Reimagine Beauty – Dove Forensic Sketch Artist Ad

My super talented cousin did my makeup for our wedding in 2011

My super talented cousin did my makeup for our wedding in 2011 – I loved feeling beautiful that day.

When I started this blog I named it “Reimagine Imago,”  because I think that part of healing our world, our relationships with God, other and self requires imagining those things differently.  The images that we carry of ourselves, God and the people around us aren’t quite right.

So when a few people started posting the newest Dove Campaign for Real Beauty video on Facebook, my first response was, “this is a great example of what I’m talking about with “reimagine imago.”

In this video, a forensic sketch artist draws two pictures of the same person, one as described by the subject of the drawing, and the other by someone else.  

When both pictures are done, the women who were the subjects of the sketches compare the image that they described to the artist to the image that other person described.  In each instance the picture described by the “other” looks more like the subject, and also fits our cultural definition of beauty more than the person’s description of themselves.

We are more beautiful than we think we are.  This is an awesome message.

There was one thing that bothered me though, as I was listening to the description of the women, the favorable characteristics that I heard were “blue eyes,” and “thin face.”  Then the upworthy post that I had first seen the video on had a disclaimer at the bottom linking to a critique of the ad by Jazz Brice.  The video makes her “angry,” and “uncomfortable.

Brice’s three main critiques are reasonable and worth noting and I think an important part of the conversation.

First she points out the descriptions of the favorable characteristics in the women.

Thin face, nice thin chin, nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive (my actual favorite), short and cute nose, her face was fairly thin (this was said twice), and very nice blue eyes.

A second point Brice makes is that this video reinforces the view that beauty is the most important virtue for women and girls.  This is something that I’ve been thinking about personally since the Presidential Inauguration in January.  There was so much talk about Michelle Obama, Sasha and Malia and Dr. Jill Biden’s clothes on TV.  It made me angry that in 2013 these four smart females were being defined exclusively by their clothing and hair cuts.  My husband Richard blogged about this here (warning, it makes me blush).

There is a woman at the end of the video, thin, long blond hair, blue eyes, maybe in her forties, she says:

“I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, they way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

I like how Brice describes it:

Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty.

So, what do I think.

Brice’s critiques are real and spot on.  Women and girls cannot be defined solely or primarily on our physical appearance.  It limits our creativity, productivity, and possibilities to prioritize appearance above other things.  I wrestle with my own appearance demons and what I think of myself.  I find myself feeling low after seeing myself in the mirror or in a picture from time to time.

I also think her critique of how narrowly we define “beauty,” is really important.  While there are some non-white women and even men in the video, the women who are featured the most, as well as the physical characteristics described as preferable are all those of slender white women.  Beauty cannot be limited to Barbie anymore, that is ridiculous.

However, Dove IS a beauty company and I think it’s legit to say that while women are more than our physical appearance and more than our physical bodies, we are at least partially our physical appearance and at least partially our physical bodies.

So, I’m not angry or uncomfortable with the ad like Brice is, but I don’t think that it is a perfect video either.  Instead I think that it’s one small baby step closer to us developing a more healthy image of self and gives us something more to continue the discussion.   Dove wants us to be emotionally moved by the ad so that we will buy more of their products.  But lets not let their goals for the ad define our response to it.  Use this ad, the good, the bad and the ugly (maybe there’s a better word in a discussion on “real beauty”) to talk about what we communicate to girls and women, to the blonds and the brunets, to the skinnies and the fatties, the the straight haired and the curly haired, to the light skin and the dark skin.