Opinions, please

What do you think of this image?

Source: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

What about this one?

Source: Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

At a panel that I attended on Thursday about aesthetic philosophy, A.W. Eaton presented a paper on changing our tastes in the context of fat acceptance.  These images, as she rightly pointed out, are complex and somewhat problematic.  On one hand, Dove has done something that very few companies do, and that is to show women of different sizes, backgrounds, and colors without privileging one over the other.  However, although they are larger than traditional models, they still represent a somewhat limited range of sizes; they are in their underwear and therefore still sexualized and objectified, like many other images of women in advertising and the media; and as far as I can remember (I could be entirely wrong about this), Dove hasn’t really done much more advertising like this since these images were released a few years ago.  There’s also the fact that there was a lot of hoopla over the authenticity of the Campaign for Real Beauty, which I’m not going to get into here.

What I really want to know is this: is this a step forward when it comes to body image in advertising and the media?  Even if these women are all conventionally beautiful and have very attractive bodies, does that mean that the ad is any less significant when it comes to how sharply it contrasts with other ads for beauty products featuring women?  Does seeing slightly larger bodies have the potential to allow us to adapt somewhat to the idea that fat (and as always here, I use this word as an objective descriptor, not as a term that carries any negative connotation) is acceptable, just as acceptable as thin (as A.W. Eaton suggested could be the case in her paper)?

What are your thoughts?  Do you remember your reaction when these images were first released?  And are there any other issues that these images raise for you?

Embrace:Me 30-day challenge, day 28: Knowing that today (part of it spent at a conference, another part at the airport, another part in taxis, and yet another on an airplane) would be busy and hectic, I made sure to get on the treadmill this morning.  By now I’m able to recognize the times when I’ll really regret not getting a workout in, and today, instead of just realizing I should work out but not actually doing it, I did it.  I know it definitely helped me keep my calm during a pretty stressful day.

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12 comments

  1. I agree, these ads still objectify women. They still are unrealistic too – these women are of different sizes but there is NOT that much fat on their bodies. They still can be seen in underwear without looking overweight.

    Women will always be objectified as long as we allow it. I suppose this one is one of the least offensive ones.

  2. First I have to say I really enjoy reading your blog. I find it relatable, honest, and inspiring – thank you! Second of all, I think the ads are a step in the right direction. I don’t agree that the women are sexualized, just because they’re in their underwear. If I recall, it was a skin product advertisement, so it seems fine that they’re showing a lot of skin. Also, their underwear doesn’t look provacative (to me), it looks functional and comfortable. They’re standing proudly and strong and they look genuinely happy. I agree there is still a large range of sizes they didn’t represent, but certainly these women are quite different than the average beauty product models (both in size AND age). They’re “conventionally beautiful,” as you say, but I think a lot of that has to do with their energy and enthusiasm. Don’t we all look pretty great when we let our guards down and look joyful?

  3. Really interesting question, Emilie! Just wanted to throw a little advertising background in (since that’s the filter through which I view this stuff). It’s worth noting that Dove is under the umbrella of Unilever, which also owns Axe Body Wash (some of the more offensive, anti-female advertising, in my opinion). In other words, they are perfectly okay with supporting misogynistic advertising for one brand, and body-friendlier advertising for another. My point is, we should all keep in mind that these companies, their goal is not to change perceptions about bodies/gender/sexuality etc., their goal is to sell bodywash. Some focus groups have told Unilever that for their Dove consumer, this was the message that would sell product.

    1. I completely agree. The purpose is to sell a product, not to try to change society. Dove is capitalizing on the fact that the average woman doesn’t see herself portrayed in advertisements which feature much smaller and more attractive models. Dove sales went way up after this campaign so their sales tactic worked quite well.

  4. never thought about it in that sense before… i had just thought it was nice to see ‘real’ sized people for a change. i do think that all these ladies are 6-8-10’s, but we’re so used to seeing 00 models that these ladies look “large”.

    1. Yeah, I am disappointed that they didn’t go anywhere with it. Regardless of whether they just did it because they knew it would bring in more revenue, it was incredibly well-received which would indicate that people do have a desire to see different kinds of bodies in advertising. I don’t know why they didn’t follow up with similar ads.

  5. I have to say, I’ve never thought of it from this perspective. I’ve been a huge dove “real beauty” campaign supporter, especially their tv ads addressing photoshopping and the sexualized images young girls are intuiting these days. But you make a valid point, is portraying these women just as sexualizing as the alternative? Hmm.. I think it begs the question of whether or not a woman in her underwear is exploitative. A woman’s body should be celebrated, not something to be ashamed of. It’s unfortunate that in American society, we tend to objectivize the female body instead of looking at it as an art form like in other parts of the world. Just my two cents, not sure. Thanks for raising such an important issue!

  6. Being a woman that is and has been obese my whole life, I do not identify wih these women at all. I guess I look at them and call them normal, but I know that the ad execs are saying these women are suppose to help represent a population of overweight women. Well they just don’t. I have this issue too with plus size models in general (not that it is their fault), but to be a plus size model you are somewhere between sizes 8-12. Um, hello, that is NOT plus sized! This campaign doesn’t make me think that media is moving in the right direction at all.

  7. I’m really conflicted on this subject… because I understand that the whole purpose of advertising is to sell something and this spoke to women so they bought stuff. I do feel there is an element of celebrating these women’s bodies while simultaneously objectifying them. Are guys shown in their underwear in print campaigns to sell body wash to them? Usually it’s just a shot of the bottle and some suds with some kind of “manly” background or object.

    And while these women are definitely larger than typical models, they are all still pretty fit and don’t necessarily show the same scene I see everywhere in the world. But they are beautiful and I think it’s hopeful… it just needed to keep momentum going and continue, which didn’t happen.

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