Quit telling me to feel beautiful

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve tried to be patient with the Dove ‘real beauty‘ ad campaigns.
For instance, Dove’s ‘diverse bodies’ campaign featured smooth-skinned, conventionally attractive women who just happened to be a bit heavier than the average model? Well, okay, but the ad still brought an increase (albeit tiny) in diverse body types in advertising.

The crime scheme sketch artist spot may have been incredibly problematic, but at least it worked to remind us that we are often much more harsh towards ourselves than we would ever be of someone else.

However, as the campaign has progressed, the ads are getting more and more ridiculous, to a point where the most recent one had me questioning whether what I was watching was an actual ad or a parody.

In its latest campaign, Dove sets up two doorways or entranceways in public places, and labels one ‘average’ and one ‘beautiful’. The ad then films women’s reactions as they approach the doors, consider the words written above them, and, more often than not, choose the one labeled ‘average’.

Just this set-up gave me uncontrollable rage.

I mean, give me a break. Those are our choices??? Where’s the door labeled ‘intelligent’? ‘Funny’? ‘Compassionate’, ‘successful’, ‘strong’, ‘honest’, or ‘talented’? In a single stroke, the ad is asking women to reduce their assessment of their entire being to their appearance, and only giving them two possible ways to identify.

I guess what Dove is trying to say is that the single, overarching measure of our self-worth is how we rate our appearance based on two falsely dichotomous choices???
The message here is completely hypocritical. Dove claims to want to improve self-esteem while all the time pounding into our heads that the only important thing in a woman’s life is physical beauty.

Furthermore, it places all responsibility for feeling beautiful squarely on the shoulders of women and then makes them feel bad when they don’t.

If Dove really and truly wants to address the statistic that only 11% of girls are comfortable using the word ‘beautiful’ to describe themselves, maybe it should take a look at what’s MAKING those women feel crappy instead of shaming them for not owning their beauty.

(Side note: I actually think that it’s this focus on ‘beauty’ that is the problem with this campaign, and that the statistic of how many people would describe themselves this way shouldn’t be seen as more important than all of the other ways they could describe themselves, but we’re working within Dove’s parameters, so bear with me).


I spent most of the film ‘If I Stay’ completely distracted by A. how unbelievably beautiful Chloe Moretz is and B. how unrealistic it seemed that she was SO unaware of her own beauty

For instance, our society totally fetishizes the idea of women who don’t know that they’re ‘beautiful’ *cough* One Direction *cough*. Movies are rife with flawlessly beautiful teenaged girls who are completely unaware of the effect their beauty has on the male hero, and whose insecurity somehow makes them more desirable.

Because if there’s one thing the movies make perfectly clear, it’s that the only acceptable way to be a beautiful girl is to be (or at least act) as if you’re completely unaware of your beauty.

Furthermore, if by some stroke of luck you ARE aware of your own beauty and willing to embrace it, there’s a good chance you’re going to be called ‘conceited’, ‘cocky’, or a whole host of other negative words that we use to describe a confident woman.


See, in our world, women are often punished when they act like they feel beautiful. Any woman who has spent time reading the comments under online articles about self-confident celebrities (ESPECIALLY if that celebrity isn’t considered conventionally ‘attractive’) knows that acting like you think you’re hot can be a kiss of death; there seems to be a cultural imperative to tear down that kind of confidence.

In this kind of culture, acting as if you don’t think you’re beautiful might not necessarily signify a lack of confidence; it might simply be an act of self-preservation.

Some people have pointed out that Dove’s attempts to improve female self-esteem are even more hypocritical because Dove is owned by the same company that owns brands that are known for especially sexist advertising, such as Axe body spray, or problematic products, like skin-whitening creams.

I’d like to point out that even within Dove’s own brand, you can find rah-rah ‘it doesn’t matter how old you are‘ platitudes  just a click away from anti-wrinkle body lotions.

Such beautiful armpits!

Such beautiful armpits!

Even more ridiculously, Dove also capitalizes on the statistic that 93% of women (apparently) think their underarms are unattractive by advertising a deodorant whose key selling point is not odor or wetness protection, but that it makes underarms look smooth and soft. Dove’s website also advertises a cream designed to fade ‘dark marks‘ from armpits.

I have to imagine that a majority of women had never actively felt self-conscious about their armpits’ appearance until Dove suggested that they should. And that’s how advertising works.

See, when it comes down to it, advertising is about selling stuff. It’s not about empowering us. It’s not about changing the world. It’s about making us feel like we’re missing something – something we could have if we just purchased a specific product.

Dove sells beauty products. Why would they want us to feel like we’re already beautiful?

6 responses to “Quit telling me to feel beautiful

  1. > Where’s the door labeled ‘intelligent’? ‘Funny’? ‘Compassionate’, ‘successful’, ‘strong’, ‘honest’, or ‘talented’?

    What have those traits got to do with soap and moisturiser?

    > Dove sells beauty products. Why would they want us to feel like we’re already beautiful?

    Western women (and men) are getting increasingly fat due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.

    Most advertising works by making people feel bad about themselves for not achieving something that is difficult to achieve… and then offering a product or service that promises to help them achieve that thing, and thus help them feel better again. That is the basic psychology of most advertising.

    Beauty is, by definition, difficult to achieve because beauty is on the extreme end of the ugly – below average – average – above average – beautiful scale of looks. And advertising has encouraged people to view very thin as beautiful because that makes beauty even more impossible to achieve, which makes people even more desperate to spend money on miracle products and services to rescue their low self esteem.

    In the past when even housework involved a lot of manual labour and there was no sugary, fatty processed foods it was actually very hard for most women to put on weight….. and that is why curvy, voluptuous women were viewed as beautiful – because their curvy figures were very hard to achieve at the time… just as the stick thin figure is very hard for us to achieve today in our modern western society.

    But now that models are as thin as they’ve ever been in history, and ordinary people are as fat as they’ve every been in history, a lot of women are feeling very crap about themselves. Especially now that new technology has bombarded us with thousands of high resolution images and advertising billboards wherever we go. And so ‘self esteem’ itself has now become a hard to achieve thing.

    Dove is trying to sell a brand which promises to give you back your ‘self esteem’, in much the same way that most companies are still trying to sell products which promise to make you ‘beautiful’ or ‘thin’.

    It’s the same basic marketing strategy, only instead of claiming the product or service will generate the desired effect, and that effect will make you feel better, what Dove are doing is trying to skip all the in between stages and just use their adverts to make women feel better before they’ve even used the product (or purchased it), and then hope women will buy the product to keep re-triggering that positive feeling.

    That’s my take on it anyway 🙂

    It’s really no different to a baker greeting his customers with a beaming smile each day, telling them how positively radiant they look and generally charming the pants off them. The customers will return to that bakers each day (rather than go to a rival bakery), because they love that little self esteem boost they get each time they walk through the door.

    > See, in our world, women are often punished when they act like they feel beautiful.

    I think women are often criticised when they behave as if their beauty (real, imagined or expensively contrived) gives them special ENTITLEMENTS, like the right to act like a complete diva.

    Beauty DOES give women (and to a lesser extent men) special entitlements and privileges in most social situations. It’s just a fact of life. Beauty is a sign of good genes, and that makes people want to mate with you, and THAT usually makes people treat you like royalty.

    But there is a big difference between *enjoying* the inevitable special treatment and privileges that come with having good genes (basically an accident of birth) and *exploiting* and *demanding* that privilege (ie acting like a stuck up diva).

    I don’t think they are being punished…… more like brought back to reality 🙂


  2. Oh my gosh — YES! This is so spot-on. This piece coupled with watching the documentary, Fed Up, yesterday, makes me loathe advertising. I’m also on a mission to offer counter arguments to my children since the older I get the more i see how critical being able to do so is to their education and well-being. You put into words exactly what annoys me about that One Direction song, and especially the video. Okay, I could go on and on. Thank you!


  3. It’s easy to get sucked into the sappy bullshit of that new beautiful/average Dove commercial. I actually just happened upon it today and skimmed through, thought it was mediocre but sweet in some way.

    Thanks for the jolt of reality! So many corporations make millions from selling the idea that they care, they really care… This kind of marketing is so insidiously dangerous, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    This type of advertising that pulls at heartstrings for profit sickens me. It’s like, “Aww, cmon you poor helpless girls, you should feel beautiful… but only if you buy what we want you to buy, and think the way we want you to think.”

    It all seems innocent enough, maybe even well-intentioned. This is exactly the type of indoctrination I am passionate about revolting against and exposing. Thank you for your insight.


  4. Until and unless we start seeing feel-good ad campaigns in which men who first describe themselves as “average looking” are then shown beaming with joy, their faces awash in tears, because some company has just given them permission to start calling themselves “handsome” — until and unless that time, I’m gonna continue to call MAJOR BS on these Dove adverts.

    Here’s my PSA for the Dove Marketing Department: “Beautiful” is such an incredibly flat and boring measure of a woman’s aspirations. You come up with a pore minimizer or an apres-douche bath spray that confirms my inner sense of being destined to rule over mighty kingdoms, with a trio of dragons as my backup team? THEN we can talk.


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