A Campaign for "Real" Beauty?

by Ashley Solomon

As a strong advocate for truth in advertising, inclusive media representation, and women in general, I was saddened to learn about the recent casting call made by Dove* (which is owned by Unilever, for those of you who care about such things) for their Campaign for Real Beauty (italics added), “a global effort that is intended to serve as a starting point for societal change.” Check out the Craigslist post caught by a Jezebel reader late last week:

DOVE “REAL WOMEN” PRINT CASTING JUNE 28-30, 2010 in NYC
ABSOLUTELY NO ACTRESSES / MODELS OR REALITY SHOW PARTICIPANTS or ANY ONE CARRYING A HEADSHOT!!!!
REAL WOMEN ONLY!
LOOKING FOR 3-4 REAL WOMEN for a DOVE PRINT CAMPAIGN!

AGES 35-45, CAUCASIAN, HISPANIC, AFRICAN AMERICAN, & ASIAN!

SHOOT: SUNDAY, JULY 18 in NYC! MUST BE AVAILABLE FOR THE SHOOT!
RATE: $500 for Shoot date & if selected for Ad Campaign (running 2011) you will be paid $4000!
USAGE: 3 years unlimited print & web usage in N. America Only

YOU WILL BE PHOTOGRAPHED FOR THE CAMPAIGN IN A TOWEL!
BEAUTIFUL ARMS AND LEGS AND FACE WILL BE SHOWN!
MUST HAVE FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS!
Well groomed and clean…Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic.

Great Sparkling Personalities. Beautiful Smiles! A DOVE GIRL!!!
STYLISH AND COOL!
Beautiful HAIR & SKIN is a MUST!!!

PLEASE SUBMIT SNAPSHOTS of FACE & BODY ASAP & WE WILL CALL YOU IN FOR A CASTING NEXT WEEK 6/28-6/30 in NYC!

“NATURALLY FIT”? “Not too Curvy”? “FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATOOS OR SCARS!”? Seriously?!? This ad calls into question how exactly Dove conceptualizes a real woman. So, women who are a size 10 are real, but women who are a 12 are not? Or an 8? A scar makes someone less of a real woman? Last time I check, scars tell some of the most amazing stories of the most real women that I know. And don’t get me started on the tattoo criteria… As some of you know, I have a one-inch tattoo on my hip that, to me, sums up my own real womanhood.

And let’s face it… can we really put the words “real” and “flawless” in the same sentence? The only thing both real and flawless I have ever seen is Grater’s ice cream… but that’s beside the point. While the brand banishes models and actresses from its call, it fails in a major way to live up to its purported appreciation for diverse forms of beauty. It simultaneously tells us that women can be any size (as long as the curves are under control), but cannot deviate from our other cultural standards – perfect skin, hair, teeth, nails… And oh, in case you’ve got all that, your personality better be “sparkling!”

A couple of years ago I ran media literacy groups in a Cincinnati high school and used Dove as an example of a risk-taking, socially responsible, and inclusive brand. This is not to say that I was or am naïve enough to believe that the Campaign for Real Beauty is purely an altruistic cause rather than a fantastic marketing strategy (I am flexible enough to see that both could be true). And it’s not to say that I don’t continue to believe it has the potential to steer real change. However, I have to say that I am more than a little disappointed to see in black and white that Dove’s expansion of the idea of beauty goes only so far. It seems it remains narrowed by some of the same cultural standards that have limited women (and men) for decades.

What does your image of real beauty look like?

* A spokesperson for Dove responded, saying, “‘Unfortunately, this casting notice was not approved by the brand or agency team and did not reflect the spirit of the brand team’s vision. ‘We appreciate that this has been brought to our attention, and we are taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future.”

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8 Responses to “A Campaign for "Real" Beauty?”

  1. Even as I was reading the notice, I immediately figured Dove people didn’t put this casting call out. More like an intern or entry level person at a firm they hired. It was just too amateur.

    Of course it would be nice to see the range of “accepted” beauty increased, but I do give Dove credit for pushing the boundaries already. As more and more companies follow suit (which I hope they will) then Dove (or some other leader) will be able to push again, and again, and again, until hey, anyone could be beautiful.

  2. Ashely,
    This is an AD campaign. They want to sell soap, not scare people away from it. They are trying to compete with P&G for christ’s sake. The folks over at Unilever have put millions into marketing research and feel the best way to sell their soap is to have an attractive woman model for them. They are specific about qualifications for applicants for a good reason: they don’t want to waste anybody’s time. Don’t be hatin on Unilever, I’m sure they employ a whole slew of seacows with tattoos on their necks; they just don’t want them in the commercials. =)

  3. Bradley: I don’t hate on Unilever… I respect the company and the Dove brand a great deal. But I do think this ad was disheartening. Fortunately, Dove has (as I mentioned) reported that they are taking steps to prevent this from happening again. They were obviously embarrassed, as this kind of message does not reflect the goals of the brand.

    • Everybody’s goal should be achieving “real beauty”. I am moving from Colerain to Montgomery on Saturday to get away from from all the wife-beating underacheivnig mullet types who don’t care about their “real beauty”. Colerain has become a freak show. A classic example of a colerain resident that doesn’t strive for real beauty can be found at the Kroger next to my house. There are so many examples… Gosh, where do I start? Oh, my favorite is the really fat patron that has no disability (other than obesity) and shops for groceries in an electric cart. This type of behavior is counter-productive to their health, and overall self-esteem. I’m way off topic here, but my point is simple (sort of). Dove has an image, and it isn’t on display at Kroger in Mt. Airy.

  4. So “real” beauty still has a small box to fit into? I even hate to admit this, but that show Jessica Simpson did on MTV seemed to showcase “real” beauty more than Dove ever has.

  5. Yes, i think real beauty will always have a box. All the cultures universally prefer symmetrical faces, etc. So I understand that a company would want to photograph people who are “easy on the eyes”. And while I do not think that all the models should be size 2, showing women who are obese does not send a good message either. There’s a point when curvy turns into overweight and unhealthy. And just because majority of Americans (and I assume that’s equal for men and women) are overweight, it does not make it ok, or normal. Dove should showcase real healthy bodies, with scars and tattoos, and women who have other careers than modeling, but they should not send a message that being overweight is ok. (being underweight is totally not ok either)

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