Dove’s Tyranny of Self-Love

Earlier this year, Dove released "Sketches" as a part of its "Campaign for Real Beauty" aimed at improving women's self-esteem. In the video, women are asked to describe themselves to a sketch artist who cannot see them. Then, strangers who had met the women just once were asked to give their descriptions of the women to the sketch artist. Later, the two sketches – the one based on the women's self perception and the one based on a stranger's perception – are displayed side by side. The difference is startling. Less than two months after its release, "Sketches" became one of the most-watched ads of all time receiving over 114 million views on YouTube. The video was uploaded in 25 different languages and shared on 33 of Dove's regional YouTube channels. And in less than a month, "Sketches" had generated 4.3 billion PR impressions, garnering international press coverage. Now Dove has released a follow up ad called "Camera Shy." The ad features a compilation of video footage of women hiding from the camera. After about 45 seconds the message appears: "When did you stop thinking you're beautiful?" Another compilation follows, this time of young girls unabashedly performing for the camera, laughing, smiling, and dancing around. Both of the ads raise some valuable points about how women perceive themselves. They demonstrate that often we are our own worst critics and they encourage us to embrace our beauty. Undoubtedly, these ads have started some important conversations. They are also an excellent PR move for Dove. As evidenced by the overwhelming success of "Sketches," the "Campaign for Real Beauty" resonates incredibly well with consumers. Marti Barletta, a marketing expert who specializes in marketing to women, predicts a bright future for Dove thanks to the ads. "Women support companies that go above and beyond the commercial motivations and try to make an effort to understand how [women] think and feel," says Barletta. Like Cheerios, Dove distinguishes themselves with these ads as a progressive company with forward-thinking values. But how accurate is that depiction? The problem with Dove's ads is that while they do a good job of bringing awareness to the low self-esteem that plagues many women, they do little to nothing to address the causes. Self-love is a noble goal and certainly the ideal, but it is unfair to tell women they must love themselves unconditionally without acknowledging and addressing the very real reasons that they struggle to do so. Dove's advertising campaign enforces this tyranny of self-love without acknowledging their role in upholding and maintaining it. The fact of the matter is, Dove still profits from women hating their appearance. It's no coincidence that the same company urging women to embrace their beauty also sells products intended to help them do so. Among the soaps and shampoos that permeate Dove's product line, you'll also find skin lightening creams, anti-cellulite lotions, and even skin whitening deodorants (apparently Dove decided that underarms are ugly too). Furthermore, the ads still promote the concept that the most important thing a woman can be is beautiful. Yes, women should love themselves, Dove says, but not because they're kind, funny, or smart – because they're beautiful, they just don't know it. Not only does this reinforce the harmful notion that a woman's worth is directly tied to her physical appearance, it's also pretty condescending. The ads tell women that their low self-esteem is all in their heads, which in addition to being false, puts the blame on women when they fail to love themselves. Ultimately, the message of "love yourself" is little more than a clever marketing device for Dove. It differentiates them from their competitors as a brand that cares about women, but without any deeper analysis or criticism, still allows them to profit from and perpetuate women's poor self-esteem. Still, given the overwhelmingly positive response, don't expect the "Campaign for Real Beauty" to go away any time soon. By Katherine O'Brien, SM& Co-Op

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