By Chelsea Roff
Have I mentioned how much I love Dove? No, not the sweet little song-bird kind of Dove. The Dove responsible for making many of the personal care products in your bathroom... and more importantly, the Dove responsible for blowing the top off popular misconceptions about beauty with its "Campaign for Real Beauty."
In 2004, the company set out to enlist "real women" models (i.e. not just women with a BMI that qualifies them for an eating disorder) to simultaneously market Dove's products and re-frame mainstream messages about beauty. Their goal was "to make more women feel beautiful every day by widening stereotypical views of beauty." I'll admit, I did have some reservations about that campaign initially (hey, skinny women are "real women" too!), but I think the overall impact of the campaign was commendable. Dove, in my mind, proved what many in advertising and the media have long claimed impossible: Curvy, racially diverse, older, and (gasp!) healthy women can sell product. And the public loves 'em.
Dove also created the "Self-Esteem Project" for young girls, an initiative that provided workshops and training materials to educate mothers and daughters around the country that eating disorders are not a viable path to beauty. I've been open about the fact that I've struggled with an eating disorder myself -- and my mother before me, and her mother before her -- so this initiative in particular struck a deep chord. While I don't think women simply starve themselves to look beautiful, there's no doubt that advertising and media have a powerful impact on the way we relate to our bodies.
Take for example, the very well-known study by Havard researcher Anne Becker, which found that the introduction of television in Fiji led to a sharp rise in body dysmorphia and disordered eating (e.g. self-induced vomiting). Changing popular images of beauty certainly won't cure the epidemic of eating disorders ravaging the country, but it will help.
Many have criticized Dove's campaigns as just another marketing ploy, as if there's something wrong with coupling positive, ethically-informed messages with advertising initiatives. There's no doubt, Dove's counter-cultural campaigns have helped the company sell a ton of products. But, hey, what's wrong with that? I'm all about supporting individuals and organizations in doing well by doing good.
Dove's newest campaign is the Ad Makeover, an Australia-based initiative that seeks to combat all those negative ads you see on TV suggesting you rid yourself of your "jelly rolls," "love handles," and "muffin tops." Seriously, what's with all the morning pastry analogies? My body is not a hunk of sugar-laden gluten, and it's absolutely ridiculous that we, as women, not only put up with that type of messaging... but buy into it by describing ourselves that way as well!
Ladies, say it with me now: MY BODY IS NOT A PASTRY PUFF.
Back to Ad Makeover. Dove recently created a website where Australian women can come to create their own alternative, feel-good ads and share them with other women in their social networks. Instead of targeting insecurities, the website showcases ads with messages like "The perfect bum is the one you're sitting on," or "Think of your cups as half full."
The movement to shift our cultural discourse about bodies is one I stand firmly behind. My only question: What's it going to take to get this campaign to the US?
Watch the video of the commercial at Intent Blog.
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Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor of the blog at Intent.com. She is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause - whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.