Weekly Column : The Ugly Myth
Last week, along with 41.4 million other viewers, I gave Dove four minutes of my time. I watched Patches, the beauty company’s latest video, confused by what I saw in front of me, I waited and waited for a sign that it was all a wacky joke.
The concept is straightforward enough. Distinguished clinical psychologist, Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke invites four women to participate in a clinical trial that could change their lives. Each woman is pretty uncomfortable in her own skin, sharing everyday insecurities like, ‘if I was more confident I would have the ability to, like, approach a guy, maybe,’ and ‘I definitely pick out a lot of bad things about myself, like, right here, on my nose.’ Dr. Ann thinks she has something that can help: a two-week sample of the futuristically named RB-X: ‘a beauty patch designed to enhance the way women perceive their own beauty.’
For a while, I was convinced the advert was a deliberate parody of the science-fiction beauty brands use to sell products. As can be expected from a patch that is clearly a placebo, the women initially report no change in how they feel about their appearance. However, over the course of two weeks they start to notice people complimenting them. One feels confident enough to go dress shopping. Another is delighted that she can actually enjoy socialising and leaving her house. RB-X seems to have worked so well that the participants are genuinely surprised when they find out the magical formula was, of course, made from nothing.
And it’s here that the ad loses credibility. TIME Magazine has slated the video, stating: ‘Dove’s new ad makes women look gullible and kind of dumb in the name of “real beauty.”’ New York Magazine condemned it as ‘garbage.’ A spoof video appeared capturing many women’s reaction to being patronised in such a way.
And, though it wasn’t a dramatic dip, YouGov reported a ‘distinct downtrend’ in Dove’s reputation after Patches was released.
We’re used to having our emotions manipulated for profit, so I suppose the biggest objection to the video is its crude messaging. Unlike Dove’s Sketches campaign, which might have been problematic but which contained a genuine element of surprise, Patches seems to imply that women feel so desperately insecure they’ll believe in a love-yourself potion, a packet of self-esteem.
Even though Dove isn’t actually trying to sell us a beauty patch, it’s trying to sell us an idea, the belief that Dove is presenting us an image of ‘real women.’ However, as our self-image is shaped by an endless number of possible experiences and anxieties accumulated over time, to most women, the idea that a one-size-fits-all patch could wipe them away is simply ludicrous.
It is great that in ten years of campaigning for ‘Real Beauty’, Dove has refused to conform to a single physical standard. And it is brave for a brand to admit their products will do nothing to fundamentally ‘improve’ your appearance.
Yet after the two-week trial, the participants do not find happiness because they’ve discovered traits inside of themselves that might be beautiful no matter what their faces look like. Their burst of confidence doesn’t come from the contribution they make to society, or from the joy they might have brought to someone’s day. They begin the journey to ‘happily-ever-after’ because they discover that they do, indeed, feel pretty after all. Dove still hasn’t managed to shake an ugly myth that encourages women to root a disproportionate amount of worth in the way she feels about how she looks.
Of course it’s important to feel comfortable in our bodies, but I think there’s far more to us than that. Our impact on the world is more than physical, so we can feel beautiful in ways that go deeper than our appearance. If we only find beauty in how we look, we’ll miss out on most of what we have to offer.
Words by Yosola Olorunshola