself differently – stop judging yourself so negatively and love what you have.

    I think it could be a much more effective ad if they addressed all of your concerns too and maybe put more theory behind their message, but I appreciate their step.

  14. Sheryl responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Where I get squicked out is that why Dove does make a lot more of an effort than other companies, they contribute to the issues too. If I remember correctly they were the company that advertised deodorant that would stop your underarms from getting dark – who ever worried about the skin on their underarms darkening before that ad?

    I appreciate that they do try, really. It’s opening a dialogue, and it shows more caring and concern than so many other beauty brands but when they’re actually trying to sell their products they still play the game.

  15. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 10:12 am #

    @Nat and Riana
    That tumblr post has been popping up, and I really liked it. I read it quickly after writing this one and hope they aren’t too similar– I think she talks about race more? I liked it, though, and want to re-read soon. I like that she talks about the issues politely. I’m trying to do that here.

    Which is why @Leslie- I tried NOT to nitpick, and I tried to acknowledge the good things going on here. I knew I was going to annoy some people, of course, but I really don’t have anything against Dove, I just want to add onto what they brought up. I don’t think a conversation has to end with their conclusion– it seems to me that it’s a good start but there’s more to the story.

  16. Samantha Angela responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I find it super annoying that this whole video comes from a company that’s hawking beauty products. They’re basically saying “You’re so much prettier than you think! . . . but not that pretty. You still need some smoother skin and more vibrant hair and “sleeveless ready” armpits” (seriously, wtf is ‘sleeveless ready’?)

    Just take a look at the difference in the way they describe their men’s products versus their women’s ones. Soap for example: it’s literally the same product with different packaging.

    The soap marketed to men describes the its functionality (ie. the ability to moisturize) whereas the women’s takes it a step farther and has to bring up that moisture creates “beautiful” skin. Why is the beauty of my skin relevant? I just want skin that`s not dry. Now I’m going to go around thinking that not only does my dry skin suck because it itches but also that until my skin is moisturized it’s not beautiful.

  17. deva responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 10:48 am #

    I agree with Samantha above. And WTF to the sleeveless-ready underarms? My underarms are sleeveless ready whenever I want to go sleeveless!

    I also deal with really dry skin, and as much as I like dove soap, the only thing that works for my dry skin is sesame oil in the wintertime, and in the past I’ve felt really inadequate when the dove beauty bar was unable to tackle my dry and crackly skin in the winter.

  18. onebreath responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 11:21 am #

    Hmm… when I first saw the video, I loved it. I even commented on another blog this morning about how I loved it. Now, reading this I’m a little less sure…

    It’s a hard thing to do, change media messages about beauty and I am glad that Dove is making inroads, albeit small ones. And I think it is good to remember that they are a company selling products – I don’t think we can expect them to not have a commercial aim. Though the inconsistencies do irk me as well.

    It’s very interesting to read about how others interpret and viewed this campaign – as you say, a great way to start conversations. What I saw in the difference between the two sketches was less about weight or age – I thought the first one often looked markedly more negative and unhappy… I think that’s the part why I like the campaign – it’s an opportunity to possibly take a step back from the *negativity* associated with our self views – rather than a denial of our beautiful imperfections.

    Though honestly, give me 1/2 an hour and I’ll probably change my mind on this again :)

  19. Jesse responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 11:33 am #

    I agree with post #3 that it is weird and sad that men need to reassure us that we are beautiful. I know plenty of women who are so gorgeous, yet so self-depricating about their appearance. Women who are waiting for men to come along and tell them that they’re beautiful, as though, without that reassurance they wouldn’t be. And it’s so SAD! Because these women are literally giving all of their power away to some arbitrary man. Why?! You are beautiful! Own up to it! Recognize it , and OWN it!

  20. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I know what you mean– and good point about the sketches looking sadder in one version and happier in the other. I didn’t think about that.

  21. Robin responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Yes! The message in the video is still “beauty matters, thank God you don’t look as bad as you think you do!
    But of course, you can’t share that with anyone but yourself, or we’ll all think you’re vain and shallow…”

  22. What is real beauty? | 42 and Some Bananas responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 12:19 pm #

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  23. Topaz Horizon responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    My friend sent me your post and I am so glad I read this! I’ve been feeling all sorts of strange when I saw that video, part “aww” but mostly upset. I realize now that the “only 4% of women around the world think they’re beautiful” bothered me the most because I wanted to understand why we women think that way, and why is our looks so damn important anyway? Whatever happened to substance?

    I talk more about it on my blog =)

    Thank you for writing this!

  24. Melanie responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Yes, yes, and yes. This campaign made me shift in my seat a little and made me uncomfortable. Mostly because the women in the commercial all have some sort of “traditionally recognized beauty trait” to them. The girl with the “round” face was nowhere near fat. I want to love stuff like this for the message they’re trying to get across for us not too judge ourselves so harshly. But I do get offended by the “stop being stupid, women” type blame about beauty standards. They have been beaten in to us. Even I, who doesn’t wear make up, go through an exfoliating, cleansing, and moisturizing routine every day because “dry skin is ugly.” I got that from somewhere. It’s not like I just made it up when I was a child.

  25. Jess @bruteandbird responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I thought it was kind of boring. It’s marketing, not a PSA. Rhetorically, they’re adopting some of the same strategies, but ultimately, it’s about emotional appeal. Tried. True. Persuasive. We are emotional beings, so we respond.

    I don’t find beauty to be problematic, except when it is. Any misplaced emphasis or importance makes us outweigh other areas of life. It’s problematic when it causes us to neglect other (possibly more important) facets of our existence–as you’ve pointed out. It would be nice if this message didn’t have to come from a corporation in our public discourse.

    The message is not simply, “you’re more beautiful than you think,” but also, “we know you (typically thin, attractive women) think you’re ugly, and we can use this thinking to engender an emotional affiliation with you so you’ll spend money on our beauty products.”

  26. Farida responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Thank god you write about this Kate, I hate the video! I agree with Samantha, Topaz and Robin! The ad has nothing to do with the brain, confidence and, beauty in the heart. I’m really sad. Because media is manipulating our emotions and, deceiving our brains.

  27. San D responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    One of my art students became a forensic artist, and would come speak to my classes about what the job entailed. He told me that as observers of “faces” we tend to over emphasize sizes certain features, like eyes, and depending on our emotional state at the time we encountered the face, we would remember certain details more than others. This ad campaign by DOVE is a psychological study on how we see ourselves vs. how “strangers” see us. Probably would have been effective if the person who described us knew us. Why? because in our interaction with others we put on our masks, we become actors in a way. So, while, yes, the drawings that were the result of strangers interactions with us are more open, and considered more “beautiful”, what they really tell me is that the person is socially adjusted to put the mask on when speaking to someone. Beauty is not quantifiable in breathing human beings, but can be “produced” with pencil and paper. Think Michaelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci.

  28. JaneF responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    What bothers me is that the other people describing the women did not know them, only met them once and had to go by memory they could not see the women they were describing or refer to a picture even. I doubt they could REALLY remember specific details that clearly, so those would be more generalised descriptions. When you describe yourself you KNOW every nick, line and mole.. I’d be more interested in seeing the result of a sketch as described by a close loved-one – boyfriend/husband/child/mother/friend. Also I am sure these sketches were biased from the start, in that the artist had the INTENTION of the second ones being more ‘attractive’ at the outset of the exercise. So it’s not an objective measure at all.

  29. Pamela responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Thanks, this was wonderful. I’m a new subscriber to your blog and truly enjoy it! Just sent this on to my sisters and shared on Facebook.

  30. My favorite links » Allison Newcomer Photography responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 5:31 pm #

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  31. Mindy responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    One of my friends posted this, and underneath it said that only 4% of women think they are beautiful. I’m not sure if that was from the Dove campaign, or someone else’s addition as it was forwarded.

    When I saw that, I thought, really?? Only 4%? Because I think that I am beautiful, and I didn’t think that was that weird. I see beauty in everyone… I’m a photographer, and that’s my favorite thing… finding that beauty, and sometimes capturing it in a way that they can see it too.

    If it’s really that low, that’s really sad. Do you think that really only 4% of women think they’re beautiful, or do you think that only 4% will ADMIT that they think they’re beautiful, or do you think that percentage was picked out of the air?

    I love your points, and agree.

  32. Lauren Michelle responded on 18 Apr 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    You bring up some good points that I definitely could see making the rounds in a Psychology of Women course I took in college my junior year. I mean, I am generally pleased with my appearance, but of course there are days when I feel like I look haggard or don’t feel like I look my best. I may not fully realize my beauty in all its glory, but deep down I know it’s there waiting for me to find it—and I don’t mean just physical beauty, but a kind of beauty that can’t be seen, something that gets translated through our facial expressions and body language so that it transcends our physical features.

  33. Sarah responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 1:43 am #

    This article actually upsets me more than the commercial. The fact of the matter plain and simple was that the drawing from the description of the strangers DID look more like them. The artist wasnt exaggerating anything to make it more unrealistically beautiful. He drew as they told and the end result looked more like them…What you ACTUALLY look like is where your beauty lies. And the fact is that the women when portraying themselves were only being honest. It’s not their fault and i dont think the video portrayed that in the slightest. It felt very honest and open. And i honestly dont think there would have been a difference if the person to present the pictures to them was a male or a female. The problem with gender roles and gender stratification is that too many people point it out as a problem. Maybe if this society wasnt so focused on gender we wouldnt have seen that having a man be the presenter as a problem. It was a well done commercial and i loved the message. Look on what they were TRYING to accomplish, not what they fell short on. No body is perfect and this nitpicking is ridiculous.

  34. Friday Snacks {4.19.13} | Motley Mama responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 5:08 am #

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  35. Kate responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 9:51 am #

    You’re certainly in good company– lots and lots and lots of people would agree with you about the clip, so don’t worry too much about me not being one of them

    But I have to disagree with you about gender roles. Things are rarely a problem because people happen to talk about them being a problem. The problem is that misogyny and sexism still exist, and still flavor our culture, whether or not we’d like to admit it. I actually think most people are NOT talking about this stuff, so it’d be amazing if a few nerdy liberal feminists in NYC could really create gender roles out of their furious blogging, or something!

    Anyway, yes, nobody is perfect, and like I said, I LIKED a lot of what Dove did. But I didn’t like the whole thing. And that’s what I wrote about. It is honestly annoying, though, to see the word “nitpicking” popping up, when I was trying SO HARD not to nitpick. Not every criticism or addition is a nitpick. And I hope it is never ridiculous to have a different perspective, especially when that perspective isn’t personally mean to an individual, but is addressing the project of a major company.

  36. Jkyles responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    I was not aware of this ad campaign.

    In a word: Yuck.

    We’re supposed to come running to Dove because finally, it has offered us a little pat on the head. [Sniff, sniff, sob!]

    The hook is that we are supposed thank Dove for the bit of kindness with regular cash payments. (Because after all gals, we really aren’t THAT great and only Dove can help us be less gross buckety.)

  37. Ann responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    Kate, I don’t think you are nitpicking. I had the same reaction when I saw the ad. I think what bothered me the most was that, as you pointed out, it focused on the fact that these women weren’t really as ugly as they thought they were. It seems to imply that if they actually looked the way they described themselves, then there would be a problem. But if they actually did look that way, what would be wrong with that? In a way, I think it kind of emphasizes the fact that the most important thing about us is our appearance. The ad didn’t focus on any other of the women’s qualities.

    I wonder sometimes what would be a better way to try to change people’s perceptions. I really don’t have any answers, other than I think each of us should do what we can to make the people around us feel comfortable in their own skin. I know I have been around a lot of people in my life who made me feel more confident in myself because they were confident and they didn’t obesess over appearanes, mine or theirs. I learned to take pride in the fact that I don’t have to put a lot of effort into my appearance to feel good about myself.

  38. Mara responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    I loved this clip up until the part where it made sure to reiterate the fact that our beauty is the Most Important Thing for a woman. Because, the thing is, it’s really, really not. It’s just packaging– it’s the cardboard box, and it could have anything inside, so the box really isn’t the point. And it makes me crazy when people obsess over the outside, really it does.

  39. melanie sara responded on 19 Apr 2013 at 10:18 pm #


    Someone showed me this article yesterday evening and I’ve been devouring your work ever since. First of all, thank you so, so much for what you do. You are so honest, articulate, and self-aware. You convey much more than your own experiences when you discuss them. Your writing has moved me to tears more than once, sometimes in a self-pitying “oh god yes the world is so unfair to girls why do we have to feel like this” way but more often in a “this is relieving, why can’t I see things in this light more often?” way.

    Anyway, I decided to return to this article to share my thoughts:

    The main thing that bugged me when I first watched the video was how contrived the whole thing was. Like, people are obviously going to be polite when asked to describe a stranger they just met and exchanged pleasantries with. No one’s gonna be totally candid and say anything too negative; it’s not like they have any incentive to provide detailed, accurate descriptions! Plus, the artist was in a good position to influence the flatteringness of the drawings – to emphasize the bad from the self-descriptions and the good from the strangers’ descriptions. So I thought the whole thing was more or less bullshit as an “experiment” – I felt like a total killjoy, but I just wasn’t buying it!

    All that aside, your analysis helped me get a better grasp on the more subtly un-reassuring things about the video. “In Dove’s world, as in the real world of beauty standards, there is definitely a better and a worse way to look, it’s just that, according to Dove, women are often mistaken about which side they’re really on.” Fucking exactly. They’re telling us that we’re overly attentive to our flaws… but they’re still objectively flaws, of course! We aren’t as ugly as we think we are, but we have a good sense of what’s unattractive and what’s attractive and we’re inappropriately consumed with those parts of us that are unattractive, ’cause other people don’t even notice them at all. (But they’re still unattractive!)

    Is that supposed to make us feel good?! Like you said, this is how the world really is, so I’ll give Dove that. I’m certainly glad they didn’t try to push some kind of unrealistic “beauty is totally subjective!!~” thing. But this approach doesn’t do any good, doesn’t challenge the (clearly fucking destructive) way we think about beauty; it just attempts to assuage our paranoia about our own beauty. This only pushes the issue off for about a minute, ’cause like the jazzylittledrops post linked elsewhere on this page says, “Oh, and by the way, there are real women who look like the women on the left.” Similarly, any of us could be someone else’s “left” drawing, and how should we feel about that? Bad, I think, according to Dove.

    If they really want to teach us to love ourselves (instead of, you know, just deflecting our self-hatred) they should show us that, look, it’s OK if every part of you isn’t perfect and beautiful. You shouldn’t obsess over that mole, not because it’s not as big and conspicious as you think it is, but because it doesn’t MATTER.

    Of course, I may very well be asking for the impossible – I certainly haven’t been able to convince MYSELF of anything like that…

  40. Dove, Nike and the perils of positive advertising | Fit and Feminist responded on 20 Apr 2013 at 10:27 am #

    [...] troubling.  (I am not going to rehash the criticisms here. Instead I will point you here and here and [...]

  41. Sugar Bowl: Week of 4/20/13 | Discharmed responded on 20 Apr 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    [...] Dove Beauty Campaign seems to have good intentions (well, besides to make money), but its ads still place the blame on women for feeling insecure about their [...]

  42. Jessica responded on 20 Apr 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    The commercial, along with Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign in general, is well-intentioned but still laden with value assumptions. I watched the video and I didn’t think either picture of the same woman represented that dichotomy of “I’m a hideous monster / No you have great hair!” the way they were intended to.

    Also, felt a bit weird with a man mediating the entire process. I know he was supposed to be all kind and sensitive as they dealt with their FEELINGS, but still, he was there saying – “Hey look, you thought you were super ugly. But I’m here to tell you, you’re not, and here’s proof…” There’s some subtle tone of an approving male gaze embedded in the entire process.

    But, whatever. If it makes some women feel better about themselves, cool. I just won’t watch the video again.

  43. Kaitlyn responded on 21 Apr 2013 at 6:22 am #

    God, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who was unimpressed by the Dove sketches video. I must say, though, I didn’t find it so much disturbing as laughable. Although I like that the video is trying to point out the fact that most women are their own worst beauty critics, wouldn’t you say most people tend to downplay their assets in order to not appear pretentious, big-headed, forward, and/or assuming? Add that to the fact that these women are speaking to a total stranger and would probably consider playing up one’s assets a breach of etiquette, since doing so might make them appear “too into themselves.” Women are also more apt to use tact and politeness in social settings because they tend to be more sensitive to how others view them. I think it’s possible the subjects may have highlighted the facial features they were most embarrassed by in a subconscious attempt to appear more down-to-earth and humble, thereby garnering the respect of the interviewer. Another thing: the women were encouraged to be friendly to the people who were to later go in and describe the subjects’ appearances. People are not only more likely to gravitate towards a smiling, accommodating face–as opposed to a sad, angry, or even neutral one–but they tend to think more highly of the person as well. Once you take a liking to someone, what you may once have perceived as a physical or behavioral flaw suddenly becomes a quirky or charming feature.

  44. Margot responded on 21 Apr 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    I’m so glad for the conversations being had surrounding this video! I don’t think that qualifies as nitpicking either, what is a blog for, if not to help generate discussion. Your points are valid and keenly observed. Major props to you for having such a productive comments thread too. One thing missing from the discussion so far that I’d like to add is the role of race in the Dove video. In the full 6 minute cut, women of color are present on the screen for just a few seconds. All of the positive things said about women’s appearances are in regard to the white women – there’s not a positive thing said about WoC in the entire video. That is super messed up. There’s no doubt many reasons one can think of to explain this fact, but it doesn’t change the fact that it still underscores whiteness as the default beauty ideal. I can’t even begin to imagine the damaging affect this has on WoC, not to mention turning them off from Dove products forever. Way to shoot yourselves in the foot there, Dove. I do like what they are attempting to do though, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if it weren’t for them. So this is progress, but there is still a looooooong way to go. I’m hoping for better next time around.

  45. Welcome to Monday ~ 22 April 2013 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism responded on 21 Apr 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    [...] Eat The Damn Cake unpicks Dove’s latest ‘real beauty’ campaign where a sketch artists shows women how distorted their perceptions of their appearance is. [...]

  46. Stacey responded on 21 Apr 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    I haven’t actually watched the video, but from everything I’ve heard about it, it seems like the point of it is, “You’re more beautiful than you think you are.” And I just feel kind of “meh” about that idea. It reinforces the idea that it’s important for you to be beautiful. Maybe this will sound harsh, but I know people who are not beautiful – in fact, I would consider them ugly – but to me that really doesn’t matter because everyone I care about, I care about for many other reasons besides their looks. I liked what you said near the end of your article: “The world has to meet us halfway, by convincing us that there’s a lot more to us than the way we look, and that those things are, believe it or not, even more important than the way we look.” I think now people might be trying too hard to make women feel beautiful, because now it seems like beauty has turned into The Most Important Thing. When really – I just don’t care what my friends and family members look like. I love them for their kindness, their humor, their spirit, their intelligence.

  47. Rose responded on 21 Apr 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Honestly, I thought the commercial was a bit corny, and I also felt it could’ve been edited down to two minutes or less. I am coming from the perspective of having worked as an art director and website development director, however, so I am constantly thinking about how the end user perceives my work. I worked at one agency in my old city where we did user testing and the universal principle of that is that ads have to be fast, punchy, and effective.

    If Dove wanted to get this message across, I think they could’ve done so in a lot less time, and perhaps with a concept that reaches more people. I feel like men these days are also caring a lot more about the way they look and are more critical of their self-image. My husband is definitely concerned with his appearance, especially since we’re in our 30s, and he can be as particular as I am about clothes-shopping and even purchasing cosmetics. We also have been seeing a lot more commercials and ad spots sexualizing the male body or putting men in roles that would’ve been coded female in mid-20th century America, like the “Sexy Shirtless Guy” salad dressing commercial on Hulu, or the ad spot featuring the male house-cleaner.

    One place where I am not in agreement with other feminist critics that the ad is not diverse enough, since many women of other ethnicities do not use mainstream beauty products, and we actually shop in specific beauty supply stores that are mostly found in neighborhoods like Bushwick to get our stuff. I think that if the advertising agency had tried too hard to pander to other ethnicities, it would’ve looked clumsy and like Dove didn’t do their research. I worry about different issues than Dove’s products address, for example, “Does this hair mousse have alcohol in it?” or “Will this coconut oil I use instead of conditioner help my hair develop fewer dreadlocks?”

    Just my two cents, of course.

  48. Chanelle responded on 22 Apr 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    Spot on. Spot. On. You know, I was probably the only woman on my Facebook feed that had anything negative to say about this (and trust me, I ripped it hard), and I was met with SOOOOO much hate for having a differing opinion. I had women tell me I was being dramatic and needed to relax. I had others use my love of Magnum bars against me; telling me that since I hated this campaign, then I should stop buying all Unilever (since Magnum is owned my Unilever). I had women tell me that I should be focusing more on the tragedies at Boston than having my own opinion on this lame campaign!! I couldn’t have stated my issues with this better than you could have and all the comments have opened my eyes to even MORE issues that i didn’t even consider! THANK YOU and thank you to the commenters. The backlash I received has actually upset me to my core, pure VITRIOL over my opinion… But I refuse to change it, and this post has only strengthened it.

  49. Nina responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 2:00 am #

    So would we be happy with Dove if their campaigns consisted of the same cookie-cutter woman taking a shower all naked and lovely and the brand plastered over the image? Somehow this attack on Dove’s gentle adverts feels disproportionate to the fact we leave conventional beauty product advertising alone despite the fact they are truly skewed and messed up?

    Just a thought.

    Dove is not making a documentary about women. It’s an ad. Ads need to follow a pattern to be effective to any degree. Are there things still ‘wrong’ with it? Sure, like all advertising. Don’t get me started on those old Coke ads. But Dove’s responsibility isn’t to fill our TV screen with genuinely ugly women and say “hay, you wanna look like these old hags?” because it just won’t sell their product. Not even to genuinely ugly old hags.

  50. Kate responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Nope, we probably would just register it as yet another typical commercial. We’re talking about this in the first place BECAUSE Dove is doing something different, and because Dove is specifically trying to talk about beauty and body image. That starts a conversation, like I said. We are continuing it. “Attack” seems like the wrong word here. (If I were to attack Dove, I think I’d use a whole lot less disclaimers and also agree a lot less with their general attempt…)

    It’s a little condescending to remind everyone that “it’s an ad!” We know what Dove is. The point, like I just said, is that DOVE is doing something different here. And your use of “old hags” and “genuinely ugly women” annoys me. What does a genuinely ugly woman look like? How about an old hag? I get what you’re driving at– commercials employ young, typically pretty women because that look sells more products. But actually, not all commercials do that anymore. There are plenty of “normal” looking people in plenty of commercials, and I definitely got the sense that Dove wanted everyone to be able to identify with the women in this clip. As for “ugly old hags,” I for one would love to see more of those in mainstream media! And I’m willing to bet I wouldn’t even find them so very ugly :-)

  51. ozymandias responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 11:13 am #

    If everyone is beautiful, then the word loses all meaning. There’s nothing wrong with being average-looking or flawed.

  52. A One-Sided Conversation | Bethany Olsen responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    [...] of Eat the Damn Cake nailed it in this post about the new Dove campaign. Whether you loved, hated, or have never heard of the commercials, [...]

  53. Dove: Pioneer or Panderer? | rosiesaysblog responded on 24 Apr 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    [...] blogs Jazzy Little Drops and Eat the Damn Cake do a great job of breaking it down, but here are a few of the key [...]

  54. London Feminist Discussion Group: Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Sketches Campaign edition | Sarah Graham responded on 25 Apr 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    [...] Beauty Sketches’ Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry (little drops) The problem with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign (Eat The Damn Cake) One Narrative Fits All: Dove and “Real Beauty” (The Beheld) Dove’s [...]

  55. chris responded on 26 Apr 2013 at 4:51 am #

    This ad is icky because it is a total fake set up with the questionable conclusion already decided upon and the participants horribly used

  56. Kate responded on 26 Apr 2013 at 8:17 am #

    This was Bear’s conclusion as well. He had all of these problems with the way the “experiment” was conducted, and he listed them all to me :-)

  57. DELORES responded on 26 Apr 2013 at 10:38 pm #



  58. daechoong mama responded on 27 Apr 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    THank you for your thoughts. I think the campaign has certainly has all of us women rethinking, discussing, and dialoging on the issue of our self image. Here is my take as a Korean American:

  59. Tatum responded on 03 May 2013 at 12:06 am #

    “I haven’t actually watched the video, but from everything I’ve heard about it, it seems like the point of it is, “You’re more beautiful than you think you are.” And I just feel kind of “meh” about that idea. It reinforces the idea that it’s important for you to be beautiful. Maybe this will sound harsh, but I know people who are not beautiful – in fact, I would consider them ugly – but to me that really doesn’t matter because everyone I care about, I care about for many other reasons besides their looks. I liked what you said near the end of your article: “The world has to meet us halfway, by convincing us that there’s a lot more to us than the way we look, and that those things are, believe it or not, even more important than the way we look.” I think now people might be trying too hard to make women feel beautiful, because now it seems like beauty has turned into The Most Important Thing. When really – I just don’t care what my friends and family members look like. I love them for their kindness, their humor, their spirit, their intelligence.”

    Well said Stacey!!!!!!! Ugliness exists and not everyone and everything about someone’s external appearance is beautiful. The point is it does not matter there is so much more to a human being than that outer shell. Okay this is so cliche, but to really impact how women feel about themselves emphasis must placed on the inner beauty (everything else that makes someone who they are). We need to reset our values here. We care SOOOO much about beauty its annoying.

  60. Ashley responded on 03 May 2013 at 1:47 am #

    Hi Kate,

    Fantastic post. I completely agree with you that Dove wrongfully framed certain characteristics as unattractive. I’ve noticed a pattern in many criticisms of this commercial: the viewer (female) is initially moved, but something doesn’t sit right with her. I think it’s interesting that the issues you raised here are initially felt intuitively, but not necessarily intellectually. The reader continues watching it (and this is all in the narrative of this critical blog post) and analyzes it and it becomes clear what is so wrong about the campaign.

    I find it interesting to learn why people think critically and how it happens. What would be even more interesting (and very important): why have so many people failed to see what is so very wrong about this commercial?

    I wrote my own criticism of Dove Real Beauty Sketches earlier:


  61. K responded on 04 May 2013 at 3:53 am #

    Yeah – yuck, I hated the commercial. I feel dirty after watching it. Dove don’t give a shit about women and how they feel about themselves. It’s all about the bottom line. Always always all the time. I refuse to be sucked into this nonsense. Good post.

  62. Kate responded on 04 May 2013 at 10:33 am #

    I’m shutting comments off on this piece because I keep having to delete really angry ones from people who seem to be yelling at me in defense of Dove, and it is starting to get on my nerves and make me uncomfortable.

    Sorry, anyone else who was going to say something interesting/balanced!

  63. Dove Has A Beauty Problem responded on 29 Jul 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    [...] In response to the ad, Kate Fridkis, a body-image blogger, wrote: [...]

  64. Why girls love Beyonce. Pt.1 | Girl Land responded on 15 Dec 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    [...] popular rhetoric of body empowerment, where in women are told to feel pretty in their own bodies. Bloggers have argued that this rhetoric is not effective as it still places emphasis on the importance of [...]

  65. The REWM: Media moment: No love for Dove? responded on 01 Jan 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    [...] way we can say ‘Oh god, I look terrible!’ without it being a big deal.” – The Problem with the Dove Real beauty Sketches Campaign [Eat the Damn [...]

  66. "First Kiss" shows us that advertising doesn't have to be evil - ReferralCandy responded on 21 Mar 2014 at 11:16 am #

    [...] “Real Beauty Sketches”, which got more than 114 million views, lots of support, and as much criticism that the video needed to be more representative of [...]

  67. Dove Real Beauty Sketches | Writing and Academic Inquiry responded on 30 May 2014 at 10:54 am #

    [...] “The Problem with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches Campaign” [...]