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Canadian Journal of Media Studies, Vol. 5(1)

114 Consuming Constructions:

A Critique of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty Lauren Dye The University of Western Ontario

ABSTRACT According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, approximately 11.7 million surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2007; of these surgeries 91% were executed onwomen. While contemporary conceptions of beauty are limited to say the least, Dove’s campaign to counter such ideas are similarly limited. In attempting to appeal to what they call “real” women, Dove markets itself as an esteem-building brand based on enhancing women’s natural beauty; however, what Dove sells are nevertheless beauty products. I will argue that the message of Dove’s Campaign for RealBeauty is not only contradicted by its product-line, but that Dove exploits women’s desire for such an inclusive message. The appeal of the campaign works to create a deep brand loyalty that covers up its own inherent flaw: that Dove itself upholds the beauty myths and expectations it claims to aim to reverse, expectations that are both consuming and consumed.

The standard of beauty today, atleast as many women perceive this standard via the mass media in general and advertising in particular, is unnatural, unhealthy, and unrealistic. A survey conducted by Dove revealed that out of 3,000 women in ten different countries, only 2% described themselves as beautiful (Etcoff et al. 9). These results are not surprising considering many of the countries included in the survey – the UnitedKingdom, Japan, France, Italy, Canada, and the United States – are Westernized countries, where the dominant culture’s conception of beauty tends to be shaped by Western ideals, including but not limited to, whiteness, tallness, and thinness. In its attempt to uproot the unrealistic standard of beauty that damages women’s self-esteem and self-image, Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2003.Given that it seeks

Canadian Journal of Media Studies, Vol. 5(1)


to challenge the status quo of beauty and the way young girls are socialized to perceive themselves, Dove’s campaign can be considered a political act. More specifically, the Dove campaign could be considered what Nancy Fraser refers to as a subaltern counterpublic: a discursive arena where members of subordinategroups invent and circulate ideas that counter hegemonic values and practices (123). In “Rethinking the Public Sphere,” Fraser argues that a healthy public sphere requires an array of competing publics that express individual interests in addition to issues concerning the “common good.” A healthy public sphere must also avoid the bracketing of social differences, and instead acknowledge and acceptdiversity (Fraser 127). Although Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty provides an alternative definition of beauty and seeks to unite women through this shared concept of “real beauty,” it also promotes individualism over collectivity, operates on certain exclusions rather than pluralism, and encourages identity construction through material goods in place of human relationships. The Dove Campaign for RealBeauty does not function as a subaltern counter-public, but is a product of corporate instrumentalism that works to fragment and commodify that public. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Endorsing Vanity and Rivalry Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty promotes fragmentation by appealing to women as individuals and by providing arenas for women to compete with each other. For example, in 2007, Dove’smagazine, Shine, held a contest to find the most “unique” hairstyle, marketing it with an appeal to privatization: “Hair is a unique way of expressing a woman’s individual beauty.” Accordingly, women are continuously invited to create their own Shine online magazine profile, explaining how their hair expresses their individuality. While these contests seeks to celebrate and honour each individual...
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