Dove Encourages Women to Stop Being So Self-Critical

Dove has a new gimmick in their “real beauty” ad campaign: Hiring a sketch artist to draw a woman as she describes herself, then as she’s described by a random stranger.  “We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right,” says one of the women involved. “We should spend more time appreciating the things that we do like.”

We’ve written before about Dove’s campaign. On the one hand, it’s ironic that a beauty products company is marketing its wares by telling women they should be less concerned about how they look (plus, some parts of your body—like armpits—don’t really need to be pretty). On the other hand, if a company wants to spend their marketing budget spreading simple messages about loving your body as it is, go for it! I’m not going to stop you.  

Assuming the current sketch artist experiment isn’t faked, the results are interesting. The women in the video are much more hard on themselves and critical of their appearance than the strangers.

Here are some of the results and Dove’s video of the experiment: Dove sketch artist drawing of a woman

It’s worth noting that all the women in the project are traditionally attractive—they’re all thin and good-looking. Though there is age diversity among the participants, all of them are very conventional looking.

As one blogger noted more eloquently than I can:

Let’s look at which descriptors the editors chose to include. When the participants described themselves, these were some of the things that were implied asnegatives: fat, rounder face, freckles, fatter, 40— starting to get crows feet, moles, scars…  Whereas some of the implied positive descriptors used by others were: thin face, nice thin chin, nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive (my actual favorite),  short and cute nose, her face was fairly thin (this was said twice), and very nice blue eyes. So… I don’t know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. No real diversity celebrated in race, age, or body shape. So you’re beautiful… if you’re thin, don’t have noticeable wrinkles or scars, and have blue eyes. If you’re fat or old… uh, maybe other people don’t think you look as fat and old as you do yourself? Great? Oh, and by the way, there are real women who look like the women on the left. What are you saying about them, exactly? 

It’s nice that there’s no direct pitch at the end of the video, just the tagline, “You are more beautiful than you think.” That’s a quality message whether or not it leads you to buying more soap and skin lotion. The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today. 

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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43 Comments Have Been Posted

Dear Bitch: Why aren't you

Dear Bitch:

Why aren't you being more critical about this? I feel let down. I'm a new subscriber and I subscribed because I think pop culture should have a critical feminist analysis, and I thought you were it. However, this ad campaign is just as horrible, perhaps worse than others, for its appearing benign!

1. Women are told it's most important that they're beautiful all the time. In the ad, a woman talks about how beauty affects who you're friends with, what jobs you apply for, other opportunities in life. IN THE AD! This is really sad, and it reinforces society's assertion that women must be beautiful first, and then they can worry about doing other things. Reinforcing traditional standards of beauty is surely not what we should be aiming for?

2. Unilever owns Dove, and they also own Lynx and Axe- I don't know if I've seen more sexist ads than Lynx and Axe's ads. Additionally, they make Fair and Lovely, a skin-whitening cream. Dove's supposed valuing of women's inner beauty or whatever bull they're trying to sell us this time is hypocritical, as it runs in direct contravention to the rest of the company's values.

Really, Bitch. I expected better.


Thank you, Emma.

This shit is so exploitative. I'm fucking pissed about it. There is no way in which this serves feminism, and it as Emma stated, Unilever has a SHIT record for practicing what they preach.

The whole "REAL WOMEN DO THIS" cunard of the 10+ year campaign is off-putting because it still uses a certain look to drive the point across. This campaign STILL uses the conceit that a woman's worth is in her physical appearance.

Also, I AM NOT DOWN with a woman behind a curtain telling a man what she doesn't like about herself. In what way is that FUCKING OK?

Not a big fan of this campaign either but...

...the "subjects" here aren't sitting behind a curtain telling a man what they don't like about themselves. They're asked to describe themselves. If that's the same thing for most/all women, that's a whole 'nother problem.

Just curious.


While you note that "this shit is so exploitative" and that you are "...fucking pissed about it", you don't go into the specifics of what's upsetting you in this video. What's troubling about it?

Also, what offends you so about a woman describing herself to a professional artist while separated by a divider? In what why is this not okay?

not serving your dogmas does not make something exploitative

You say that "there is no way that this serves feminism," as if presuming that there is any need for messages concerning beauty or women to adhere to the rather extreme and judgemental codes demanded by some feminists. I hope you realize that your circles of thought are not the ultimate goal of all thoughts on beauty in society, and that your apparent outrage reflects an unhealthy set of idealist expectations (unless, of course, it is simply a show in order to compete for some sort of feminist status, which is sadly something that might be expected.)

Now, first of all, I must say that you can NOT control the thinking of people simply by criticizing specific points in the media. Either you acknowledge that some sort of physical concept of absolute beauty exists within culture that contributes to others' perception of you, or you ignore the idea of beauty being absolutely measurable entirely. Both are valid thoughts to me, however, contempt for all thoughts besides yours is not valid, just closed-minded and indicative of a generally negative attitude towards things.
I know that a wise person who does not worry for her own beauty will see this commercial and know that they do not have to believe that their value is derived from their appearance. In the end, shallowness is an aspect of some people which we must forgive.
You have a conceit yourself, that physical appearance ideals are created by the media etc.

From science, this is a general, fair explanation of what is physically attractive:
Koinophilia means that the most attractive faces are those which are most average (look it up) and
Things like Waist-to-hip ratios show health and thus contribute to attractiveness

Before you criticize men for judging based on looks, remember that eithout an attraction to certain features, we would not have an attraction to your face bodies in the first place; attractions are not founded on reason or equality, so you shouldnt expect them to work faiely anyways.

Live and grow wiser, thank you.

Holy mansplaining on a

Holy mansplaining on a feminist blog.

Let me clear up what this is actually about for you since you missed the point. Dove is exploiting societal pressures to look a certain way under the guise of self esteem.

Yes, to everything you say.

Yes, to everything you say. Dove's campaign for "real" beauty is real bullshit.
Don't forget that the parent company of Dove is unilever. Axe body spray ads , a large range of skin-bleaching creams. Fuck those guys and fuck this ad campaign.

Also: Slimfast.

Also: Slimfast.

All ads are exploitative.

All ads are exploitative. They're trying to get you to buy something. Now that you can get over that fact - would you rather have ads be like most ads and negative and exploitative, or positive and exploitative? That's the only question, really. Make your decision based on something else other than ads.

In Response to #1

I didn't feel that they were implying that beauty itself is what affects who your friends are, jobs you apply for, happiness, etc. To me they were saying confidence and appreciating who you are instead of being so critical of yourself is what impacts these choices and the way a person feels/lives. They never say beautiful is a specific idea, it's just about realizing what is beautiful about yourself. It's not about conforming to beauty standards. I thought it was about loving and appreciating yourself.

some more commentary from Feministing

Actually addresses this exact issue that you bring up.

We can all agree on the intent of the commercial which is to say that women are much harsher on their physical appearances than they should be. However, there are several problems with both the message and the way it is delivered. There are women that look like both of the before and after sketches and it is clear that the subjects were much more favorable towards the after sketches. Doesn't that seem like contributing to the conformation to a "beauty standard" even if that's not the intent? Both of those sets of sketches showed beautiful women and what this experiment really says is people aren't very reliable at describing things and sketch artists are heavily influenced by words like "nice"

thank you for that emma

in general, i think bitch does a great job but every once in awhile they drop the ball. this disappointed me as well. don't give up on bitch because of one article but do keep up the conversation.

Emma (and most other

Emma (and most other commenters on this thread),

Did you read the same blog post as I did? Sarah calls the campaign a "gimmick" in the first sentence and goes on to point out that all the women included are conventionally attractive. The quote pulled from jazzylittledrops.tumblr is also super critical of the feel-good-if-you're-already-"pretty" message. And the last sentence of Sarah's blog post is clearly cynical: "The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today." I'm pretty sure Sarah Mirk not Bitch Media are singing Dove's praises here.

Not only that, but the

Not only that, but the so-called "negative" descriptions include the words "fat" "round raced" and the "positive" includes "thin faced" and "blue-eyed" reinforcing what is ALREADY known as the beauty norm. I like that it highlights how we are self-critical but its unfortunate that it only reinforces the traditional beauty norm.


Essentially, this was faked. Not because they didn't do it - but because it's not double blind. The artist knows which subjects are describing themselves and which are describing another person, and he has skin in the game. Also, there's something really creepy about this spot that I can't put my finger on.

not necessarily

<blockquote>"You are more beautiful than you think." That's a quality message</blockquote>...

Well, maybe not. To quote the article below: <i>"Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty."</i>

<a href=" Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry

A good response

I thought this blog post was a good response to the campaign:

<blockquote>What you look like should not affect the choices that you make. It should certainly not affect the friends you make—the friends that wouldn’t want to be in relationship with you if you did not meet a certain physical standard are not the friends that you want to have. Go out for jobs that you want, that you’re passionate about. Don’t let how good looking you feel like you are affect the way way that you treat your children. And certainly do not make how well you feel you align with the strict and narrow “standard” that the beauty industry and media push be critical to your happiness, because you will always be miserable. You will always feel like you fall short, because those standards are designed to keep you constantly pressured into buying things like make up and diet food and moisturizer to reach an unattainable goal. Don’t let your happiness be dependent on something so fickle and cruel and trivial. You should feel beautiful, and Dove was right about one thing: you are more beautiful than you know. But please, please hear me: you are so, so much more than beautiful. </blockquote>

But I would read the whole thing if I were you!

Yes! I saw this tumblr and I

Yes! I saw this tumblr and I really liked it! there have been a lot of really excellent posts around the internet about this campaign.

more problems that just conventional beauty

i have to echo emma's comments - why aren't you being more critical? there are some big problems here not simply with the representation of beauty, but with agency and paternalism. conventionally beautiful or not, the implication of this advertisement is that what other people think about my body is more important than what i think. i mean, they're really taking agency away from women. it's a truly insidious ad.

Although I do agree with most

Although I do agree with most of what you're saying, I think the message is more "we think too critically of ourselves" as opposed to "what other people think of you is more important".

And our animal sisters?

Why is NOBODY addresses the fact that Unilever (including dove) test products on animals, which is vile and disgusting. We are expressing the grossest parts of vanity, beyond the fact that society tells us that women need to be thin, but that it is okay to have a TOTAL disregard for non-human animals in the name of beauty. Dove is not animal friendly (we are animals afterall) nor is it earth friendlty. Dove is ugly and so are people who use it.

That being said, I wish this concept would be made into a more substantial study or documentary. Due to the media and beauty product ads we all have a misconception of wht we look like. I found it less interesting that people mentioned being thin than that most of these women saw themselves as really unfriendly and mean looking. I know that I have to put on a hard exterior when I go out in public just to make sure i am not harrssed. now it has become a part of my "look"

Why? Because that's not the


Because that's not the point of the video or the post.

But it is about vanity, and

But it is about vanity, and what is more vile than torturing animals becaue a person feels bad about how they look?

Um. This isn't about vanity.

Um. This isn't about vanity. It's about corporate exploitation of women's insecurities they they themselves create. Create insecurity, make money off insecurity.

A little reading comprehension goes a long way.

Because this isn't an article

Because this isn't an article about vivisection?

What are you ladies freaking

What are you ladies freaking out about? The women in these commercials obviously did not have a realistic/positive image of what they look like. That's what the SKETCH ARTIST drew in the picture (him being a male has nothing to do with any of this). The ad seems to be encouraging women to take a real look at themselves (not just in a mirror, but actually look at who they are as people) and realize that they are beautiful.

The only catch in this commercial, which someone mentioned earlier, is that these women are actually all very stereotypically "pretty" to begin with. But the more I think about it...what does an "ugly" person look like using strictly physical characteristics?

what, you think the sketch artist isn't in the tank for this?

Was there really any way that the sketch artist wasn't going to come up with an "ugly" picture of the self description, and a "beautiful" picture of the peer description? C'mon, people. The campaign had a pre-defined script. The drawing is not an unmediated transcription of the words. Even if the artist took on his task in good faith, nothing that he drew was going to change the punchline that we see in the video.

LOL I know right. "Well damn

LOL I know right. "Well damn girl... I can't fix this."

I disagree to an extent

The only thing that would have changed the "punch line" to this video is positive self-perception on the part of the women, but they lacked it. Was that really surprising? Not really, but it was to them--they didn't realize how off their visual perceptions of themselves were until they saw the disparity between the images. There was no "first image is uglier than the second image" moment, but the women were taken aback by the differences, figuring a stranger would be more critical than they were.

Was the script pre-defined? Of course it was, but only because women in general are simply too harsh on their physical appearance, which is sadly, fairly predictable.

That aside, I didn't see any soap or soap related products being hocked, which was a nice change of pace from Dove.

pay attention, and don't

pay attention, and don't pretend like what we're saying is trivial just because you can't be bothered to understand it. we're questioning the basic premise of beauty as being interchangeable with worth and self-worth for women, and the conventional and mainstream standard of beauty held up as valid by this commercial while it simultaneously pretends to subvert beauty standards.
the beauty standards upheld by this commercial were formed on the idea of women as property with a specific prescribed role, a 'beautiful' woman is one that is valuable to men as an object but not one that is necessarily valuable to herself or valuable to others as a person that functions outside of her prescribed role. as such, a 'beautiful woman' is thin, and unblemished by scars or wrinkles in order to be visually pleasing, young and small to be physically unintimidating, has a personality geared towards serving the emotional needs of anyone who happens to be around, and displays whatever level of sexual availability is deemed proper.
an 'ugly' woman is one that deviates from these in any way, which is why we see a lot of hateful comments directed at women athletes, and politicians for being too powerful or masculine, and why random strangers feel entitled to tell women to wear a more open and happy expression or adjust their perceived level of sexual availability.

I liked the video.

I enjoyed the video.

What I especially appreciated was when one of the two African Americans noted her freckles. Hispanics and Asians have freckles too. Sometimes in childhood, sometimes with age, but this physical characteristic is not exclusive to Caucasians.


The participants in this video don't note themselves as ugly, but like everyone, they zero in on what they believe are displeasing physical attributes. I'm not seeing an emphasis on light skinned or thin beauty (I suppose if one is trying to see something they direly want to see, they'll see it). I also don't postulate any of them noting their self described portrait as hideous and I don't get the impression that the first renderings are suppose to be considered as such, but it is unnerving to see women so off on their actual appearances--which seems to be the point of this video.

Beauty, like art, is subjective to culture, region, and media, but as a woman of color, I readily admit that I hold myself (no one else) to a separate, higher, more severe standard of beauty (on top of that existing pedestal) that I know I can not achieve. Which is to say that without outside influences, I would still notice the dis-symmetry of my mouth, the erratic nature of my brows (even when waxed), my large bottomless pores and, anticlimactically, my nose (like the woman in the video, my mother said it was too big--thanks Ma!).

While this video is not going to change the overall impression of how I feel about my appearance, it's a gentle reminder that I'm not alone in this uncalled for self-deprecation and that, really, I shouldn't be so harsh on myself.

Uplift or Tear down?

Obviously not a controlled experiment, but I'm not so sure it's nonsense, antiquated, sexist, or racist. Young people, women in particular, are adversely affected by media hyping beauty all the time. I think it is a very simple concept and they tried to find a creative way to express it. The hypothesis is that other people don't always put the same critical value on my external beauty as I think they do or even as much as I put on myself. Pretty simple.. It is a weak study on perception at best, but one that begs the question... What IS your perception of self? More people would do well to ask themselves.

Sometimes I think Blogs and sites like this spend too much time putting things under the microscope for hype. This was pretty simple. And the intention was to uplift.

I must point out

That some of the hateful comments I am reading here equate misogyny. No matter what kind of a feminist anyone is, and I insist that I am NOT the "feminist police," the truth and fact of the matter is that misogyny is unacceptable in a civil society. In fact, I am a feminist because I call out misogynist actions. Hatred is not cool. Ever.

Emma, I suggest that you be mindful of the very important disclaimer of this very important project: Not all opinions expressed here are the same as those of the Bitch staff and their blog contributors...and not all Bitch staffers and blog contributors agree on everything. I also recommend that you dig deeper and read any back issues you can get, and read past blog articles before you further criticize anything else said here. If you had looked at some previous articles and blog entries in Bitch, you will have found past writings on Dove and its so-called "Real Beauty" campaign that continues being problematic. I do not come here to this blog and the magazine expecting contributors and readers to be all "yes people." These blogs and articles are written to generate further, intelligent discussions ... giving feminism the good name it must become within our troubling, chaotic culture. Once again ... with feeling ... feminism is NOT monolithic. Um-kay?

hey anonymous, I've been a

hey anonymous, I've been a bitch reader for years now. I can, and have been, and will continue to be, critical of something I love. I've just paid for a subscription now because I can afford it and because I think it's important to support alternative media.

Just because someone is critical of something doesn't mean that they think the entire project is rubbish. I did look at the link in the article, but I don't think it went far enough, and I think it's reasonable to raise founded critiques when it seems like anyone is providing free advertising for a hypocritical company that covertly and overtly supports oppressive beauty standards, which I, and many other commenters on this thread, oppose.

I also find your tone kind of patronising, which doesn't really contribute to intelligent discussions, but rather, tears people down. I am pleased to hear, though, that you don't think feminism is monolithic- it is great to celebrate diversities in feminism.

I look forward, Anonymous, to having many more intelligent and civil discussions with you. Too bad I won't know who you are.

I did not mean to be patronizing

I just get defensive of Bitch sometimes. I cannot help it. I want to clarify that what has been problematic about Dove's "Real Beauty" campaigns is the fact that Unilever is one of those international conglomerates that have done actions that are also hypocritical of their so-called "Real Beauty" campaign (Animal testing, for one).I have also seen the very important film <i>The Corporation</i>, which has ever since been my guide to critiquing corporations and their primarily inhumane activities. As for all the animal activism that is going on against many of them, my big problem is with PETA's well-documented unfeminist actions, that have the ultimate goal of getting heterosexual male meat eaters to become vegans. So there ...

No I mean. You're wrong.

No I mean. You're wrong. Animal testing isn't a thing here. What are things: Axe brand misogynist bullshit and even more awesomely, Slimfast.

Also that the Dove brand message is full of backhanded compliments. "You're beautiful if you have awesome underarms." "You're beautiful if someone describes your nose as thin."

Jesus, this place is

Jesus, this place is mansplain central right now. Go to the GoodMenProject or something.

One Right Response

In fairness, I think what many of you are looking for, besides a more critical response to the Dove ads, is One Right Response. When we're dealing in cultural interpretation or response, there are always a number of possible responses. I think it the case of this, both the critical response many readers are bringing up and the more neutral response Sarah had as the author of this post both strike possible and likely. Both have merit. Both are valid readings of the meaning a particular cultural product. There's nothing wrong with someone looking at a cultural product like these Dove ads and putting them somewhere on the spectrum from neutral to leaning toward positive. It sounds like many of you disagree with Sarah, that's cool, but that doesn't make Sarah's response wrong or a failure in any sense. So please, I ask you as a fellow reader, treat these comments sections as a place to have an interesting dialouge, and like it's Bitch Magazine's Yelp review.

Her neutral response isn't

Her neutral response isn't exactly a well thought out feminist critique. Which is, allegedly, what Bitch is for.

I concur. If I wanted this

I concur. If I wanted this level of critique I'd get back on Facebook.

Bitch doesn't hate everything nearly enough

<p>I didn't get my money's worth in my last issue of Bitch.
Critical feminism is about hating everything and everyone on planet Earth with enough rage to feel the flesh coming off with each verbal flaying. Come on, Bitch, don't get soft!
YOU HATE EVERYTHING! Don't ever forget that.
Nothing is ever or will ever be good enough!
You demand absolute perfection from life and everything!!
Heil Bitch! The world is not worthy of you!&nbsp;</p><p>Give us your contempt and hatred, for it is only despair which exists! Give me yet more reasons to feel sanctimonious and superior!</p><p>&nbsp;I LOVE BITCH, BECAUSE IT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD TO HATE EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY!</p>

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