Dove Real Women – 10 Years On

10-years-of-dove It’s now ten years since we saw the first Dove campaign using ‘real women’ instead of perfectly photoshopped models so it’s a good time  I think to ask “What has changed in the way we see and speak about women in the world?”.

The Dove campaign has been an important one in the sphere of body acceptance, without a doubt.

The Official Body is Still the Norm

But look around: we still see the Vickie’s Secret models being held up as the epitome of female beauty. We still see very young white women showing lots of skin, bodies arranged across every kind of product – leaving no doubt in my mind that their bodies are products in themselves.

So nothing has changed there; if anything we’re seeing more flesh, more emphasis on beauty, sexy and hot than we did ten years ago. (By the way, feel free to substitute ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ for ‘beauty’ any time.)

Models are still very young. Models are still very white. Models are still, or perhaps more, naked.

So using the female body as an object is still the name of the game. Young, white and naked is the main playing piece.

We Seem to be Photoshop-Blind

We’re much more aware of digital manipulation now though; Dove’s campaign has helped with that shift in awareness. Some governments require magazines and advertisements to disclose when an image has been photoshopped. Some magazines have a policy of not photoshopping.

Most magazines still photoshop. It’s become more pervasive – many family and school photographers now offer their subjects the option to have their spots, braces or any other imperfection removed from their images, and erased from their history. To me, you’ll always know you had the braces removed or the nose straightened or whatever – so what are you really saying to yourself or your kids when you photoshop yourself out of reality? Really?

Think it stops with photographs? Nope. The moving images you see on screen are not necessarily ‘real’ either.

So we’re now more aware of photoshop and its potential to change what we perceive as reality. But are we more accepting of ourselves? white-young-models

Beauty is Still The Main Prize

My main objection to the Dove ‘real women’ campaign has always been that Dove might use women who are a bit less ‘Official Body’ and a bit more diverse, but their message is the same: being beautiful is the most important thing you as a female must do/be.

They’re still telling you that that you are not enough.

A recent survey showed that women spend nearly an hour a day (that’s nearly two full weeks every year) in front of the mirror ‘enhancing’ their appearance. 80% of women are more anxious than ever about their appearance.

Yes there are thousands of words written every day calling out the Official Body standard of beauty, and the conversations are ongoing. But we now see about 5000 ads a day. That’s 10 times more than we saw 40 years ago. Even ten thousand bloggers writing every day couldn’t call out that objectification.

YOU have to get smart about the hidden messages, and choose what you believe.

You Are Still Here to be Looked At

The Dove ads where people comment on ‘real womens’ photos have had some good mileage too. The ads help us see the beauty in ourselves, they insist.

Or are they reinforcing the message that you are here to be looked at and get other people’s approval for how you look?

I think that IS what the ads are telling us. And of course that’s what you’d expect, I’m a body image blogger, and Dove is in the business of making money by selling us stuff. They make sure you’ll their stuff by constantly pushing the message that being beautiful should be your number one priority.

Even companies who are now using ‘real women’ in their ads are presenting those women as extremely beautiful, not an average-looking woman in sight. So their size and age might be moving a little way from The Official Body, but they are still saying ‘beauty is your number one priority’.

Health Isn’t Even On the Table

Their products are also still filled with chemicals which have a dubious impact on our health.

But if you use them, your beauty quotient may rise a few notches. Some weird skin condition because of the chemical interactions with various products? Meh, you can’t tie that to them anyway. They’re about beauty, not health. Your health is your problem, apparently.

It’s About the Dollars, Plain and Simple

Dove is a brand of Unilever, the company that also sells Lynx/Axe, with their revolting advertising that absolutely ramps up the stereotype of women that Dove is apparently trying to break down.

Of course they do – they’re selling products. They don’t have any particular insight. They want men to feel believe that when they pour on Axe/Lynx products they’ll be more attractive, and they want women to believe the same when they use Dove products. No mystery.

Dove is Not the Good Guy

They’re simply selling products using carefully selected parts of the language of self-acceptance as their marketing tool.

If you feel like they’re on your side because they use ‘real women’ and they expose some of the cheap tricks of the cosmetics industry, you’re more likely to feel they are the good guys telling the truth. You’ll feel loyal towards them buy their stuff instead of someone else’s. They know this, and that’s exactly what they’re going for.

They’re still using a cheap trick in pushing just one message: be beautiful first and above all; your success lies in being beautiful. They’re still only interested in making sure you keep buying their beauty products.

So after ten years of Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, I think the media landscape for women is no better. Dove themselves think they’ll still be running this campaign in ten years’ time.

It’s time to change the conversation. It starts with me, and it starts with you, and perhaps the Month of Good Days program can help you change your own conversation>


  1. gael wood on March 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Very good points! I love your website and plan to share it with my 16 yo daughter.

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