As long as your chin doesn’t protrude and you don’t have freckles, that is

On Monday, Dove put up a three-minute advertisement on Youtube that quickly became something of a sensation. The specialty of the ad was its message regarding the way women perceive themselves.

It involved a criminal sketch artist (and a devilishly handsome one at that) who makes two sketches of each of a bunch of women. The first sketch he draws by listening to the woman describe herself. The second one he draws based on the description given by another person who’d just met her.

Turned out that every single time, the second sketch looked much better than the first – implying that women perceive themselves to be much worse looking than they actually are. In the words of Dove “you are more beautiful than you think”.

Sounds pretty effective eh? This guy was trained by the FBI after all. And the women are “real”, not models or anything. Sure enough, the campaign hit it off. People are moved, awakened, and women are feeling a lot better about themselves generally.

But... but…

When I saw the Dove ad for the first time I wondered if it was a spoof. When I failed to find a single criticism of the ad on my Facebook and Twitter timelines I began wondering if I had missed something.

Because to me, it seemed like Dove is inadvertently doing the opposite of what most people were praising them for – Dove is defining “beauty”.

During the series of first sketches, where the woman is describing herself, we hear them say things like “I have a chin that protrudes”, “a big face”, “a lot of freckles”, “a fat round face” etc. This first batch of sketches is what ends up being the ugly set.

On the other hand, when we have the third person description of the women, the phrases include “thin face with cheekbones”, “a nice thin chin”, “blue eyes” and so on. This set ends up being the beautiful versions of the women.

So Dove seems to be saying is that if I think I have a fat round face, that's probably just me being hard on myself. But what if I really do have a fat round face?? Does that have to mean I think I'm ugly? It's like telling a fat person they're not fat to make them feel better, instead of telling them it's fine to be fat.

More gaps

Besides, I wonder how the “ugly” pictures ended up having sad eyes, and the “beautiful” ones look happy and more “open”. I doubt if any of the women actually described themselves as having sad eyes.

Or did the artist just assume that if they had a fat face and flat hair then they’re probably sad people? Isn’t it obvious that the artist was told before-hand to make the first set look bad?

Also, these real people know they’re being filmed, so there is a considerable chance the answers were sugarcoated. How many people would truthfully say “I think she’s kinda ugly” if they knew the person would be seeing the video?

There is so much of blatant room for error in this “experiment” of Dove’s that I find it absurd that they are expecting people to take it seriously, and more absurd that people seem to be convinced.

The message

I’m not disputing the intention of this message. Of course this is not the most offensive ad ever. But I think the danger with this kind of advertisement is that people forget that it’s all about business.

With ads like those of products like Fair and Lovely, the marketing strategy may be highly regressive but at least much more obvious. However here, people seem to be believing that Dove really wants us to love ourselves, when in reality, all they want is for us to buy soap.

(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can send her feedback at nandita.j@thehindu.co.in. You can also tweet her @nandita_j )

Keywords: Doveadvertisementbeautywomen