By now it’s entirely likely you’ve seen it: Dove put out an ad where a bunch of women sit down and describe themselves to a forensic artist. Then, a stranger they just met describes them to a forensic artist. Surprise! They’re not as ugly as they think they are!
Look, here’s some real talk: I do not know a single person who doesn’t struggle with body image on a daily basis, male or female, to varying degrees. And when I first watched this ad, I was moved. Of course I was — they’re paying a lot of people a lot of money to ensure I am moved. And it is, in fact, moving to see an advertisement so clearly focused on pointing out that people are often their own harshest critics, and that being hard on yourself isn’t fair. I loved that. Let me repeat: I loved that, and was nearly in tears for a good part of the ad.
I am all for things that make people feel more beautiful. To paraphrase Margaret Cho, I’m gutted by those who don’t find most others beautiful, because they’re missing out on a lot of beauty in the world. I have no doubt that the women featured in this ad did feel shitty about themselves, and might still. Listening to them describe themselves felt like… Well, like listening to myself. Can’t be too vain, here. Gotta be “honest.” Gotta play ourselves down, all the time, as if admitting that we like something about ourselves is a cardinal sin.
God, it hurt.
And then we got to the strangers, and the first stranger says, “She was thin, so you could see her cheekbones… And her chin? It was a nice, thin chin…”
God, that hurt too.
Thin, thin, thin. The mantra I’ve been repeating to myself my whole goddamn life. No part of me is thin or ever has been. My wrists, maybe? Uh?
Of course, they show the women seeing their portraits, too — the ones they described and the ones others did. And most of them tear up. I would, too. Hell, I did, too, because when I watched this the first time I was emotionally tangled up in it in a way I didn’t expect. I wanted to like it; I wanted to be moved. I was moved.
One woman looked at the portrait of herself that she’d drawn and said, “This one looks more… closed off. Fatter. And sadder, too.”
I wanted to love this ad. I wanted so badly to believe that an advertising company is using its considerable powers for good. I wanted to feel like acceptance is a thing, like at least one ad company really is trying to expand the ideas of what beautiful is and what people want to see.
Instead, I got more of the usual: Thin good. Fat bad. It triggered serious body dysmorphia in me today that I had a lot of trouble dealing with and tried to ignore or circumnavigate instead of approaching head-on.
Why are we so validated by this dichotomy of fat versus thin? Why are we so relieved when others tell us we’re thinner than we think we are, or that we’re not fat? I ask these rhetorical questions because I have answers: we equate good traits with thinness and bad traits with fatness. Thin people are friendly, open, healthy, beautiful, and good. Fat people are lazy, stupid, gluttonous, unhygienic, ugly, and bad. When you tell someone you don’t think they’re fat, what you’re usually telling them is that you don’t associate any of the aforementioned traits with them. This has nothing to do with whether or not they are actually fat.
Ultimately, Dove is trying to sell us something, and that something is a cosmetics product. Given this, I understand that my frustration is probably a little unfair, but God, am I sick of feeling alienated by campaigns promoting “real beauty” that want nothing to do with my fat ass.