For a while now, I've been noticing the Dove "campaign for real beauty" commercials on TV*, and for a while, I've been struggling with how to react to them. On the one hand, I want to applaud Dove for stepping out of the waif-like-model-as-ideal mainstream marketing approach. On the other hand, though, it seems like there might be something wrong with tying capitalism and the drive to sell your product so closely with women's self-esteem and body image.
Capitalism and Ethics don't usually go hand-in-hand. More like hand-in-big-pointy-spike. (One guess as to which one's the spike.)
On the surface, the campaign looks pretty fabulous. The website has a pretty opening ad-like thing that states, "For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes. You've told us it's time to change that."
And yes, I agree with that statement pretty wholeheartedly.
It even gets better from there; Dove has started the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, which is supposed to act "as an agent of change to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty and to make them feel more confident about themselves." It acknowledges the devastating effects of low self-esteem, and even acknowledges that beauty and fashion media, through "beauty pressures," have a huge part in shaping girls' self-esteem.
The campaign also includes a Real Women Have Curves marketing campaign, as well as a celebrate-your-real-hair marketing ploy, and a space on the website where they're "creating an album based on real beauty" by having ordinary people submit photographs of themselves with little statements of what they think about beauty.
So yeah, it seems pretty fabulous, and very feminist and conscientious, especially as far as marketing campaigns go. When I first saw it, I was initially excited, and had this wave of hope rush through me -- maybe our classist, racist, sizeist, sexist, objectifying, capitalistic commercial system really could be changed. Yes, this was only one commercial, but it's all got to start somewhere, right?
But still, something doesn't feel right here.
So my mind goes back and forth, and back and forth...
Despite its surface good intentions, Dove is still capitalizing on women's insecurities about themselves and their bodies. Maybe it's ok, though, in this case, because it's capitalizing on the desire to change these insecurities.
Still, Dove's message is basically: "Are you like almost every other American woman/woman in a Westernized culture who is unsatisfied with your body? Do you want to love your body like these happy women on the screen? Buy Dove soap, and you'll love your body." Not only is it hardly that simple, but it's implying that the way to love your body and yourself is through participating in the capitalist system.
Is it one of those necessary evils, though? Take, for example, the LiveStrong bracelet craze. Millions of knockoffs were made, and some people refused to wear them because Lance Armstrong's original good intention was so corrupted by our opportunistic capitalist culture. But most of these knockoffs also went to charity; the Susan G. Komen Foundation's bracelet's proceeds went to the Komen Foundation, which funds all kinds of good breast cancer charity. Is it wrong to promote something through capitalism in order to get a much-needed message across?
And yeah, it's kind of a disgusting use of capitalism, and seeing capitalism and charity combine isn't exactly my idea of a perfect match, but is that the only way we can actually raise awareness about these important issues?
And is it really so bad, if it's getting women to 'love the skin they're in'? What's more - will it really work, if it's so combined with this message that the way to loving yourself is through capitalism? After all, "love the skin you're in" is just another used-up marketing slogan for some kind of body product that never raised awareness for "real beauty" or helped real women love themselves or their bodies any more.
Is it ok to use one corrupt system to help dismantle another? More, is it even possible, or are capitalism and the patriarchy's dictation of the physical ideal too intrinsically linked?
(Also see Lauren at feministe's take on the Dove Dilemma. She seems as undecided as I am with this whole situation, though.)
*Note: this link requires your computer to have macromedia flash player 7. If you don't have it, it provides a link to download it.)