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Why I Love “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” – and Also Hate It

I Have a DreamSamson and Caleb and I had a discussion about civil rights on Tuesday. We watched Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and — to kick it up a notch — finished up with the Common/Will.i.am video from the inspiring movie, Freedom Writers.

[At this writing, the movie is free on Prime Instant Videos! Watch it!]

The grainy black and white recording of the speech is a bit long and unexciting to little boys. But all I really wanted the two of them to learn was this:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I’m not black or brown. I’m pasty white. With freckles. And while I’ve never dealt with racism, I’ve dealt with hairism. It’s fundamentally no different than ageism or weightism or abilityism or sexism or any other -ism that has nothing to do with behavior or goodness. And when we’re judged on something other than the content of our character — than what we do and how we contribute — it’s mind-numbingly difficult to make sense of — or to change.

Beauty Redefined is a movement aiming to change the incredibly overbearing emphasis on physical appearance that women face. They want women to understand that:

Their reflections do not define their worth and that their value and their power comes from who they are, what they do and what they contribute — not what they look like.

It was from a less than glowing Facebook post from Beauty Redefined that I heard about the “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” today. The experiment shows women that they are far more critical of themselves than others are — and we should seriously knock it off. As one participant said:

Our self-perceptions are generally kind of harsh and unbecoming when really that’s not how the world sees us.

Hoorah. But when I watched the much touted and cried over video, I was still less than overflowing with self-love.

As you watch the video, you will learn that these things are bad:

  • protruding chins
  • big jaws
  • fat, rounder faces
  • freckles
  • big foreheads
  • plain cheeks
  • looking tired
  • crows feet
  • 40+
  • fatter
  • moles
  • scars
  • dark circles

You will also learn that these are good:

  • thinness
  • prominent cheekbones
  • rosy cheeks
  • fuller lips
  • thin chins
  • blue eyes
  • expressive eyes
  • short, cute noses
  • thin faces
  • youth

And there’s the rub. Rather than promote acceptance of our bodies — so we can move on to more important things, like character — the video gets stuck on the same positives and negatives of out typical body-hating culture.

It’s still not cool (or beautiful) to be 50, but, hey, you still look 40! Big jaws really are hideous, but your jaw isn’t all that big! Those revolting freckles? No, they’re so faint I hardly notice them!

I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices in friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.

Nothing is more critical to our happiness than being grateful of our natural beauty? Nothing?

I kept looking at the sketches of the women on the left — the “ugly” women — and thinking, “What of them?” Do we move their ugly pictures to the right and draw even uglier ones for the left — so that in comparison they can feel beautiful? So then they can have that most critical thing?

The Dove campaign tagline is: “You are more beautiful than you think.” Statistically this is true. But I wish this is what we taught women:

Beauty is not the color of your skin, the size of your thighs, the depth of your wrinkles, or the size of your nose. Beauty — if it is truly critical to happiness — is who you are inside.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Margot April 18, 2013, 7:57 am

    A powerful, YES!

  • Jarrod April 18, 2013, 10:49 am

    This is the best commentary I’ve read about this. I didn’t know why it bothered me. You hit it!

  • annie2 April 18, 2013, 11:00 am

    You rock. Thank you thank you!

  • BonnieBee April 18, 2013, 10:41 pm

    I hadn’t really thought about it like that. That line about critical bothered me, but I didn’t really see all the way through that this is just making us feel good by showing that we really are closer to the ideal than we thought but it’s the ideal that is the problem. :/

  • Bree April 18, 2013, 11:48 pm

    I had the same thoughts about the commercial. on the one hand i was like “meh, maybe i’m too critical of myself.” on the other hand i was like “Does it really matter what people think of my physical appearance?” Thank you for this article. You speak the truth. 😀

  • Alison Moore Smith November 22, 2013, 4:01 pm

    I just saw this awesome video response. Parody is probably the best way to deal with excessive beauty angst.

    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Daily Snark: Parenting BlogsMy Profile

  • Cherish February 27, 2014, 11:25 pm

    I have been reading a lot from Beauty Redefined since you told me about it. It has TOTALLY changed my perspective. I guess I always just went along with the damaging things culture teaches us, but I finally have a way to see through it.

    Thanks for what you do and the research and resources you give. Very helpful and even life changing.

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