On Dove, shampoo and self-esteem

This evening I am the parody of a spoilt middle-class feminist who can’t stop herself from getting in a tizz about relatively minor stuff. Oh yes, I am in a strop about a hair care advert. And yes, I know it’s not [insert your favourite “properly” bad thing to happen to women – MRAs are especially good at this]. But still, every now and then, providing you’re in a position to do so, it’s worth getting annoyed about the small stuff, if only because the small stuff remains really sodding annoying.

I’ve just been watching Dove’s latest advert for shampoo. It’s special shampoo because it repairs damage to your hair follicles, smoothing over all the rubbish bits using only the power of science and one quarter moisturiser (which is, as we all know, one of the key elements in the periodic table). Anyhow, I can’t find a link to it so you’ll have to trust me on this. In all probability the shampoo’s amazing. It wasn’t that that irritated me. It was the fact that because they weren’t advertising something linked to bodies or skin or ageing, Dove couldn’t be bothered to slum it with ‘real’ women in their ad. There wasn’t a single minor flaw that isn’t really a flaw only now you’ll think it is because Dove’s made such a big deal of it in sight. This lack of consistency really pissed me off. Either patronize us one way or another. You can’t do both!

Now I know it seems churlish and self-indulgent to challenge Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. After all, it’s tempting to conclude it’s better than nothing. Best to have at least some crumbs from the table where they’re feasting on the rest of your self-esteem. They might be spending 99% of the time convincing you that your underarms look shit if you’re only using Sainsbury’s roll-on, but there’s that 1% when they’re saying “hey, don’t forget, you’re still beautiful! Only in your own way!”

Hmm. Is it just me, or is “real beauty” not an incredibly condescending concept? It’s beauty for all of us who don’t normally make the grade, and it never ceases to remind us of this . I don’t want to be told I’m beautiful by people who are selling me moisturiser. Or rather, I do, but in the openly insincere manner that most companies choose to adopt. I prefer open insincerity. It’s more honest. Don’t tell me you’re “pro age” when you’re giving me a cream that claims to minimise the effects of ageing. Tell me age sucks but that your magic cream will make me look like I’m 21. I’d rather we carried on with the in-joke, the one in which my resignation’s always the punchline, than you start pretending I’m a total fool.

And yet I have to admit that the Dove campaign is slick. The partnership with Beat is particularly unsettling, although Beat have always struck me as a charity who aren’t at all political, willing to get involved in anything and everything providing it raises awareness of eating disorders (a tactic which I half-admire, half-fear). Dove have all the right people on hand, saying all the right words, but why wouldn’t they? That’s their shtick and it pays off.  

Or perhaps they aren’t so cynical? Perhaps they believe their own hype. I often think this of glossy magazines with their “knock ‘em down, build ‘em up” approach to the self-image of their readers. Perhaps all these companies think they are helping womankind. This lack of self-esteem which emerges, mysteriously, from somewhere – the inadequate minds of girls, I suppose – thank god we have Special K, Boots, Weight Watchers and Dove on hand to combat it with a mix of pep talks and products which enable us to “be the best we can be”, that is, beautiful, but only in the “real beauty” sense of the word, i.e. not beautiful at all. Beautiful enough to advertise body lotion and deodorant, not beautiful enough to swish our glossy hair in shampoo adverts (why use an ostentatiously “real”-shaped model if you’re not actually selling a product with “body” in the title?).

Dove, you do not have a mission. You have beauty products, you have money and you have one hell of a hypocritical, manipulative marketing campaign. You profit from the low self-esteem you claim to challenge. You couldn’t even be arsed to make a proper stand against rape promotion on Facebook (hint: that stuff seriously damages self-esteem). Be gone with you and your self-esteem “advice”. We were all perfectly fine to begin with. That’s the whole problem.


7 thoughts on “On Dove, shampoo and self-esteem

  1. I hate the campaign too. I don’t think it’s a minor thing (or a middle class one: love Nawal el Saadawi’s critique of beauty advertising and its effect on the poorest Egyptian woman in The Hidden Face of Eve) at all though, since it’s just one more aspect of a whole cultural machine that convinces women that their self-worth is inextricably linked with their beauty, which is in turn determined by male approval. I hate literally no idea why BEAT are working with them. In fact, I’m disgusted BEAT are working with them.

  2. I hate the Dove campaigns too. Regardless of whether it’s “real” or “unreal” the message is still, ‘you are here to be judged on your beauty ladies, now buck your ideas up and get your hair glossy’.

  3. I hate the Dove campaigns. I think they’re incredibly insulting and often racist as well.

    And I don’t think it’s a small thing at all. It’s all these messages together that are constantly beating us down, so every “small” thing is actually, in its way, huge. Maybe if we keep on attacking the small things, the things people think are okay, we’ll eventually crush the base itself and bring down the big things.

    …well, one can hope.

    1. Yes! This is exactly what the Misogyny Pyramid I link to above is saying, but with a health and safety laws analogy. It is brilliant (also not mine, even though I do tend to link to my own work on here).

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