Here's What Bothers Me About the New Dove Ad

If you’re a human being with a social media account, you’ve seen the new Dove commercial already. Entitled “Choose Beautiful,” the latest addition to Dove’s ten-year-old “Real Beauty” campaign features footage from several locations around the world, where side-by-side doors were labeled “Beautiful” and “Average” and women choose which door to walk through. For many of them, the decision appears fraught and requires serious consideration. Later, women who chose the “Average” door are interviewed; they express regret and self-consciousness about their decisions, and some of them resolve to “choose beautiful” next time. These women’s initial selection of “Average” is portrayed in the commercial as a sign of deep insecurity and is clearly intended to provoke concern. Likewise, the viewer is meant to see the transition from “Average” to “Beautiful” as evidence of these women’s newfound self-confidence and empowerment. 

This is not the first time Dove has gotten attention for a commercial that subtly chastises women for not having higher self-esteem. In their “Real Beauty Sketches” ad, a police sketch artist created two drawings each of various women, one based on the woman’s own description of herself and another based on how a stranger described her. Comparing the two drawings supposedly proved that “you are more beautiful than you think.” Concepts of inner beauty, body positivity, and empowerment are becoming increasingly prevalent in advertising directed at women, with brands like Pantene and Lane Bryant running commercials and social media campaigns that purport to encourage confidence and self-worth in their target audience.

pantene ad

A Pantene ad points out sexist double standards, then encourages women to “shine strong” with their shampoo. 

But all this advertising has the same central flaw, which frustrates me when I see people praising these companies to the skies. These ads each depend on the assumption that in order to be happy, empowered, or confident, women need to feel beautiful. Dove wants us to talk about why women don’t feel beautiful. I want to talk about why that’s the only question they think is worth asking.

These ads are not about a global revolution in beauty standards. It’s about creating an association between a brand name and a form of surface-level faux-empowerment so that women will feel like buying Dove soap is a triumph for their self-esteem instead of simply a triumph for capitalism. I’m not particularly angry at these corporations for doing what corporations have always done, but it irritates me to see this kind of rhetoric elevated to the level of an important cultural conversation. Especially since, at the end of the day, all these commercials reify the sexist notion that women must be beautiful or be worthless.

It’s noteworthy that men were not filmed walking through the “Beautiful” and “Average” doors. The idea wouldn’t work as an ad, because it's not presumed that men's self-esteem is primarily dictated by their physical appearance. Funny or Die has already made a parody video spoofing the idea of a “real beauty” campaign for men that focuses on dick size. 

I consider myself average-looking. This is not because I am insecure. I promise you, my self-esteem is through the roof. But I would still walk through the door marked “Average” (or, more likely, whichever door was most directly in my path, because I am lazy and I need to get home and watch Game of Thrones). On the other hand, if there were doors marked “Funny” or “Smart” or “Terrifyingly Comprehensive Mastery of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Trivia,” I would cruise through them without thinking twice. I don’t measure my worth by my physical appearance. In fact, I don’t measure it by any single criterion. I value being a well-rounded person with many virtues and some flaws (which I like to think make me interesting). It would be nice to be beautiful, just like it would be nice to be wealthy or to be able to solve complicated math problems in my head, but those are not the cards I have been dealt. I would rather embrace being average-looking and get on with celebrating all the other great things I am than spend my time and energy trying to align myself more closely with a beauty standard that is simply not relevant to my life. 

Dove’s Senior Global Director Victoria Sjardin was quoted on The Huffington Post saying, “Dove wanted to inspire women to seize the opportunity to choose what makes us feel beautiful every day, because when we do, it unlocks confidence and happiness.” But confidence and happiness are available lots of different ways. I feel confident and happy when I work out, when I tell a good joke, when I do something nice for someone I care about, when I sell a piece of writing, when I finish a complicated knitting project. Being average-looking doesn’t mean that I’m worthless, or miserable, or unloved. I have wonderful friends, a supportive family, and a great marriage. You don’t need to be beautiful for people to like you and love you and want to spend time around you and even want to see you naked. 

If beauty is something that matters to you, I want you to be able to claim it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be able to redefine beauty and use it in whatever way suits your life. But I can’t help resenting that so much of today’s surge of body-positive rhetoric focuses on beauty. I can like my body and have a positive self-image without thinking I’m pretty.

Dove’s ad actually does an impressive job of undermining its own point. The “Beautiful” and “Average” doors, despite being emotionally loaded, ultimately lead to the same place. There’s no real reason to go through the “Beautiful” door unless you want to. There are a lot of other ways to get where you want to be.

Related Reading: Is Girl-Power Advertising Doing Any Good?

by Lindsay King-Miller
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Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. Her first book will be published by Plume in early 2016.

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14 Comments Have Been Posted

change the perspective: when do you feel the most beautiful?

I understand your view of this matter and I respect it. I think that you make some very valid points. However, I have to disagree with you overall. You wrote, "These ads each depend on the assumption that in order to be happy, empowered, or confident, women need to feel beautiful." I oppose this view 100%; I believe that these ads are dependent on the assumption that in order to feel beautiful, women need to be happy, empowered, and confident.

This difference in opinion may also stem from our diverse views of words "beauty" and "beautiful." To me, I no longer think appearance when I use the word. To me, beautiful means wonderful. It means astonishing, nonconventional, self-love and purpose. Beautiful means connecting with your true inner self. I recently gave a presentation focused on assessment and treatment of eating disorders. Although the goal of the presentation is to educate fellow counselors-in-training, I find it most meaningful to use this opportunity to redefine beauty through my choice of words and my manner of presenting. I ended the presentation by posing the question: when do you feel the most beautiful? Here are some of the answers I got in response: "I feel most beautiful when my son looks at me and sighs," "I feel most beautiful when I am on the lake with my camera around my neck," "I feel most beautiful when I am discovering new music," "I feel most beautiful when I am sharing my story and inspiring others," "I feel most beautiful when I am laughing", "I feel most beautiful when I am telling jokes and making others laugh." I wish I could share them all. Not one response focused on appearance, looks, and the perceptions of the outer presenting self.

Maybe Dove is a bit too focused on the individual’s appearance; regardless, the campaign is inspiring. Women DO feel empowered. They DO begin to think differently about the self. At the very least, it gets women to begin to question what the word beautiful means to them. As seen, the women that do walk through the "average door" are open to discussing their regrets about doing so afterward. Before entering, there was a moment in time that they actually stopped and thought... what do I want to do? Where do I want to go? For those who read beautiful to be strictly appearance, they may have responses similar to your chosen response: average. This response reflects a belief that “beauty” can be objectively measured. Although I understand that you want to embrace your ‘level of beauty,’ I read this and felt extremely, extremely, extremely oppressed. We need to stop defining beauty in terms of objective measures. Beauty cannot be measured quantitatively, unless we allow that to happen.

I think there is a much deeper meaning behind this campaign. To me, I see it as a screaming invitation for women to break free from society's multiple choice measurement scales; to break free from our socially constructed idea that beauty is solely based on how we look. You are not average. Average does not exist in terms of beauty. You are beautiful. Now, tell me how. When do you feel the most beautiful?

I think this comment misses

I think this comment misses the point of the article, and the main problem with the campaign, which is that women are forced to interact with the concept of beauty, its arbitrary standards and our "feelings" about it.

Even if it means contorting definitions and semantics, women are forced to deal with "beauty." Why should it follow that feeling happy, empowered and confident would lead one to feel "beautiful," instead of say competent or powerful? Do we assume that happy, empowered and confident men are/should be considered/feel "beautiful"? Are we asking men when they feel most beautiful, or expecting that this is something they are overly concerning themselves with?

The sexism involved in this self serving advertisement (they are after all selling beauty products) is that it assumes that women SHOULD be consistently engaged with this concept of beauty, that it is somehow beneficial to consider our beauty and its relation to the world around us and in us. Redefining what the word beautiful means to us isn't the point, as far as I'm concerned. The point is realizing that "beautiful" can be irrelevant, and should be as irrelevant for women - and really people of all genders - as it is for men.

I am not concerned with when I feel most beautiful. I am not concerned with equating beauty with a mishmash of other characteristics and calling it a redefinition. I am concerned with feeling human. I am concerned about when I most strongly feel that I am competent, when I most strongly feel that I am smart, when I most strongly feel that am acting from a place of love and compassion, because those are aspects of myself that I value, that are in line with what I think it means to be a responsible human being in the world. The concept of beauty to me is only relevant in an oppressive context. Unless we are talking about the weather....

This ad way intended to

This ad way intended to encourage women to embrace their external and internal beauty. I do agree with you when you mention men, males deserve equal representation as a beautiful human being but a major of the media focuses on the dehumanizations of females. This one however highlights self deserving love of yourself.. Which for a product commercial is very rare! Also, you are right that the product association is silly but the whole point of the ad was to encourage self acceptance, love and appreciation. There's no doubt there could have been some improvements but I still think this was awesome, go dove!

To quibble, this ads whole

To quibble, this ads whole point is to sell beauty products, which it can more easily do if it appeals to the sensibility and insecurities of the largest number of people


up till now even i thought positively about such campaigns now i realize they are actually counterproductive. Women are not their skin,hair,etc. They are people with minds and thats not what these ads portray.Excellently written.

Thank you, thank you for

Thank you, thank you for explaining what's wrong with these ads. We just keep buying into it.
I'm sharing this on Facebook, and hope it gets a lot of views.

What bothers me most is that

What bothers me most is that it's portrayed as an actual social experiment and documentary, but it's a scripted piece. From everything I've read, at no point were there doors marked "Beautiful" and "Average" that people could randomly walk through.

Thank you! Internally I

Thank you! Internally I reacted quite negatively to this ad because I would super mega proudly walk thru the average door. I love what I look like in a world full of people who dont but I also love qualties like inner strength, humility and more subtle, gentler ways of existing. And I don't really want to live in a world where everyone is focused on their on how physically "beautiful" they are - um, that seems kinda egotistical and weird to me. (I'm only speaking for myself of course)

Rape vs. Microagressions

I don't see any articles on your site about the spring break rape that happened in broad daylight, before a crowd on on-lookers, that was videotaped. Why is that ? You have stories like this one and the UVA hoax but a REAL actual witnessed rape gets no press from you ? I would like to know why. Why do today's 'feminist' ignore mass rape like in Rotherham and this rape but produce article upon article about micro-agressions and manspreading. Priorities ? What is the reason ?

I agree, but...

"Dove wants us to talk about why women don’t feel beautiful. I want to talk about why that’s the only question they think is worth asking."

I'm sorry to say this, but sometimes I feel like WOMEN think it's the only question worth asking. Maybe not you, but it's amazing to me how much women talk about body size, and the physical presentation of women in commercials. And how what they see in some stupid commercials affects their self-esteem.

They're just commercials. If someone's self-image is determined by salesmen, that's not good.

Dove Advert

I think this is an excellently crafted article and agree with a lot of the content: too much emphasis is placed on women's physical beauty in our society and the advert wouldn't get anywhere with men, as I think what makes them feel good about themselves is totally different to women. I don't think many men would willingly walk into the 'Average' door.

I also, however, agree with a lot of the comments by Jackie: I think that the message comes across that if you feel confident about yourself and your self-esteem is high, then you actually feel beautiful. Hopefully, this is the message that people will take away from the advert, rather than it all being about beauty on the outside. I also think that most women would admit that when they feel as though they look their best, they feel more confident in other areas. Otherwise, we would have no need to choose clothes that we feel flatter or represent our personalities.

The best part of the advert for me was when the mother of the teenage daughter dragged her through the Beautiful door. Scripted or not, I thought that was a poignant point to be making; as a mother of a teenage daughter, I have to listen to her and her friends' criticisms of themselves, and try to convince them they are fine just the way they are.


I find these ads to be incredibly annoying and sexist. Thank you for expressing so perfectly why they're awful.

Dove is asking the wrong question

"But all this advertising has the same central flaw, which frustrates me when I see people praising these companies to the skies. These ads each depend on the assumption that in order to be happy, empowered, or confident, women need to feel beautiful. Dove wants us to talk about why women don’t feel beautiful. I want to talk about why that’s the only question they think is worth asking."

Perfect. Thanks for writing and posting.

Nicely put... but still..

Quite simply - beautiful doesn't have be mean physical or material..

It shows the general mind set that everything is a physical thing. Feeling beautiful is something that comes from inside - and if it radiates from within, no matter how you 'look' you will always appear beautiful.

I agree more with the concept of simply just liking yourself - but even that can be messy. I personally just try to do acceptance - because no matter how I look, it will always depend on how I feel to what I think of myself. i.e think the blue/ black dress thing.

I do think though that the dove ads come forward with the best intentions - whoever's idea it was probably had some self esteem issues so started a whole campaign to empower other women so she could empower herself - that's usually how these things work.

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