Dove’s surreal beauty: Time-lapsed, ‘must see’ TV

doveI’m not one to ‘forward to a friend’ very often, but Dove’s powerful new film is a one-minute click-n-send that I hope you’ll share with every tween, teen, and woman you know who’s been hammered by media & marketing’s distorted messages of unattainable beauty and body image.

The light snaps on and cameras roll in time-lapsed frenzy as an ‘ordinary’ fresh-faced, attractive young woman is pulled, plucked, painted and primped into a phony but familiar representation of billboard beauty.

At first I tabbed it as just a cool, rapid-fire tech-take on a worthy but well-worn message…No big whoop.

After all, Jean Kilbourne, and educators across the country have been humming this tune for years. Jamie Lee Curtis took it up a notch when she went raw and natural in a More magazine makeover boldly depicting the ‘truth and lies’ of celebrity presto-chango imagery. And of course The Beauty Myth is practically standard reading among the collegiate crowd…

But this goes beyond the usual “advertisers are cads, lift the veil on the falseness” theme. It strikes a poignant chord of deeper dialogue on the shoulds and coulds that plague the masses…for it’s jarringly surreal.

In fact, there’s a Star Trek-humanoid meets Orwellian reality-control aspect that frankly gives me the queasies. It’s almost like ‘everyone drank the Kool-Aid’ and these pre-defined über-beauties have spilled onto a worldwide platform to define standards for an entire planet.

Sheesh. Scary movie. The spot leapfrogs past the fashionista-thinness-runway debate and digital contrivances to jump to the profound core…

What HAPPENS to people when they buy into these myths?

They float this notion very quietly at the end of the ad, as two young girls walk by the billboard and look up without breaking stride.

The screen dissolves to a “no wonder” message and a very subtle link to the Dove self-esteem campaign.

They merely insinuate the damage and that’s part of its power. It doesn’t clobber you over the head, it leaves you freeze framed with that big ol’ billboard looming over the teens walking by.

Once you click deeper into the site, OUCH! You get psychosocial factoids on the emotional toll it’s taking on women worldwide…

Of 3300 respondents in 10-cross-cultural samplings, 90% of these women (15-64) want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance and 67% of this same audience withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks (among them, things like giving an opinion, going to school, going to the doctor, etc.)

That’s sad.

Part of me wants to go, “Aw, c’mon ladies, buck up, where’s your self-worth?! What about your brains and brilliance? Boost your own bloody self-esteem, bury those demons and ignore that crud!”

But research seems to reflect there’s harm in the mere pervasiveness of ‘aspirational advertising’…it boots out logic, balance and reason by sheer magnitude and force. It’s everpresent, like urban wallpaper of the mind, conjuring images of ineptitudes and insecurities.

Standards of absurdity range from the controversial (African beauties judged by Anglo standards, thinness on the runways) to the surreal (virtual paper dolls, avatars and online icons with 46DDs and thimble-sized waistlines.

What are we doing to our world when ‘distortion’ is an understatement?

AdRants, the industry blog, dodges full responsibility by finger-pointing at fashion and Hollywood, then grazes the topic by posing rhetorical questions,

“Is this wrong? Are we devaluing the appreciation of human beings by turning them into beautiful but freakishly unreal versions of themselves? Are we simply painting optimistic imagery towards which people can reach? Are we causing the problem or are we reflecting society’s problems?” Should we do anything about it?”

Um. Gee. The fact that they have to even ASK should give you a clue as to how far afield my esteemed colleagues are on the moral compass of reason.

No surprise there, though. They’re usually applauding the most raunchy, ‘edgy,’ violent or extreme newbie on the account roster, with zero regard for how it plays out for humankind.

Causal links? Nah. Kids? Bah. What’s a little nip-n-tuck among friends? We’re talking ratings, baby. Popped sales. Glued eyeballs. Sticky traction…(fill in your dollar-driven motivator du jour.) Argh.

So now we have girls AND boys being chiseled and morphed into beings that are not only unattainable, they never existed in the first place. That’s a bit chilling.

We’re creating new maladies, disorders and appearance-based depressions that never existed in youth prior. And we’re watching kids slice-n-dice their bods with teen plastic surgery before they’re even old enough to grow into them. Harm? Accountability? Posh.

Dove’s research showed beauty beliefs start early in life, with half (54%) of all
women around the world saying they first became aware of the need to be physically
attractive between 6 and 17 years of age.

The wee voices of kids’ insecurities come to life in their poignant “True Colors” spot.

Since stats aren’t very sexy, I doubt if any AdRants followers will ever even READ Dove’s white paper. But I’m hoping once Shaping Youth’s film, “Body Blitz” is in the can, it will have this same kind of visual impact and ‘aha’ slap that gives our industry a bracer smack dab on the cheek with a sting.

Working with K-5 kids where toxic body image issues show up earlier each day, I sometimes feel like I’m whistling a twisted version of the holiday tune, Little Drummer Boy hoping the purveyors of imagery will hear the chorus someday….”Said the night wind to the little lamb…Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Do you know what I know?” sigh.

If only they COULD hear and see the impact. At least then they’d never have asked such a dopey question as “Is this wrong?”

P.S. Here are some ‘cliff notes’ if you don’t want to wade through the rest of Dove’s white paper research, but would like some tips and resources to boost self esteem in your own home. Also, here’s the static ad of the ‘face split’ which stokes the classic swan/duckling before/after curiosity.


The good news is Dove’s study reflects a huge positive influence of mothers on appearance driven data; but media and peers (gal pals particularly) have a negative impact on self-esteem overall.

1.) The road to change needs to start early in young girls’ lives (since anxiety around
appearance peaks in adolescence), and the appropriate influencers must be carefully

2.) The study found that more than two-thirds of girls (15-17) globally agree that
their mothers have positively influenced their feelings about themselves and their

3.) Except in China, where western beauty ideals are a newer phenomenon, this
sentiment of a narrow definition of beauty was shared by the majority of women
across all of the countries studied. This narrow, physical definition of beauty creates an appearance anxiety among a large number of women (15-64), particularly girls (15-17), who believe it is hard to personally feel beautiful when confronted with today’s beauty ideals — with more than half of all women globally agreeing.

4.) This harmful effect is related to age; the younger the girl/woman, the more likely
she is to personally find it hard to feel beautiful when confronted with these ideals.

5.) Regionally, this was also a commonly shared sentiment, with the greatest
agreement found among women of Brazil, Great Britain and Saudi Arabia. This
sentiment was more modestly felt by women in Asia and Germany, although even
in these cultures 43-49% of women agreed. The study also revealed that more young girls (15-17) in Great Britain than in any of the other countries surveyed believe it is hard to feel beautiful when confronted with these ideals.

6.) Of all the countries studied, Japanese women (15-64), followed by British women,
had the highest desire for physical change, whereas Italian women had the lowest
desire. This directly relates to data for these countries on appearance satisfaction
and self-esteem, detailed in section II, where lower self-esteem relates to higher
desire to change one’s physical self.

7.) Local country cultural and social norms also play an influential role in desired physical changes — particularly when considering one’s hair, skin color and eyes — as do media representations of westernized features and the constant depiction of Caucasian models with straight hair, large eyes and long legs.

8.) A desire to change one’s hair was more often mentioned in Brazil, Asia and Saudi
Arabia than the other countries surveyed. In addition, changing one’s skin color was a prominent desire in Asia, as well as changing the shape of one’s eyes in Japan. A focus on eyes was also prominent — with changing the color of one’s eyes mentioned in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, and changing the shape of one’s eyes in Japan. In Brazil, a woman’s hair (texture, length, color) is often indicative of her social
class and race, with long, straight hair often being the most desired.

9.) Teens are significantly more likely to report low self-esteem
compared to all other age groups — with almost two in ten reporting low self esteem.

10.) Regionally, Japanese women (15-64), followed by British women, had the lowest
appearance satisfaction and self-esteem, and Saudi women had the highest, compared to
the other countries surveyed.

These findings also mirror cultural norms for Japan, where Japanese women tend to feel shame, self-consciousness, and a longing to be accepted, and for Saudi Arabia, where Saudi women mirror Muslim religious doctrine on the acceptance of one’s given appearance.

In mapping regional appearance satisfaction and self-esteem, the study showed that Saudi and Mexican women had appearance satisfaction and self-esteem that was significantly higher than all of the other countries surveyed (with the exception of the US on self-esteem). In comparison, Japanese women had significantly lower appearance satisfaction and self-esteem than all of the other cultures.

Source: Dove Beyond Stereotypes White Paper



  1. ugyenwangdi says

    since i am too qurious to have photo of japenese girl beaty,since they have simillar to our BHUTAN custumes and culture.

Speak Your Mind