September 15, 2005
I have been meaning to write this post forever — ever since, in fact, I walked into the Montgomery MUNI station one afternoon several months ago and saw every surface covered with Dove’s new ad campaign. I don’t know if you’ve seen it — the signature image is the one at the top of this post.
My first reaction was totally positive. I was like, hell yeah! Diverse depictions of beauty! Rock on!
But my appraisal soured as I read some criticism. For instance, from Alas (a blog):
Let’s not forget how very little Dove is giving us. All the women in the Dove ads are conventionally attractive; all of them are below the average dress size of American women. No one in Dove-land is fat, no one in Dove-land is disabled, and no one in Dove-land has any wrinkles.
And Mind the Gap says:
But at the risk of sounding like a humourless, spoil sport, never satisfied feminist Iím now going to come out and say ďIím not happy.Ē Whatís not to like? Well I donít like the fact that the empowerment is very little, very late, and I donít like the questions about my own feminist thinking which this campaign raises. What really bothers me is not the fact that the Dove campaign is not radical, it is the frightening probability that, in the context of our current culture, this campaign is extremely radical. As feminists, this is what we should be worried about.
I think those are pretty good critiques. But I’ve been thinking about it — I think about it every time I see one of the ads, and that’s a lot, because they’re all over the place — and on balance I find this campaign to be excellent, for a couple of reasons.
One is what I’ll call the democratization of manipulation. We all know images in magazines and movies are engineered to look great. Models and celebrities get the benefit of good lighting and expert retouching. The rest of us get fluorescent bulbs and hella harsh red-eye.
Now, you could scorn artifice and insist that truth comes only through raw, pimply-faced polaroids.
But instead, I’d just like to see the celeb treatment given to many more and different kinds of people. One reason I like the Dove campaign is that it provides some eminently normal women with the same care Gisele receives — and surprise, they look great. Personally I think there is something ennobling in that attention.
Two, preface: I don’t think we should hold this campaign to the standard of, you know, depicting all possible forms and dimensions of beauty. Because if we do it will clearly fail, per Alas (a blog)’s criticism.
So, two: I love that Dove shows us a group of women — all very healthy, all very skinny in the grand scheme of things — who have different body types. Different proportions. Different structures. Doesn’t sound too radical when you put it that way, but take a look around: In all the other images we’re bombarded with, female and male, everybody’s body has exactly the same mannequin silhouette.
See any healthy (but short) guys in the J. Crew catalog? Any fit (but wide-hipped) women in the Banana Republic spread? Certainly not. And that’s lame. Many of the people I know are fit and attractive, but their frames are quite their own. And I don’t know if this is just me or what, but many of the most attractive people I know seem so attractive precisely because they rock those non-mannequin bodies.
So that’s why I like this campaign: It gives some professional love to normal folks, and it shows people — healthy, skinny people — with real bodies.
I note that the product it peddles is totally lame and unnecessary, but whatevs. One thing at a time.
Now: There are a lot of smart readers out there in Snarkland, and I am verrry interested to know what some of you think about this — the campaign specifically and the beauty/body-image thing in general. Hit the comments yo.