In case you missed it, Dove released a new video recently, showing women around the world who were presented with two doors, one labeled “Beautiful” and one labeled “Average.” What they found was disappointing, but probably not surprising: Most women, no matter where in the world they lived, chose the door labeled “Average.” The video included interviews with some of the women who were filmed walking through the doors, and encouraged all women to #choosebeautiful.
I’ve heard a lot of criticism about this campaign. Maybe women chose “Average” because there wasn’t an option for “Funny” or “Intelligent” or “Strong” or whatever other descriptor might be appropriate. And let’s not forget that Dove is a company selling a product. Not just any company, either; a company which makes its money by selling beauty products. A company owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe, and we all know Axe is not famous for its body-positive advertising.
I’m a feminist. So I should have a problem with Dove’s #choosebeautiful campaign for these reasons.
The thing is… I don’t.
I mean, I do, because of course I wish that women and girls were described as other things besides “beautiful.” Of course I know that this is advertising masquerading as body positivity. Of course I wish Axe would take its disgusting advertising down a dark hole and never come out.
But the fact of the matter is, that just isn’t practical. Beautiful is still the number one thing young girls and many of their grown-up counterparts want to be. According to Miss Representation (http://therepresentationproject.org/):
- 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their bodies.
- By age 17, that number increases to 78 percent.
- About two-thirds of women and girls have an eating disorder.
Those statistics are staggering, and as a high school teacher, I see this every day. As a woman, (especially one five months postpartum whose pre-pregnancy pants don’t even button yet) I live this every day. As a mother of a daughter, I’m sure I’ll be even more well acquainted with body image issues as she grows older and more aware of how she’s “supposed” to look.
Negative self-talk is harmful. Allow me to give a personal example: When I look at myself in the mirror every morning and all I can see are my brand-new love handles spilling over pants that are two sizes bigger than they were only a year ago, I don’t tend to think that these are the product of my amazing body creating an entire human being. I don’t even tend to think that it took nine months to put it on, so it’ll take at least that long to get it off and then forgive myself for the scoop of ice cream I ate the night before.
What I think before I remind myself to love my body is that I look like crap and I have nothing to wear and I don’t even want to leave the house. And when I feel like I don’t look the way I want to, I feel awful in general. I shouldn’t. I should focus on my beautiful baby, my intelligence, my creativity, the fact that I’m a good teacher and a good person.
But I don’t. And I’m pretty sure most women don’t most of the time, either.
Should we all strive to be more than “beautiful?” Yes. Of course we should. But what is wrong with wanting to look and feel our best? The important thing, no matter if we come close to meeting society’s standard of beauty or not, is that we love ourselves enough to think highly of ourselves and not succumb to negative self-talk. We are all beautiful; we should all choose beautiful.
And until it is socially accepted that beauty isn’t something to strive for, until we are not judged for the way we look, until my students don’t ask me if I’m sick when I don’t put makeup on in the morning, until my students stop starving themselves to meet an unattainable ideal of beauty, until I don’t have to worry about which images my daughter will internalize as she grows up, then this campaign is a powerful reminder that we should love ourselves. And that is a reminder that we all need sometimes.