Ask me what’s going on with me. Dig deeper. Listen. Offer me a hug. Suggest an anger management course. Any of the above would be more thoughtful than telling me to lighten up.
There’s a Dove commercial being passed around called Real Beauty Sketches. I was moved to tears watching it.
Days after I watched the commercial, a friend shared a blog post written in response. The post is about the author’s discomfort with the commercial. I recommend reading all of her post, but if you don’t want to, here’s an excerpt:
Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty. Brave, strong, smart? Not enough. You have to be beautiful. And “beautiful” means something very specific, and very physical. Essentially every movie and tv show and commercial shows us that, right? It doesn’t matter what other merits a woman posses, if she is not conventionally attractive, she is essentially worthless (go watch Miss Representation for more thoughts on this). And my primary problem with this Dove ad is that it’s not really challenging the message like it makes us feel like it is. It doesn’t really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and it doesn’t really tell us that fitting inside that definition isn’t the most important thing. It doesn’t really push back against the constant objectification of women. All it’s really saying is that you’re actually not quite as far off from the narrow definition as you might think that you are (if you look like the featured women, I guess). And actually, it almost seems to remind us how vital it is to know that we fit society’s standard of attractiveness.
I shared the post on my page Facebook page because I thought it was brilliant. Someone responded by telling me to lighten up. Just lighten up!
OH, OKAY THEN. Is that all it’s going to take? If I lighten up will it challenge the messages I grew up with so that my little girl won’t have to? The messages that say as long as I’m beautiful, I have worth?
I understand how it can be frustrating to have someone pick apart something you like. And maybe if that something doesn’t have bearing on how a person moves through the world, you have grounds for an eye roll.
How about instead of telling me to lighten up you join me in the fight for change?
I cried when I saw the Dove commercial because I thought, “Maybe I AM pretty! Maybe I really have missed it all these years.” And you know why thinking that made me cry? Because every message I get from the world tells me that being pretty is The Most Important Thing I will ever do.
Sometimes I compare myself to other people (I’m sorry I’m just telling you this now). And often well-meaning people will say, “Oh, but you’re so much better at (whatever) than (whomever).” Or, “Sure, (whoever) might be good at (whatever), but they suck at (whatsathingy)!”
These responses might feel good (they actually don’t), but they aren’t helpful because they don’t adress the underlying issue: my compulsion to compare.
So when I say to Dove, “I have a big forehead, huge pores, thin lips and sparse eyebrows,” and they come back with, “But you’re prettier than you realize, Shannon! Lookit what artist dude weirdly nailed based on what stranger lady said about you! Preeeeettyyyyyy. See!” That response feels good (it really, really does), but it doesn’t address the underlying issue: my belief that if don’t measure up to society’s beauty standards, I’m shit.
That Dove commercial wasn’t all bad, but it missed the point.
I engaged on a friend’s Facebook page when she shared this same blog post as above. A woman in the thread wrote:
The good? It’s good. The bad? Let it go. There’s a saying in a really successful group that goes “Take what you like & leave the rest.” I took the good from the commercial and left the rest behind. The good is a gift. The rest? Just let it go.
I just don’t think the AA slogan works in this context.
That’s a good sentiment, but when we’re working to change how the world sees and treats women, taking the good isn’t enough. We wouldn’t have a lot of rights we do today if the women who fought for them had that same philosophy.
So… no! I’m not going to lighten up. As long as I see shit that’s perpetuating the message that pretty is all I got—even if that message is wrapped in rainbows and talking pigs (good conversation AND bacon: HELLO!)—I’m going to never lighten up.
I have a little girl in my life who makes never lightening up worth it. I would like that little girl to grow up watching commercials by multi-million dollar compainies with thoughtful, norm-challenging, female-positive messages like this:
What you look like should not affect the choices that you make. It should certainly not affect the friends you make—the friends that wouldn’t want to be in relationship with you if you did not meet a certain physical standard are not the friends that you want to have. Go out for jobs that you want, that you’re passionate about. Don’t let how good looking you feel like you are affect the way way that you treat your children. And certainly do not make how well you feel you align with the strict and narrow “standard” that the beauty industry and media push be critical to your happiness, because you will always be miserable. You will always feel like you fall short, because those standards are designed to keep you constantly pressured into buying things like make up and diet food and moisturizer to reach an unattainable goal. Don’t let your happiness be dependent on something so fickle and cruel and trivial. You should feel beautiful, and Dove was right about one thing: you are more beautiful than you know. But please, please hear me: you are so, so much more than beautiful.
I don’t think we’re going to see that day if we all decide to take what we like and leave the rest.
We need to take what we like and fight for the rest.
For more of the inside of my head, find me on Facebook.