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Dove Real Beauty Sketches: Reframing Positive Advertising for Women

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Since my last blog post on body image, I have been thinking a lot about the subject. Recently, my friend Catie showed me a new Dove Real Beauty advertisement promising me, “you will cry.” Immediately, I became skeptical and thought, “Yeah right, I’m not going to find anything wrong with this one like I have the others.”

Others? Yup, the others of the new advertising campaign by Dove, called the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, touting that they are opening up a dialogue about real beauty, basing the idea on a recent study showing that only 2% of women think of themselves as beautiful.

If we look at a couple of examples of their ads, we see that they are all clearly striving to redefine beauty. We see this in the Real Beauty ads of the Photoshopped model, general body products, and real beauty sketches.

The Photoshopped model came from the Dove’s Real Beauty Evolution ad. This Youtube commercial made a point: that modern advertising relies heavily upon a lot of smoke and mirrors, including makeup and Photoshop, to create the advertisements we are constantly exposed to today.

But I still have issues because the model in the beginning is still a standard beauty in our society’s eyes. Her face is clear; she is fair with Aryan features; she is distinctly of a Western ethnicity, and she is pretty from the start without makeup and Photoshop.

The Dove Body product ads appear to be pure positive message. In just a single image, an array of diverse women are all captured in white cotton underwear as Real Beauty. It makes a point: it has a wide range of women of different skin colors. Diversity.

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However, is it truly diverse? Looking more closely, we see that all the “real women” are relatively the same body type and average sized in height and girth. There is no one extremely short and fat or extremely tall and skinny. That’s right, extremely tall and skinny. Because if these are ads depicting the real beauty of real women and trying to reach a more inclusive definition of beauty, then isn’t it also exclusive to cut out women who are naturally taller and thinner? I am 5’5.5”, the average height for women, but at the lower end of the BMI scale, so does this mean I am not a real woman?

Despite my qualms with past Dove advertisements, I am impressed with the new one my friend showed me. The Real Beauty sketches ads feature a San Jose forensic sketch artist who sits in a room with a sheath blocking his view from anonymous people coming in and describing their face to him as he sketches them. The people who have been sketched then meet another person and go back to the sketch artist to describe the faces of the person they just met. The two pictures of the person sketched are then presented back to the person. The result is that the sketches of the people who described themselves are quite distorted while the sketches of the people who were described by others have a significant increase in resemblance, if not practically identical.

I find that Dove’s Real Beauty advertisements, though not all perfect, are steps in the right direction. They are opening up the dialogue, developing a non-exclusive definition of beauty, and boldly listening to female consumers. The best part? Actually looking forward to seeing what advertising has in store for the future!


4 Responses to “Dove Real Beauty Sketches: Reframing Positive Advertising for Women”

  1. Joey Sedano

    Great post Caroline! This is a huge issue for women out there and I definitely agree that Dove is taking steps in the right direction with this campaign.

  2. amatterofinstinct

    Just read a fantastic post of someone else’s that questioned how women in real life who look like the negative sketches in the ad would feel, and also the fact that the closing point of the whole ad–that you are more beautiful than you think and after all physical beauty makes such a huge difference to what you are or can be–was basically a re-iteration of the whole social statement that your physical beauty is the most important thing about you.

    And I don’t think that is a very good message! Physical beauty: why not make the most of it, alright. But there is so much more to a woman than that.

    • Caroline Lai

      I completely agree; there is so much more to a woman! There are a lot of comments about why beauty matters in the first place. That’s also a really good point about how the people who look like the negative sketches feel– I never thought about the ad that way. I just kind of wonder if it is even feasible to live in a world where looks completely do not matter and no one cares about their appearance. I always wonder to what degree should we or should we not care?


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