Skip to main content

A sketch of a woman's face, drawn from the description of a stranger who had just met her by a police sketch artist, from a video produced for Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.

Dove – the maker of women's deodorants, body washes, shampoos and soaps – wants you to stop being so hard on your looks.

You are far more beautiful in other people's eyes, according to a video released Sunday called Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

Dove's latest stab at humanizing the marketing of women's beauty products is a tear-jerker. In the video, women describe their appearance to a former police forensic artist who sketches them from behind a curtain, without seeing them. The artist creates a second series of portraits based on strangers' first impressions of the same women. In the big reveal, the women see how much better they look in other people's eyes.

"I should be more grateful to my natural beauty," one of the women says. "It impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for and the way we treat our children. It impacts everything."

Babble called the Dove video "incredibly powerful and poignant" in its portrayal of how women's self-perceptions contrast with what others see. Indeed, some of the women looked like hardened criminals next to the pretty faces that the strangers recalled. Could it be that the artist, who knew when a woman was talking about herself, was a tad harsher with her descriptions?

Regardless, the tacit message in Real Beauty Sketches is that women should face up to their poor self-image (and wash away that negativity with Dove soap). Somehow, despite the denigrating media images surrounding them, women are supposed to feel great about themselves.

Then there is the issue of hypocrisy. Dove is owned by Unilever, which promotes skin-lightening creams in countries such as India. Unilever also owns Axe, a brand notorious for ads that portray women as squealing fembots subservient to Axe deodorant-wearing men. Can a company whose job is to sell personal care products truly be a role model for women's self-acceptance?

Any exercise designed to make women think about how they look is bound to make them feel bad, according to self-described behavioural economics expert Elizabeth Plank, writing at Research has shown that the more women self-objectify, "the more unhappy they are," she writes. "Objectification interrupts the state of flow, which is fundamentally necessary in the pursuit of happiness."

A better message for Dove's Real Beauty campaign may be "forget about how you look."

Fat chance of that.

Interact with The Globe