Back in 2004 Dove decided that they would start something new. Rather than consistently using beautiful models who have won the genetic lottery, to borrow from Cameron Russell's TED Talk, they would start looking for what they coined as "real" beauty. As part of this experiment they would work with women young and old to help them see the beauty they/we all carry as part of who we are. Another part of the experiment would be to actually do research and discover just how many women they were talking about. Was this all consuming need to look in a mirror only to see the defects we find something only 10%, 20%, 50% or so women did or was the issue much larger, or much smaller, than previously thought?
From what I can see in the literature from that study and from the social advertising they are putting out there the urge to put ourselves down is ingrained so deeply it is beyond epidemic. It's practically genetic. Based on what Dove has put out there, 96% of women look in the mirror and find so many faults that they do not consider themselves beautiful no matter what you do to try to dissuade them. That is almost every single woman on the planet.
Now you can say that this is based on models being held up as perfection and a very small population of the world is in the modeling profession, and that might be the answer if Dove only looked at the US and other Western nations. They didn't. That number is world wide where there are so many culturally different versions of beauty that a few models at Fashion Week aren't going to affect these deep seeded feeling quite so much. Do those models help? Absolutely not. But I don't believe our issues with our looks started with the catwalks any more than I am convinced that the only beautiful women during Lord Byron's day and age were those dying of consumption, also known as tuberculosis. That's almost as good as the heroin beauty of the 1980s. What does it say about us if we only find those who appear to be closer to death beauty but those of us stuck in life not so much - well at least to ourselves?
Dove's most recent social experiment was to bring in a forensic sketch artist with FBI training to sketch a group of women. Each woman was brought to a loft they had never been to so they were a bit off kilter already - probably on purpose. They were then introduced to a stranger and asked to speak with that person for at least an hour. After that they were brought back to the room with the sketch artist. He could not see them, nor they him. With a series of questions he would sketch the woman as she described herself and then after she left the stranger was brought in and the questions would begin again. The end result in each case was two sketches showing two completely different women. The woman on the left, the one from the descriptions of the woman, were decidedly far less attractive than the one on the right. Shockingly so in some cases. Take a look at the video here: Dove Real Beauty Sketches or read the Huffington Post article which has copies of the sketches as well. You can read the article here: Dove's 'Real Beauty Sketches'.
There is another article you should read as well. A blogger named Jazz on Tumblr wrote a post entitled "Why Dove's 'Real Beauty Sketches" Video Makes Me Uncomfortable...and Kinda Makes Me Angry." There are probably other detractors of the project that are just as educated, well spoken and true to their own voice you could read as well, but I find Jazz's op/ed piece to be very telling. What I mean by that is that I think her anger shows that the project may just be working.
Remember - at this point the project is 8 years old, so not new, but not that old either. They are at the point where they are just now getting the data and understanding what it means. They are looking at their social experiments - read that ways to get women in one room and run a camera as they use Dove products or talk about what beauty means - and trying to figure out where to go from here. This video experiment is just one active push to show women they are far more beautiful in the eyes of others than in their own. It is one of the first projects, save the mentoring project, that is specific to the Real Beauty Campaign without it being an ad and more of a PSA. That said, let me take a look at what Jazz says and then show it another way.
Boiled down to it's core, Jazz is a bit upset that Dove is choosing to show mostly white, well off women who are typically beautiful yet are sitting with this sketch artist saying things like "I have a pointy nose" or "My chin is too long" or even better "I have a huge forehead." No, it does not focus on a myriad of cultures. There is at least one African American and one Asian, but mostly it is white women. Oh - and all of them are beautiful, and if I remember correctly only one of them seems to have a weight issue.
I see Jazz's point. I really do. They could have been far more inclusive if the point of the experiment was inclusivity. From what I can tell, it wasn't. If I'm right the point of the experiment was far more straight forward than just showing a melting pot of women they are beautiful. Instead it was to show us that if these women could possibly have had careers in modeling either in the past or in the future feel that they have so many things wrong with their faces and can be proved wrong, then maybe we can also be proved wrong.
The videos also show how deeply ingrained the need to be beautiful is to women. You could hear it in their voices and see it in the sketches drawn from their own descriptions. "I look sad. I look depressed. Oh my, am I really that distraught?" And then when they looked at the sketch drawn with the words of a stranger guiding his hand "Wow, I look so much more open here." and "Am I really that happy? I guess maybe I am." (These are not direct quotes, but will hopefully give you an idea of what was said.)
Yes, the women brought in for the experiment were stereotypically beautiful. Dove and their ad agency needed to find a very specific woman if this was the message they hoped to give. They had to find one who was stereotypically beautiful, could potentially be a model and isn't because she has her own personal body issues that hold her back at work, in relationships, in goals, etc. etc. etc. These body issues may even cause some depression and lack of self confidence.
The point of this video isn't just to keep flogging us with more and more beautiful blonde, white women. The point of the experiment/Social mission is to show that there are women out there who fall into the guidelines that most companies use when hiring who think they are ugly. If these women are being hard on themselves for no seeming reason, then maybe so am I/so are we.
Look, I wasn't in the casting room or the sketching studio when this social experiment was conducted so am guessing at motivations here. I am just pleased with the result because it spoke to me in a rather big way.
Here I am, I am 5'8" and weigh under 150lbs most days. My hair is my best and worst feature - long, which I love, but I have wavy, Jewish hair which means one drop of humidity and my hair is toast. I have a weird chin, skinny arms, a mole by my eye, and I feel ugly most of the time. Ugly and fat. That's my reality. And every single one of my friends who has ever seen me has told me something other than what I just described. I just haven't believed them, and I know many of my girl friends who fall into this category with me.
So here's what I would love to do. I want to recreate the experiment with Dove's approval. (Heck - their backing would be nice as well.) I would love to have some of my girlfriends meet up with me somewhere, each one bringing someone no one else knows to act as partners in this experiment and have a sketch artist come in and sketch us all two ways. We may learn something from going through the experiment - something more than all the words from our significant others are meant to do but can't quite seem to.
Who knows, maybe we'd all finally see who we are in everyone else's eyes, helping Dove move that 4% of women who believe they are beautiful up a few notches.
What do you think, Dove? Care to help me recreate your experiment with another group of women?