Saturday, July 30, 2005


While listening to an NPR story on Dove's "Campaign for real beauty" ad campaign yesterday, for the first time ever I had the urge to reach out and smash my radio. This was during the part when they read an excerpt from Lucio Guerrero's Chicago Sun-Times editorial: "Really, the only time I want to see a thigh that big is in a bucket with bread crumbs on it." The other men Guerrero interviews for the column have similarly low opinions.

At the swimming pool where my daycare class gets swim lessons, in between watching lifeguards with two-year-olds I've been noticing the other swimmers. They are all male. Sometimes teenagers come with their dads, but usually it is middle-aged or old men. Why? a) Because the work it takes to appear in a bathing suit consists of putting on the bathing suit if you're a man, and b) Because they're probably less scared than women of going into a public place wearing very little. These guys look, by almost any standard, awful. There is no comparison between these guys and the women in the Dove ads. But I don't see any disgusted editorials about having to see these much lumpier, hairier, more wrinkled individuals in a public place. They're just part of the scenery.

Nearly all the analyses I've seen or heard of the ads comment on the irony of using a message that it's ok to be bigger than a drinking straw to sell cellulite-reducing cream. First, I'd like to point out that the tagline "Let's face it, firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge" is a statement on the efficacy of the product on women who will actually use it, rather than on the usual size 2 women pictured in control-top hose ads and the 25-year-old women pictured in wrinkle cream ads. Second, the ad is not saying that their products aren't needed or wanted because everyone's perfect just the way they are. It's merely reducing the standards for women appearing in ads from nearly impossibly beautiful to just good-looking. And if you look at these women compared to what the average woman you see in the supermarket would look like in her skivvies, (I would say at the swimming pool, except there are no women there) they measure up quite well by conventional standards. There's no one over the age of thirty, no one with c-section scars, no one very bulgy, no one with glasses or irregular features or even tan lines. The black women have straightened their hair. Everyone has shaved about half her surface area and is undoubtedly wearing makeup. The campaign is not suggesting that it's ok for women to appear in their natural states: wrinkly, nappy, bony, bulgy, hairy, stretchmarked, flatchested, 5'1", veined, and whatever else we may happen to look like if we don't try to transform ourselves into something else. It's merely making the beauty regime less totalitarian. Is it so unreasonable to change the standards of who can appear in ads from superhumanly gorgeous to just, say, conventionally beautiful?

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