Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, Commodity Feminism, and Girl Power

Media representations of women are something that I am particularly passionate about. In class we talked a bit about the Dove ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ and I wanted to expand upon that. I think that this campaign is an excellent example of commodity feminism, but I have some mixed feelings about its true effects. Commodity feminism is the attempt to make feminism attainable through purchases; basically that liberation can be bought and sold. Kristen Pike discusses commodity feminism by explaining that, “when feminism is appropriated by advertisers it is relocated within the field of commodity choices and “cooked to distill out a residue — an object: a look, a style” […] In other words, advertisers “re-encode” feminism “as a sequence of visual clichés and reified signifiers” so that it can be “worn as a stylish sign”” (p. 58). If advertisers can re-code feminism as something that is obtainable via physical products, they can further re-code their products to fulfill those objectives. Of course, it is scary for brands, magazines, or advertisers to affix themselves too closely with feminist ideologies; they would not want to alienate the anti-feminists in their purchasing demographic or, worse, educate consumers to a point where they might be critical of their own products. Products in our society have power, so much so that they allow consumers to align themselves with political ideologies simply through their belongings.

Dove is doing precisely this. It is pretty much impossible to know if the creators of Dove’s advertising campaigns really believe that body image among girls is important, but it is unquestionable that they know that it is currently popular. It is not a coincidence that female celebrities are being asked if they are feminists at the same time that Dove is insisting that women are beautiful just the way they are. Dove explains on their website that their campaign “started a global conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty after the study proved the hypothesis that the definition of beauty had become limiting and unattainable.” It is not only quite presumptuous for Dove to state that they singlehandedly started this conversation, but, as we discussed in class, the people who created this campaign are the same people who create Axe’s advertisements, which in short de-humanize women and show them as horny, uncontrollable sexual beings deemed intractable by scent. It is hard to take Dove’s campaigns and commercials seriously when that simple fact is revealed.

Dove recently came out with a new video as part of their Real Beauty campaign entitled “Choose Beautiful” (here). The main concept of this video is that Dove set up displays around the world with two doors; one titled “Average” and one titled “Beautiful” and asked women to walk through whichever door they thought they existed in. The women were then asked to describe their experience, but what was interesting is that many of the women in the video cited society and advertising as a reason for their low self-esteem. One woman asked herself, “Am I choosing because of what’s constantly bombarded at me? What I’m being told that I should accept? Or am I choosing because it is what I really believe?” While these women make valid points, the people who conducted this ‘study’ are literally a giant corporation that profit from their low self-esteem. Furthermore, the entire concept of this video is problematic in that Dove’s persistence that everyone is beautiful shows how importance physical beauty is in our society and in Dove’s eyes (whosever eyes those may be).

Dove’s campaign also takes advantage of the Girl Power culture that Banet-Weiser talks about in her article, “Girls Rule!: Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon”. She explains how, “the empowerment of girls is now something that is more or less taken for granted by both children and parents, and has certainly been incorporated into commodity culture” (p. 120). Girls are not shocked by images of girl power; it is all around them from a very young age. What that actually means, though, is questionable. Really, it is just another excuse for simple products to be re-coded to represent the empowerment that we’re meant to seek.

There is also an interesting racial element that exists in Dove’s advertisements. While Dove definitely has some of the more racially diverse advertisements out there, it is hard to know what their intentions are with that as well. Furthermore, Dove seems to be enlisting the problematic concept that Angharad Valdivia calls ‘ambiguous ethnicity’. Dove wants to reach out to as big of an audience as possible, and a good way to do that is to provide representation of other races. Valdivia theorizes that these ambiguously ethnic models or individuals tend to be Latinas, as they are a so-called in-between of black and white. She writes, “Latina girls are the bridge over whose backs and booties ethnicity is currently negotiated in this U.S. mainstream” (p. 95). By including an ‘ambiguously ethnic’ model or two in their ads, they can give the impression that they are representing a wider range of ethnicities, when in reality they just chose one model who could ‘pass’ as many ethnicities (you can see examples of this in the image below).

All things considered, it is still hard for me to completely write off Dove. I struggle with dismissing anything that might have some sort of impact on the self-esteem of young girls. I have had discussions with peers and feminist scholars who are quick to hate on Dove for what they are doing. While I, as an informed consumer, know the reality behind these campaigns, a young girl seeing a Dove commercial does not. And if that commercial begins this girl’s journey to self-love and helps her dismiss other media messages about beauty, how can I 100% hate it?

Works Cited:

Angharad N. Valdivia (2011). The Tween Bridge over My Latina Girl Back: The U.S. Mainstream Negotiates Ethnicity. In Mary Celeste Kearney (ed.), Mediated Girlhoods: New explorations of girls’ media culture, pp. 93–109. New York: Peter Lang.

Banet-Weiser, S. (2004). Girls Rule!: Gender, Feminism, and Nickelodeon. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(2), 119–139.

Digital image. Chippersengl. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2015. <https://chippersengl.wordpress.com/what-went-wrong-with-doves-attempt-at-beauty-with-a-conscience/>.

The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty. (2015, January 1). Retrieved February 17, 2015, from http://www.dove.us/Social-Mission/campaign-for-real-beauty.aspx

“Dove Choose Beautiful | Women All over the World Make a Choice.”YouTube. YouTube, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw>.

Pike, K. (2011). ‘The New Activists’: Girls and Discourses of Citizenship, Liberation, and Femininity in Seventeen, 1968–1977. In Mediated Girlhoods: New Explorations of Girls’ Media Culture (pp. 55–73). New York.

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