Dove Real Beauty Sketches

Dove has recently introduced a new marketing campaign and the video has gone viral. If you haven’t already seen it popping up in your Facebook newsfeed, you likely will soon.

The concept is a social experiment in which women are asked to describe their physical appearance while a sketch artist (who hasn’t seen them) draws them. Then a person who has recently met them is asked to describe them, and the sketch artist draws that description. The two drawings are compared and invariably the stranger’s description of the women’s appearance is more “beautiful”. The message? That we are more critical of ourselves than others are.

This video has resonated with a lot of people, and I have to admit that it touched me the first time I saw it. There are critics of the campaign as well, such as this blogger who argues that the message that the video is sending isn’t as wholesome as it appears. These women are judging themselves and being judged based solely on their physical appearance, and the definition of beauty that this video promotes is a narrow one (thin, white, blue eyes).

I completely agree with the criticisms of the advertisement. But in spite of that, I think that there is a broader message that we can take away from it.

We’re critical about more than just our physical appearance. We frame characteristics about ourselves in certain ways, ways that are not always flattering. I can’t even count the number of people I know who admittedly call themselves stupid, annoying, talentless, unlovable…and on and on. What would a social experiment look like where men and women were asked to describe their personalities, and then people who knew them do the same? I would wager that we would still be harsher critics of ourselves. It doesn’t matter what aspect of ourselves we’re labelling, the truth is that we’re hard on ourselves. This advertisement focused on physical beauty, but when we watch it we know that our self-condemnation doesn’t end there. And I think that is the message that’s resonating with people.

I wish that the Dove campaign had included non-physical traits as part of its experiment. Instead of turning people off by focusing on a confining standard of beauty, it could have really opened people up to looking inside themselves and questioning the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are. The campaign is imperfect, but it still begs the question: how do you describe yourself?