While it's admirable, I'm not sure Dove's "Real Beauty" Campaign is doing anything beyond changing the details of the same old story. It's time we ask ourselves why external depictions of beauty are so central in the first place.

In 2004, Dove launched its "Real Beauty" Campaign in an attempt to "widen the narrow definition of beauty" (source). You've seen the results: The Dove advertisements featuring "real women" (read: not as skinny as most of the models we see every day) in white undergarments against a neutral background. You've probably seen Dove's "Evolution" video. For sure you've seen its "Real Beauty Sketches" video, the most-watched video ad of all time.

The first ads in 2004 featured "real women whose appearances are outside the stereotypical norms of beauty" and "asked viewers to judge the women's looks (oversized or outstanding? and wrinkled or wonderful?), and invited them to cast their votes" on a Dove-sponsored website (source). In 2006, Dove launched its "most iconic phase" of the campaign "with advertising featuring six real women with real bodies and real curves" (source).

Redefining what?

On the one hand, I get what Dove's trying to do and it's admirable. I too am tired of the waif models and their impossible depictions of beauty, aided silently by Photoshop and magic makeup, resulting in an image so unrealistic it can barely be called "woman" anymore. I'm tired of "thigh gap" and size negative women cast as beauty icons. I'm tired of all of it. From that perspective, Dove's project is a refreshing one. Just seeing women in advertisements who resemble actual females is pretty darn nice.

The structure remains the same. The focus on the external remains the same.

On the other hand, Dove's attempt to "redefine beauty" remains problematic precisely because it's just one more attempt to define beauty. It's basically the same thing we're all sick of but with slightly altered boundaries. Now, rather than stick-figure thin being "beautiful," we've got "curvy but not fat" defined as beautiful. The structure remains the same. The focus on the external remains the same.

Dove is not calling into question the fact that feminine beauty is constantly being defined in and through the media, or that women's sense of personal beauty comes from an outside source or definition of beauty. Rather, they are simply redefining the parameters of that judgment, which is really not that radical at all when you think about.

Basically they're saying, "OK so everybody else is telling you this is beautiful but we disagree. Actually this is beautiful. So please change your minds. There. Don't you feel better? Now a corporation is telling you 'a little curvier' is pretty. Don't you feel better about yourself now?"

No. No I don't.

Because first of all, I'm way heavier than those women and I have stretch marks. Secondly, though, I'm tired of talking about "beauty" at all. Why can't we talk about health? Why can't we talk about using your body as an "instrument," as argued by the "Beauty Redefined" Project, which wrote an extensive critique of Dove's campaign.

The very idea of "real" women is dangerous. Who is Dove to define "real" women? I get it, the waif-Photoshop woman is not "real" in the sense that it's created through computers, makeup and possibly anorexia, but the attempt to define what a "real" woman looks like at all (as if curvy women are more "real" than very thin women) is a perpetuation of the same "beauty ideal" mentality.

Further, the fact is that Dove is selling products. They still sell a firming cream. They sell a firming cream with the ad that attempts to "redefine beauty." Once again, we are back at "use our products to more closely align yourself with society's standards of beauty."

How is that an improvement?

As a mom, this is one of the reasons I don't emphasize my kids' appearances excessively. I don't care if they wear clothes that don't match. I don't care if my tween girl doesn't have much "style." I don't push makeup or any other appearance-enhancing products.

I want her to know she's more than a body, than anybody's critique of that body, and in the end it's her judgment alone that matters.

I want her confidence to come from her brain, from who she is. I want her to be proud of her intellect, her sense of humor, her health. I want her to know she's more than a body, than anybody's critique of that body and in the end it's her judgment alone that matters.

It's her beauty alone that resides in her, alone, untouched and untainted by the fingers of the world, and pouring from something that's got nothing to do with skin, hair or eyes. There's nothing wrong with makeup or hair or fashion, but it can never be mistaken for personal worth. Until we realize that appearance is second to everything else making me "who I am," we'll just be changing a few details in a worn-out storyline.

More on gender

Your little girl is not a princess
What's wrong with being a girl?
Coy Mathis, redefining acceptance by the second grade

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