Dove: beautiful/average

Here’s the latest Dove film that supposedly attempts to make women feel good about being what society has made them believe is ‘average’. Or something:

This is actually a very complicated issue that is being dumbed down through oversimplification (here’s a Guardian article on the ad and one from Buzzfeed that was removed under controversial circumstances that make Unilever (and Buzzfeed) look a bit cunty). A giant conglomerate (Unilever who, as I have mentioned many times, makes Lynx/Axe, the product whose advertising has objectified women more than any other) attempts to advertise one of its brands by marking two doors either ‘Average’ or ‘Beautiful’. That way we can see how women feel about themselves and make some kind of statement that society has been bad or wrong for making women feel as if they are average instead of beautiful. Apparently, according to a survey commissioned in an entirely unbiased manner by Dove, 96% of women regard themselves as average

There’s a behind the scenes film, but it’s more concerned with showing how difficult it is for the (mostly male) team behind the ad to travel to lots of different countries in a short space of time. So I am left with some questions…

What do the doors lead to? A shop? A museum? A lap dancing club? Why are women going through them at all? This is important because if I saw two doors marked ‘Average’ and ‘Beautiful’ on the front of, say, a department store I wouldn’t even think I was supposed to be making a choice about how I supposedly feel about myself. I don’t believe all the ‘Averages’ really thought they were downtrodden, depressed women with low self esteem who demonstrated this feeling by their choice of door.

In addition, there are plenty of women in this film who are objectively beautiful (including the very first one and one who appears to be a model at 3:17). Where were the 25-stone ladies, or the old age pensioners? Would they have messed the film up a bit by being clearly ‘average’ (or below average)?

Why ‘Beautiful’ vs ‘Average’? By definition most people are average: average intelligence, average height, average beauty. That’s what average means: the typical value in a set of data. It’s a long time since I did statistics as part of my degree, but depending how you want to impose parameters, a full 50% of people might well fit into any definition of average, with 25% of outliers, in this case ‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful’, at either end. It seems to me that many of the women making the average choice did indeed fit into the definition of average in terms of their physical appearance. And here’s the important thing about that: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Unless we’re going for the Disney definition of beautiful in which we say that ‘we’re all beautiful inside’ etc. (which really has nothing to do with Dove, which exists purely to enhance your outward appearance) then there are people who are more or less beautiful as far as a generally agreed definition of certain traits of physicality (eg: long, shiny hair instead vs bald, or smooth, clear skin vs covered in varicose veins). Dove ain’t saying that bald women with varicose veins are ‘beautiful’, so what are they saying? That women should definitely evaluate themselves on the basis of physical appearance, but they should be more positive about it. Is that a good thing for the objectification of women in general? I would argue not.

So I have some doubts about the mechanics of the experiment, and I have other questions about whether or not it really empowers women or makes them relate to themselves in a more positive way.

What I have no questions about is this: many giant companies will fling out any old bollocks to cynically manipulate people into parting with their money. The less we fall for it, the better.