Dove Real Beauty Asks: Do You Even Know What You Look Like?

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Image from Dove "Real Beauty Sketches" video
Image from Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” video

The latest video in Dove’s Real Beauty campaign isn’t about beauty at any size like most of the previous ones. It’s about how much beauty you see in yourself–and how much a complete stranger sees in you. They asked women to describe themselves and for strangers to describe them after first meeting, then had an artist draw sketches based on each description. The video shows the process and the outcome.

You can never simply look at yourself like other people see you. You can look in a mirror, sure, or at a photo or video. But none of those things are quite the same as simply looking at a person, are they? On top of that, what you see in the mirror is cloudy–and I don’t just mean literally from tiny fingerprints and splashed water. Your reflection is layered with memories of the pretty girls whose hair you wanted in high school and the boy who taunted you for being too pale or too fat or too something. It’s colored in with mean nicknames–both the ones of middle school classmates and the ones you’ve called yourself.

The Real Beauty campaign hasn’t been free of criticism. After all, in the end, we know that what Dove would really like is to sell you some soaps and lotions and deodorant. I’ve read plenty of blog posts complaining that there’s a conflicting message when a company that sells products ostensibly to make you more beautiful is telling you you’re already beautiful. But I generally don’t think of Dove products as “be more beautiful” products so much as “be cleaner” products. Even if you think of yourself as beautiful, you’re likely to still want to wash your hair and use the occasional moisturizer. That said, I perhaps wouldn’t have made the choice to run this campaign and have “Beauty enhancement” as a category of products:

Image: Dove website

Related, if you’d like to read a case study that uses the words “Bom Chicka Wah Wah” (because how often does that opportunity come along?), read Daniel O’Donnell’s 2008 Unilever’s Dove and Axe: Examples of Hypocrisy or Good Marketing?” In short: those products provide two very different advertising messages coming from the same parent company.

All that aside, this new video is interesting to watch and worth a moment of thought. How would you have described yourself? How would a stranger? As harsh as we often are on ourselves, I think it’s likely that strangers tend towards the complimentary. Imagine yourself in this scenario–would you answer “describe the woman you just met” with, “Wow, you’ve never seen such a hideous beast!”? Though I would expect the truth to lie somewhere in the middle, of the pictures they show, the drawings based on strangers’ descriptions are surprisingly accurate. I’m far too old to be a One Direction fan, but maybe those boys got something right. If only you saw what I can see–you don’t know you’re beautiful.


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