Cate YoungFeminism

Changing the Conversation: The Dove "Real Beauty" Campaign and the Debate on "Real" Women

Cate YoungFeminism
The Image of Real Beauty?
via Lexis Agency

There are many things that bother me in this world. That's why I have a blog. So I can whine about them in peace, and not harass people who don't want to hear about it. But there's something happening in the body politics debate that has been bothering me in the last few months, and I want to lay it out in the open.

The Dove "Real Beauty" campaign is problematic.

In the last few months, I've seen countless advertisements from Dove touting their dedication to "real" beauty and "real" women. Naturally, all the women in the ads are older, curvier, and often, women of colour.

Now, you must be asking yourself what could possibly be my issue with a campaign that seeks to radically change the definition of beauty? Dove's ads have taken women who are typically ignored by major beauty franchises and elevated them to star status. This is what we've been asking for, right? Dove has finally done what no other company would. They listened. So what's the problem?

The problem with Dove's campaign is that it is working on a zero-sum continuum of beauty. Instead of opening the definition of "beauty" to be more inclusive, it is simply changing it to exclude a different subset of women.

The answer to the beauty question isn't "real women have curves", it's "all women are real, and they're all equally beautiful." By labeling older, curvier women as "real", they are automatically labeling younger, more slender bodies as "unreal", which is obviously not okay. Those bodies are just as real. They are simply different.

In situations where one party in a discussion feels marginalized or ignored, it gets very easy to fire back at the other side on a personal level. The fashion industry has long had a preference for younger, more slender and yes, white bodies. But that isn't the fault of young, slender, Caucasian women. There is definitely needs to be a change in the mean demographics of the fashion industry. We've made strides over the years, and there is obviously still a long way to go. But making these women feel as poorly about their bodies as women of colour and size have felt for years does nothing to elevate our cause. All it does is create a different kind of divisiveness that is equally as sinister.

The answer to the body image question isn't to designate an ideal. That will always leave someone feeling left out and slighted. The answer is to be more inclusive. To accept all diverse body types as acceptable and beautiful. By shifting the definition of beauty instead of expanding it, we're just rehashing the same problems.

Dove's campaign is commendable in what it's trying to achieve but it fails in the execution. It's time we become more conscious of the issues facing women in today's world, and be more mindful not to alienate some women in order to appease others.

What do you think? Do you agree that the campaign is problematic? How do you think the campaign can be improved? What would you have done differently? Let me know in the comments below.