hey dove, I cried, but that doesn’t mean you nailed it

April 22, 2013 | 39 Comments

Shannon, Emma and Sloane

I’m sort of tired of being told to lighten up. Even if I spill invisible pixie dust on my ratty old pants and proceed to lose my shit, please don’t tell me to lighten up.

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.

I responded:

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.

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Join the conversation

  • http://www.afinefarewell.com marian

    Thank you! I’d been uncomfortable with this ever since I saw it…I felt weird and ‘off’ but couldn’t quite articulate it. I had that kind of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ feeling. Like ‘nothing new is here! So why is everyone passing this around like it’s “So Real”. ‘ erghh. Thank you. Dove didn’t ‘nail it’, but you did!

    • Shannon

      Hey, thanks Marian. Like I said, I didn’t even know it bugged me until I was done crying. It’s hard to see problems in everything. Makes me feel nit-picky. But… these things matter!

  • Clare

    This is great – thanks for expressing this so well. This reminds me of when my Dad told me that the problem with feminism is that encourages women to complain too much about everything. I was so sad, and so unable to articulate why that is exactly the point of feminism… well, amongst other things of course. Also, seeing a link to this article from a FB friend has led me to your blog, which is now how I am going to spend the rest of my afternoon… Looking forward to “getting to know you” more, Shannon…

    • Shannon

      Oh hi, Clare! That is crummy how your dad responded to feminism. Crushing. That stuff is hard to take from strangers, let alone people we love. I look forward to getting to know you, too! Yay for new friends. :)

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  • http://www.sharigreen.com Shari

    Amen. Thanks for posting.

    • Shannon

      Thanks for reading!

  • Tracey

    Thank you Shannon. We I saw the Dove ad posted all over my Facebook feed I felt slightly sick but because women a truly love and admire seemed to be getting comfort from it, I buried those thoughts away for another day. I feel less like a grumpy outsider after reading this. And a little sorry that I kept silent when brave and thoughtful women like you were waving from the barricades.

    • Shannon

      I wouldn’t have been able to say anything if I had read that initial post. She helped me nail down what I was feeling. Thanks for your comment!

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  • ixchelmala

    Hi:)
    Got here from a FB post (that spoke about how Dove doesn’t really care about how we feel etc.) and as I was reading your post and thought back to the comercial I had to consider the context under which I saw it, as I don’t watch conventional TV anymore. It got me wondering about a lot of things..
    Llike was this ad meant and aimed at a specific audience of a certain type of TV programming?
    Or was it intended to go viral?
    Why is a man the artist?
    Was that decision subtle or deliberate for the subject and in a possible far more insidious way for the viewer?
    Why were there other women asked to “be friendly” with other women?
    Would the result have been different were that person a man?
    A child?
    It’s a can of worms, no?
    I get what the ad agency is trying to do.
    I get that Dove’s execs is trying to do.
    I even get what the parent company is trying to do.
    The thing is, I like their soap bar, so no selling me on that specicfic product is needed.

    However, if they are trying to sell me on how women see themselves (and feel better about it), they need to go beyond their literal drawing boards get out of the we-are-trying-to-be-your-best-friend-becuase-you-are-now-the-popular-trend, thereby distancing themselves from the other beauty product companies who take the traditional Ad track and instead take a deeper look and realize that they are playing with fire going down this dangerous road.

    • Shannon

      I was trying to think today about what would make a really great beauty product commercial. It would be a tough charge, for sure. But well worth it and so doable.

      Maybe we’ll have to write that commercial ourselves!

  • http://sunnyinpatriarchia.blogspot.com Saniya

    I had the exact reaction to the commercial as you did. I cried, I thought maybe I’m pretty too and it was all good. Then I saw the criticisms. And I was shocked to see how much I have internalized this notion of a woman’s worth being equal to her beauty. Here I am, trying to fight all the oppressive ideas society has against women and I failed to see it! It was really an enlightening moment. Great post!

    • Shannon

      I failed to see it, too. It’s interesting to start to pay attention to the whys of what I’m feeling. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.reedsterspeaks.com Cindy – The Reedster Speaks

    Shannon – the commercial pissed me off; I thought the article was right on and tweeted it out myself. My real issue on the “what is beauty” thing were that no women of color were in the ad. My daughters – both adopted – are Asian and African-American. Commercials like this tell them that even if they think they are beautiful, sorry, they don’t meet the criteria. I won’t lighten up because I will never stop advocating for women of all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors. ~ Cindy

    • Shannon

      Yes, that’s one of the points the author of the blog I linked to makes. I’m glad you won’t lighten up. I’m right there with you, fighting for your girls and mine. xo

  • Courtney Leigh

    I really enjoyed your thoughtful response. Sometimes I feel as if I’m being brainwashed. Sometimes I see things like the Dove commercial, or a popular film, or a heartwarming story on the Internet. And it isn’t until later that I realize something is wrong. It makes me feel naive and ignorant for getting emotional and not spotting how I’ve been manipulated. But I guess it’s a process and an awakening.

    Like you, I cried when I saw this. In fact, my boyfriend sent this to me because I’m always feeling not very confident about my appearances, and he’s always reassuring and sweet and amazing and patient. I hope no one gets mad at that because he certainly loves me for more than my appearances. When I watched the video, though, the moments that made me cry were the ones where we watched the women’s faces as they realized the difference between their version and the stranger’s version. They were truly upset. We could see that. And I’m sure in their situation, I would have been too. I would be heartbroken to realize that the perception I carried of myself was so negative. And I think that’s what makes it so hard for me to totally hate the video, and it makes it easy for me to understand why others would be angered at anyone questioning it. I had great empathy for those women because I could so easily put myself in their shoes.

    And I didn’t want to question that empathy. I didn’t want to dig beneath it, as you say, to realize that I had been manipulated to focus on the individual story rather than the message as a whole. It’s even harder for me because it was a sweet gesture from my boyfriend on a day when I really needed it. But despite all this, I want to say thank you. I NEED to be shown things like this. I don’t always notice them for myself. And I’m so happy there are people in the world willing to fight and talk and think and challenge. I will follow your blog now.

    <3 Courtney

    • Shannon

      You don’t have to hate the video, Courtney. And you don’t have to feel bad for liking it or for being moved by it. I would have gone on having no critical thoughts about it had I not happened upon that other post. I’m not great at being a critical thinking.

      I think we can like something AND see room for improvement.

      You’re doing good, Courtney. You sound like you’re hard on yourself, like me. Hugs to you. <3

  • whatever

    I felt the same.

    The problem is that this will never, never, never change. Making women feel fine as they are is not the object of advertising. In fact, quite the opposite. And there is some powerful biology behind the “beauty premium”.

    I’m not saying that we need to accept this, but shouting at the rain only makes us miserable.

    The real solution is probably to stop letting ourselves be manipulated by advertising and men’s preferences, even if that means blowing up your TV.

    Just because it’s natural for the meat to spoil doesn’t mean we have to eat it.

    • Shannon

      I disagree that it will never, never, never change. I have to or I lose all hope for the world my daughter will occupy. Our progress is painfully slow, yes–but it’s there.

  • Jocelyn

    1. You’re a total babe. I envy your chin especially.

    I have a long standing irritation with Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign. It’s a medium. It’s a medium that juxtapositions itself against the other media standards that say “Women have to be beautiful.” so people celebrate it for that.

    BUT
    but
    but

    I don’t appreciate how Dove assumes that to be a woman you have consistently bad self-esteem. Ragestroke.

    Love ya girl

    • Shannon

      Oh my chin. That almost makes me cry. I’ve always hated my chin. In elementary school we drew our profiles on black paper from the light of the overhead projector. When no one was looking I erased the lines of my chin and drew it in how I wanted it to look.

  • Paterson

    Hey, this post is really great. A friend sent it to me after I wrote this on a local forum, http://londonfuse.ca/blog/dove-real-beauty-get-out-my-facebook

    I experienced really similar feedback and felt the need to post about it. Really, the responses I got just made me feel that more upset about the ad. Thanks for posting!

    • Shannon

      I read your post but I don’t see where to comment. It’s great! A good breakdown of conversation derailing.

      Fun to find you!

      • Paterson

        hey thanks! you have to have an account to comment, unfortunately.

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  • Erin

    I didn’t read all the comments, so someone may have made this point. But my main takeaway message was that we are just too hard on ourselves. When I posted this video to Facebook, I described myself as such: curly/wavy/frizzy/thin hair, large forehead, partly invisible eyebrows (thanks brow pencil!), squinty vulva eyes, huge cheeks, upturned pig nose, full lips, straight teeth with gap between front teeth.

    Yet, if anyone said those things to me, I’d be devastated. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to others. We are mean to ourselves.

    (btw, that “hey you actually are pretty” message was an ancillary takeaway.)

    • Shannon

      I get that’s the message Dove is trying to convey, Erin, but I feel like it’s a manipulative message. They know we’re all walking around wondering if we’re pretty enough or pretty at all–my point is–let’s stop caring about it! Let’s stop making that a thing. Some people really are ugly by society’s standards–it shouldn’t matter because how we look shouldn’t matter.

      • Erin

        Agreed! :)

        • Shannon

          I know this isn’t going to happen overnight… but hopefully sooner than we think. :)

  • JVO

    What you’re not addressing is that Dove is a beauty products company. They’re a company, a corporation, whose underlying goal will always be to make money. That’s just the nature of what Dove is, and what all companies in the entire world are. And, they’re a company that sells beauty products which they want us to buy. Beauty products relate to the area of appearance, by nature, so Dove focuses on the appearance of women in their marketing campaigns. Never once do they say, “beauty is all there is – it doesn’t matter if you’re smart or funny or strong or a great listener, because you have no worth if you’re not beautiful.” They simply said, “Hey, you’re probably too hard on yourself.”

    And, the “strangers” in the ad who gave the artist their impressions of each other for the 2nd drawings, only knew each other for a few minutes. They weren’t deeply invested in each other’s lives, all they knew about them was what they looked like. So that’s what they told the artist.

    Personally, I think Dove did, and is doing, a great thing here. No, they’re not saying “if you’re not beautiful you might as well give up,” but simply, and elegantly, “give yourself a break!!”

  • http://www.momparadigm.com Lee-Anne Ekland

    You know, it’s funny but it took me some time to realize that my initial response to the ad was a positive one. I took it as a message to embrace and to overcome what I’ve grown up to believe. And that was, I am nothing if I’m not beautiful.

    It’s funny (and not funny ha ha) because I grew up thinking that for the most part I wasn’t a woman, or a girl that boys and then men found attractive. I never had boyfriends in school and was seen as the tall fat girl. As a result, I was always so hard on myself because of my perceived shortcomings and didn’t see that I was in fact exactly that. Now, how do I know this?

    A number of years ago, I was looking back on a photo album of a friend and remarked on a certain photo of a teenage girl, playing the guitar and looking very happy. She was also beautiful. I asked who it was and my friend looking at me oddly and said, ‘that’s you’.

    I was floored. I had no idea that it was me in the photo. I was sad then because it became glaringly obvious to me that my teen years were spent living with a self concept that was completely shot.

    I know now that had I really believed in myself that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Because even if someone is what others call beautiful, it’s only until you believe it that it’s true.

    The media and the beauty industry have twisted the real definition of beauty and use it against women, like me, who have struggled with the lack of love for ourselves. It sickens me.

    Beauty is poorly defined by Dove, in my opinion. Real beauty stems from confidence, from the love that you have around you and from the love that you feel inside. It stems from your belief that you are perfect just the way you are because you are here, you are human.

    So although my initial response to the Dove campaign was a positive one, I know it was because my beliefs have been shaped by the idea that I am only worth something if others perceive me to be beautiful.

    It’s no surprise then that I no longer support this campaign.

    It reminds me to continue the work I am doing which is to love myself more so that I can love others as much. That to me, is beautiful.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

    Lee-Anne

    • Shannon

      Thanks for sharing some of your story, Lee-Anne. I think we all have a similar one. I wrote years ago about looking back on pictures and having the same reaction, “Holy fuck–I was adorable and I HAD NO IDEA.” All that energy I wasted hating myself. Super sad.

  • http://www.thekoalabearwriter.com Bonnie Way

    I haven’t seen the Dove commercial (any of them, actually), but I’ve heard other people talk about them and I’m not sure I’d like them either. I agree that our society is obsessed with beauty and that it gets thrown at us from every angle. That’s one reason that I don’t want Barbies in my house, because they are another model of “perfect” that nobody can attain. I think you’re right that we have to fight for a true image of beauty and that we have to be the women we want to be so that our daughters can see us comfortable with ourselves and be comfortable with themselves. I have three adorable, funny, cheerful girls and I want them to stay that way and not worry about whether they are pretty enough. Thanks for sharing!

    • Shannon

      Hey Bonnie! Thanks for reading. It’s funny how having kids changes your lens. I see so much as I imagine Emma might some day. Wild and scary.

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