Published April 26, 2013
'Real Beauty' Isn't Physical
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Editor's Note

“You are more beautiful than you think” was the message presented by Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign. For those who haven’t seen it, the video shows female participants describing themselves to a sketch artist from behind a curtain. The artist draws a portrait of them from the descriptions and sends the women on their way. The same participants are also described by strangers that they had met that day. The resulting sketches are placed side by side, showing that all of the participants described themselves as less attractive than the strangers had perceived.

With over 16 million YouTube views and thousands of Facebook likes, the Real Beauty video has gotten quite a bit of attention. “First commercial I ever saw that made me cry,” read one of the comments, “every woman should watch this and help their daughters see their ‘real selves’,” stated another.

While the video’s message is important, the focus on society’s very narrow perception of beauty is hidden by sentimental music and emotive testimonials. In fact, until I read a blog post by self-proclaimed writer, blogger and sassy-pants Jazz Brice, I didn’t see anything wrong with Dove’s advertisement.

”Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than ten seconds,” she pointed out. In addition, most of the positive descriptions by strangers include phrases such as “thin face,” “nice thin chin,” “short and cute nose” and “nice blue eyes” and many of the participants were under 40 years old. These attributes coincide with the widely accepted standard for beauty: young and skinny.

The video also fails to mention anything about inner beauty and the many other qualities intelligence, personality and the like that should be valued above physical appearance. It instead reinforces the unfortunate belief that our natural beauty “impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, they way we treat our children, it impacts everything,” and goes so far as to say “it couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

The message about realizing one’s natural beauty is worthwhile; however, the subtle indication that this beauty is measured in terms of size and age contradicts the campaign’s positivity. The hidden subliminal messages in this video are a strong indication of the apparent importance placed on a specific type of physical beauty, deeply rooted in society today. Even as someone who tries to think critically about the media, I missed what Brice pointed out: the video is really only saying that “you’re actually not quite as far off from the narrow definition [of beauty] as you might think that you are.”

Though spoken in the context of physical beauty, one of the quotes from the video seemed to make a lot more sense than the overall message. “We spend a lot of time trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right and we should spend more time trying to appreciate the things we do like.” It is unfortunate that we have to wade through stereotypes and over-looked discrimination to find such insight. While I can appreciate what the Dove campaign is trying to accomplish, I only hope that the message of self empowerment is not accompanied by that of society’s fixation on purely physical beauty.

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