Saturday, March 19, 2005

a revolution in a fishbowl

"For too long, beauty has been defined by stifling, narrow stereotypes. You told us it's time to change all that. We agree. Because we believe real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages. It's why we started the Campaign for Real Beauty. And why we hope you'll take part. WELCOME." --"The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty."

I am very sorry to all the well-intentioned ad execs behind this new development in the mainstream media, but an ad campaign for beauty products with a nice catchphrase does not a feminist argument make.

Judging by the Google search I did, I think I'm one of the few who thinks this way. There is this article from the Brampton Guardian, where the author asks: "But aren't companies that create and sell beauty products to help women and men improve their looks just adding to self-esteem issues?" But she's one of the few in the media who are daring to raise questions like that. Most of the other articles I skimmed over had titles like "Dove Reinvents Beauty", and were all the way behind this new ad campaign.

(There was also this site called "Body in Mind", whose list of "Ten Reasons We Don't Like the Dove Campaign" caught my eye at first. However, it turned out to be subtitled "Beauty and Morality", and have as its philosophy "mixing nudity and moral values [to] uplift female beauty and its role in our lives...nudes with a wholesome twist." Some of their reasons against Dove were "it destroys beauty (#3)", "it praises mediocrity (#5)", and the doozy "it's communism applied to beauty (#7)". If you're into it, you can read the whole article here, as well as get a good look at "Mara".)

But back to Dove.

It is quite a nice change to see these 'normal' women--old, wrinkled, silver-haired, or fat, with cheery grins on pretty faces, or skinny and flat-chested with sparkling eyes--in the ads on TV. This is something new and fresh and more representative of women as they exist today. Supposedly these are all 'real' women picked for spunk and passion and, well, 'normal beauty', and this fact Dove and the media are heralding as "the advertising phenomenon of the year." And that's just the trouble: do you think a real shift to feminist ideas is going to be an advertising phenomenon? And if it is merely that, just how strong a shift is it? Just how much can we count on this shift if it can be taken away at the whim of a survey result and a corporate type?

We women today are like fish in water. My generation didn't grow up with the turmoil of the suffragettes close to our memories, nor did we witness the upheaval of the sixties, the powerful women who fought so hard to get us the right to vote, to work for our own living, to have a "room of one's own". And now we live in the corporate "sea", this stew of images that is used to sell us products. This makes up what we take for granted to be cultural values, such as "a thin, pretty model will be used to sell us make-up". When we see the Dove campaign, we are so used to seeing images in general that we think these new ones are part of the culture, and that it is a change whose time has come. But they are not that. They are no different than the images of the airbrushed models, because they are being used to the same purpose as the old images. They merely want us to notice Dove's beauty products over those of Oil of Olay or Neutrogena, to take notice and feel that they are touching some long-ignored part of our psyche. Then, goes the rationale in the higher offices at Dove, we will open our wallets and take a little bit of this ad campaign home.

Well, Patti and I did that, in a way. We took the photos that were in a magazine as part of the "Campaign for Beauty" and we cut them out. We took liquid paper and covered up the part where Dove advertises for itself. We left behind the questions: "Flawed or flawless? Wrinkled or beautiful?" We took the professional, studio portraits of six 'real' women and put them on our fridge, and while this will not make us forget that it is Dove behind the campaign, it will focus us more on the real beauty of these women and not on the products behind it.

If everyone is beautiful, Dove, then where are the women with disabilities, in wheelchairs? Where are the ones who don't have a pretty smile, whose faces do not fascinate and charm like those of your models? They didn't make the cut because beauty is still being seen at face value, even if the face of that beauty is changing. Dove is not a revolution. A real revolution would be each women knowing instinctively that all people have photographable faces and lovable lines, not just because yet another ad campaign is making her opinions for her.

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