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An Egregious Example of Corporate Hypocrisy: Dove's "Real Beauty" Campaign

About three months ago, upon completing the first phase of research for my film, I held two slideshow presentations in front of an audience of friends, acquaintances, and a few people working in the TV/movie industry in Paris. Very much in the style of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

At the heart of the presentation is the assertion that the obsession over the pursuit of the perfect female body is one of the integral parts of the capitalist system. If women were suddenly content over their appearance – accepting their body size, skin tone & color, wrinkles, graying hair, and the size and shape of their breasts, amongst other things – entire markets would crumble. Indeed, worldwide sales for cosmetic products, dieting products, and cosmetic surgery totaled almost 500 billion dollars in 2006. Thus the saturation of images on advertising and mass media, pushing forward images of idealized, surgically-enhanced beauty that are impossible to achieve.

Well, during my presentations, I would invariably get asked about the company Dove and its campaign for “Real Beauty.” Wasn’t that refreshingly positive? People would ask. It is a question that comes up every time I talk about my project. The short answer? Yes and no.

The people at Dove have actually exploited a void in the marketplace. By introducing so-called women with “real” bodies, they distinguished themselves from their competitors. After the introduction of their “Real Beauty” campaign, according to the New Yorker, sales of Dove products shot up 700% in the U.K.

Why Dove’s “Real Beauty” is the quintessential example of corporate hypocrisy:

#1 – Its parent company is Unilever, maker of Lynx and Fair & Lovely

If the “Real Beauty” campaign criticized the advertising and media industry with ads like this and especially this one, another Unilever brand managed to reduce women to mere sexual objects/slaves through ads for its other brand Lynx: “Jet Set” is the perfect example. Indeed, the entire mantra of Lynx ads is to be so outrageous and sexist, regarding the effects of the deodorants on women, that the ads are often banned, achieving cult-like status.

Unilever is also the maker, in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, of skin whitening creams for women and men. The commercials, running on borderline racist themes, always feature unhappy, socially rejected women and men with a dark skin color, who are magically transformed into popular people after using the “Fair and Lovely,” skin-whitening cream. Seducing the objects of their affection and obtaining prestigious jobs. Examples here and here.

#2 – The people behind the ads are industry bigwigs, who are otherwise working as “Illusionists” on other campaigns

The ad company Ogilvy and Mather, Annie Leibovitz, and photo retouching wiz Pascal Dangin are behind the ads (Leibovitz and Dangin took care of the print campaign).

#3 – The print ads are Photoshopped

In a New Yorker profile of the world’s highest paid, most sough after photo retoucher Pascal Dangin from the May 12th 2008 issue, writer Lauren Collins pressed him about the Dove campaigns:

I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual “real women” in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” he asked.But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.

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