Dove has a new video out that asks women to choose between being "average" or "beautiful" presumably under the guise of initiating a conversation about "real beauty." Many are lauding Dove's efforts and saying how amazing the video is:
On my FB page I said that while I understand the psychology behind what Dove is obviously trying to accomplish--convincing women that we are ALL beautiful-- the bottom line is that it's a false and limited choice. I'm guessing we're supposed to feel terrible watching so many women look confused as they saunter through the door marked "average." Maybe we are supposed to think, "What a travesty that these women think of themselves as average when they clearly are ALL beautiful!" Meanwhile, I'm not exactly sure what average means in this context. Average looking? Average intelligence? If we think of the word beautiful as the superlative then average would have to be its opposite which is problematic as well. Is there truly something horrible in being average? Furthermore, can we even fathom asking men to make this distinction or choice about themselves? Indeed, why is being/feeling beautiful a constant reprise in the lives of women and why must we continue to be faced with it? Why can't we just BE?
It seems to me, in this particular experiment, we not only witness some of the painful moments of women deciding which door to choose, but then we must watch as they beat themselves up over it in the process. Some women in the video are clearly conflicted about choosing beautiful, another is forced to choose beautiful by her mother. One woman almost shamefully says, "It's [beautiful] too far away out of reach. I chose average." How on earth is asking women to place themselves in an either/or category helping them rise to a level of enlightenment? Or boosting their self-esteem? Here are some poignant comments I received on FB after posting the video:
In my mind, this implies that you have to think you're better than others to believe you're beautiful. I am fairly average looking, but that doesn't preclude me from being beautiful.
I would go further and suggest we stop using "beautiful" as a synonym for "worthy." I don't think my daughter and I are "beautiful," although I think we are both intelligent, caring, and attractive. On the other hand I never even think about whether or not my husband, nephew or male cousins are "beautiful"; that question never even gets asked. "Beauty" is a measure of physical appearance: that's all. We never hear someone console a short boy by saying: "That's okay, you have inner tallness!"
I resent that my daughter will be told she needs to "choose beautiful" while my son will not. She has more important things to think about.
I feel like I make it through each day without worrying if I'm "beautiful" - I have other important things to think about. If I came to that set of doors - I'd probably walk in the other direction and go find another business to patronize.
At least some recognize that asking women to "choose beautiful" is riddled with all kinds of contradictions and does not really work as a feel-good strategy. This is not the only video Dove has done which delves into this question of "real" beauty. Dove's Real Beauty and Movement for Self-esteem campaigns have been around since 2004 and we've seen several videos in which women are being forced to seriously think about their insecurities. I would ask Dove what is the end goal? Is it to have women who choose "average" go home and think about why they couldn't bring themselves to walk through the "beautiful" door and then work on themselves (diet? exercise? therapy?) like mad until they actually see themselves as beautiful? Or did they think women would experience a sudden fairy tale transformation like Cinderella? ("I really AM beautiful!")
Of course, lo and behold, by the end of the video many women have changed their minds (not sure of the time lapse). After some deep thought and sympathetic conversation with others, they will now consider themselves beautiful and give themselves permission to walk right through that beautiful door! In my opinion, if Dove really wanted to dig deep, perhaps they might have chosen a more thoughtful pairing of words like "confident" and "insecure," or "fulfilled" and "unfulfilled." Elle Magazine says the ad is "incredibly powerful" asking: "Who knew the simple task of choosing an entrance could be so empowering?" I don't find this one bit empowering. I actually think it is depressing. I find the very idea of reducing women to these two attributes incredibly enervating, redundant and of little help in the broader discourse about female empowerment as if we have only to consider these two options.
Attempts like this to redefine the word cannot seriously penetrate how women feel about themselves on the inside and certainly cannot be accomplished by companies that make money off of women's insecurities. It's an oxymoron similar to cigarette companies promoting "no smoking" campaigns that display the horrors of smoking while they simultaneously peddle the addiction. Beauty is like that. It's an addiction that many companies must promote in order to survive. "Don't think you're beautiful? We can help with that." I don't think you can. We can only begin to truly allow women to feel beautiful when we stop talking about it and stop acting as if women must feel beautiful to be fully realized.
All this video does is reinforce the notion that beauty for women is still the number one bane of our existence. As a society we have given the word beautiful an exhorbitant amount of power and influence over the lives of women. Dove's insistence that being/feeling beautiful is the ultimate pinnacle of existence for women--and not being happy, fulfilled, or contented--only serves to remind many of us that we still have a lot of work to do.