In 2004, Unilever launched a worldwide marketing campaign titled Dove for Real Beauty featuring what they believed were “real women” who represented a healthy cross-section of women from all walks of life, including all sizes and backgrounds. I remember when I first saw those ads and I thought, finally mainstream advertising is trying to address our obsession with unattainable beauty standards. However, as time has gone by the Dove for Real Beauty campaigns have in essence reenforced women’s insecurities rather than make them feel confident about who they are and how they look.
The latest ad, which is about a four-minute video, features women in five global cities in a shopping setting having to choose between two different doors to walk through. One door is labeled with the word “Beautiful” and the other is labeled “Average”. Most of the women walk through the door labeled “Average”, however as the video plays on and the camera shows the women’s faces seemingly becoming more confident, they start choosing to walk through the door labeled “Beautiful” whereby the ad ends with the hashtag #ChooseBeautiful.
In one of the ads prior to this titled “Dove Real Beauty Sketches,” several women describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist who cannot see the women. The same women are then described by strangers whom they met the previous day. The sketches are compared, with the stranger’s image of course being both more flattering and more accurate. The differences create strong reactions when shown to the women, showing them that how they perceive themselves is in a much less flattering light than how others perceive them, concluding that they are beautiful.
I just have one thing to say, Dove…please stop!
When the campaigns first began it was empowering, because we were looking at women who had diverse backgrounds and diverse body images, so women could naturally relate to that and say to themselves, I represent real beauty too. Over the years it has moved away from this simple messaging and instead started producing these elaborate commercials all forcing women to question their beauty.
We have been bombarded most of our lives with ads, commercials, TV shows and films displaying a beauty standard which represents a very small group of women, mostly being tall, slender and model-like. So when the Dove for Real Beauty campaign started circulating, it was a really bold statement against all of the media we consume on a daily basis.
Now these campaigns have turned into statements of perpetuating the issue that many women have faced most of their lives, which is not feeling they are beautiful. This is not the way to empower women.
I have a few suggestions as to what Unilever should be doing to capture the original messaging of the Dove for Real Beauty campaigns and what they ought to do with the brand as a whole:
1. Original Messaging
Let’s go back to the original look and feel of the first ads by using everyday women of various ages, sizes and backgrounds. They can be in their underwear or maybe out to dinner or taking a hike, whatever it is, let’s show them living their lives and enjoying life, because that’s part of embracing real beauty.
2. Celebrate Beautiful
As for the TV commercials (or movie shorts, because of how long they are), let’s take that same idea from above and show women being together and enjoying life, whether they are in Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Mumbai or New York and maybe the hashtag is #CelebrateBeautiful instead of #ChooseBeautiful.
3. Stop Testing on Animals
Let’s go a little deeper Dove with the brand and stop testing on animals, once and for all.
4. Sustainable Packaging
I would also like for you to make your packaging more sustainable, because you certainly have the money to. Many of the products I use, their packaging, including tubes, bottles, and caps are recyclable and free of BPA. Some of them go as far as using #2 HDPE for tubes and #5 PP for caps.
5. Sustainable Ingredients
I certainly can’t mention having more sustainable packaging without mentioning more sustainable ingredients. Seriously Unilever, you’re one of the largest companies in the world, you can’t possibly talk about empowering women if you’re also not taking their health into consideration. When I walk up and down the aisles in the Whole Foods beauty section, I just love what those brands are trying to do, by providing us with not just any old beauty products, but ones that you know are clean, healthy and good for you. And believe me, they don’t nearly have the kind of money you do, but they care about empowering us from the inside out.
Funny enough, I don’t use Dove but I know many women who do, so this is for them.
I truly hope that the team behind these campaigns takes a step back and reassesses their messaging. Society, the media and these brands are the ones that have created these ridiculous beauty standards over the last few decades, which women and girls believe they have to live up to, and they don’t understand the damage they are causing. When it comes to empowering women, especially in the beauty industry, everything needs to be taken into consideration and that includes packaging and ingredients, because a part of feeling and being beautiful naturally has to include health. Instead of having to choose beautiful, let’s work on celebrating it. #CelebrateBeautiful
More reactions to Dove’s Choose Beautiful campaign: