They Don't Really Love You

Have you seen the recent "Real Beauty" video from Dove with the police artist who drew two versions of women, sight unseen -- one where they described themselves, and another where they were described by a stranger they'd just met -- to show how women are more beautiful than they imagine?

I liked the sentiment, so I shared it on my facebook page.

I wanted to say, "Yes, woman... look! You are beautiful! I see you like you cannot see yourself! I see your beauty shining out of you, so let it. Don't let a fabricated, fallacious ideal grind you down. Own your beauty, and it will grow!"

Even as I did this, though, I had my reservations. It wasn't just that, as a visual artist myself, I didn't entirely buy that any artist could pull off the drawings they showed without actually looking at the women (deception number one?); but also that in this case, I really want to shoot the messenger. See, DOVE is apparently owned by UNILEVER, which (unsurprisingly) also owns AXE, a company that makes bajillions of dollars pushing an unrealistic view of what beauty is, and teaching us to believe that women are stupid sex objects to be looked at, lusted after, and used for a man's pleasure.

But so what?

So a company rides the crest of the "let's get authentic" wave to inauthentically sell products that exist to gloss over the biological damage that they themselves create with their cocktails of carcinogenic chemicals. The message is still good, right? Manipulative Corporations can still speak the truth. Just because they're stabbing you in the back with one hand whilst giving you a delicious sandwich with the other, that doesn't mean you can't still take the sandwich, right? Right...?!?

I don't know. Maybe.

Like I said, I did post it to my facebook.

But I still kept thinking about the fact that halitosis pretty much didn't exist before the year 1926, when the Lambert Company decided that it needed to sell more Listerine.*

Listerine was already somewhat popular (mostly because of its 25% alcohol content in the early days of Prohibition), but after their marketing department took an obscure medical term and launched it into the public consciousness, their profits increased by four thousand percent!

What's bad about that, you might ask?  Sure, they actively sought to make smelly breath a serious social stigma by claiming that the only thing keeping women from relational happiness was their breath... but they also offered a product that could solve that problem, and give women a fresh chance at better relationships.


Except that Listerine doesn't actually work. In fact, according to an article I recently read on, mouthwash will actually make your breath worse, because "alcohol is really good at drying out your mouth, and saliva is one of your body's best defenses against bad breath. Have you ever met a baby with bad breath? No, because babies drool the bacteria out of their sweet little mouths. Swishing alcohol-laced mouthwash in the morning is the hygienic equivalent of preparing for battle by taking a flamethrower to your own guys."

So, this Lambert Company created a marketing campaign to popularize a problem that maybe wasn't even as prevalent as they were saying, manipulated people's deepest feelings about themselves, and pushed a product that actually made the initial "problem" much worse. Sound familiar?

Yeah, the parallels aren't perfect. But I'm still a little annoyed at myself for contributing to Dove's accumulation of seven million youtube views in four days. What they say in this advertisement is true... but it's not something we really need a corporation with ulterior motives to tell us. We should all be saying it to the women in our lives all the time -- however often it takes to counteract the message they're being bombarded with elsewhere by companies like Dove: The message that "you are not pretty enough, and until you get pretty enough (by buying our products), you will not be loved."

I don't want to be "that guy," but something about their methods makes me feel a little... dirty. Like I need to go wash myself with a bar of hand-milled, chemical-free soap.

- - -

*I got the Listerine story from the 12th Edition of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Take that for what it's worth, but it sounds legit to me.


  1. And Dove especially doesn't really love you if you're a woman of color
    Also reminded me of this great ethnography I read a few years ago:

  2. I liked the video they had a while ago showing a woman's transformation from normal, to make-uped, to photoshopped. This one, as Elizabeth pointed out, sort of for the most part left out people of color, and as someone else pointed out, everyone in the video is pretty attractive. Re-enforcing the message that women should embrace their unique beauty where it's at is super important, and it sucks that only corporate voices tend to have the clout to get their version of the message spread around the internets...better than nothing, though, I guess...


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