Szyperski: A real real beauty campaignWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s hard to decide on a favorite line from “30 Rock,” but one has to be Liz Lemon proclaiming, “You just can’t be a real woman in this country. God, it’s like those Dove commercials never even happened.”
The character is, of course, referring to The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty that launched in 2004. Some highlights included a video spot of a model being primped and airbrushed into “perfection” and a lineup of “real” women in their underwear.
The initial campaign seemed like a decent alternative to the “you’re not beautiful enough” message we’ve grown so accustomed to from most companies, but as Liz Lemon was already lamenting by 2007, it didn’t actually eradicate America’s aesthetic idealism. Dove hasn’t given up, though, recently releasing a sequel to their unique corporate take on real beauty.
The new commercial entails a sketch artist completing two sketches of each participant: one based on a woman’s description of herself and one based on a stranger’s description of her. Not surprisingly, the latter is supposed to be a much more attractive depiction based on the idea that we have more of a negative take on our own beauty than others do.
Giving the first campaign brownie points for effort, I wanted to like the new ad. As each participant was faced with her two differing sketches, however, she confirmed Dove’s likely hypothesis that the stranger’s description bred a much more attractive image than her description of herself. I get the idea that women are harsh on themselves when it comes to appearance, but declaring that one image is obviously more attractive than the other image seems to wholly defeat the purpose of acceptance. Presumably someone somewhere does look like the other image, so are we implying that person is not beautiful? Are we agreeing that a participant’s fuller-faced depiction is less favorable than a stranger’s thinner-faced depiction?
One participant went so far as to say of her stranger sketch, “Her picture looked like someone I would want to talk to and be friends with, like a happy, light, much younger, much brighter person.” Hmm, a statement about choosing friends based on superficialities such as youth and overall appearance probably doesn’t deserve a place in an ad campaign based on beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Does it?
When it comes to appreciating beauty, I think we need to start from scratch. Even the well intended seem to miss the mark when we take away the soft music and dramatic dialogue. In the end, the new Dove commercial is a handful of women looking at two versions of them and judging that one is more attractive than the other. Not quite what I had in mind.
I’m all too familiar with good intentions gone wrong when it comes to physical perceptions. From what I hear, I’ve had gray hair since my late 20s. It’s only by word of mouth, because my hair doesn’t look that different to me than it did 10 years ago. It was a somewhat gradual transition that didn’t cause me alarm, so it never really caught my attention.
At least once or twice a year, however, someone in my presence will comment on their gray hair, whether it is of concern that they haven’t covered it up enough or that they’re getting more of it. There is inevitably a moment when they turn to me, suddenly realize I have a full head of it, and either apologize or blush and abruptly stop talking. I can only assume that they think I’m offended, but I want to explain, “No offense taken; gray hair is your insecurity, not mine.”
I’m also disappointed to report that, after years of being perfectly content with my natural tone, I still have people inform me that I “need to get some color.” What? Do you know how hard it was to confidently go through the oil-slathering 80s with unaltered pale-as-the-moon skin? I figured once I had skin cancer research on my side that the demands by otherwise reasonable people to colorize myself would stop, but no such luck.
Based on my personal experience with others’ perceptions of me, we might just need a different angle. We might need to take a break from the introspection of how we view ourselves and just focus on the beauty, the real beauty, of others. How important is the physical appearance of our parents and our siblings and our friends? If they looked different tomorrow would we love them any less? If we first learn to accept the beauty in others, whatever it may be, would we love ourselves more?
Shannon Szyperski and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at email@example.com.