The “Real Beauty” ad campaign and the femminine ideal of beauty


The Dove Evolution commercial (by Canadian director Yael Staav, 2006) & ad campaign for “Real Beauty” (Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto 2006) that so many have applaud, has been a mainstay in discussions about body image and media but there are some issues in the discussion that not discussed often enough: 

1: Is it authentic? or is it just niche marketing?

The British-Dutch multinational corporation Unilever that owns Dove also owns over 400 other brands including  AvianceAxe/LynxBen & Jerry’sFlora/BecelHeartbrandHellmann’sKnorrLiptonLux/RadoxOmo/SurfRexona/SureSunsilkToni & GuyTRESemmé, VaselineVO5 and Wish-Bone that combined sell over 330,000 consumer products including foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products with factories on every continent, making Unilever the third largest consumer-goods company in the world next to Procter & Gamble and Nestlé. This also makes them one of the biggest advertisers in the world spending over $8billion in 2010 alone.

Interestingly, other Unilever brand advertisements Axe (North America) and Lynx (Europe/Australia/Asia) are also commonly central to media and social science discussions regarding sexism. How does knowing that the same parent company produced both the Dove AND the Axe/Lynx ad campaigns effect the message of the Dove ads? and vice versa? or does it have any effect?

Does knowing of “extensive retouching” by a post-production artist Pascal Dangin for Dove’s Pro-Age ad campaign effect the message?

Does knowing that Unilever also promotes Slimfast and the popular Skin whitener/brightener products like Fair and Lovely and other such products affect the message of “Real Beauty”?

Does knowing that the “Real Beauty” campaign helped distinguish Dove from their competitors? or that, according to newspaper reports, sales of Dove products shot up 700% in the U.K. and have extended the brand which is  believed to be a direct result of this ad campaign?

Chomsky notes that:

“One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins.”


2. If the models are ‘natural beauties’ why are they all so light-skinned and with such ‘perfect’ skin, hair or teeth?

Is this perpetuated by hegemony? or shadeism? or both? There is no doubt that images are manipulated to be lighter or darker or retouched in other ways to make it ‘better’, ‘enhanced’ or ‘more beautiful’.


Why don’t we see more variation in media like different shaped eyes? or noses? cellulite? freckles? pores? lines? wrinkles? imperfect teeth? naturally dark skin? Where does the ‘perfect’ standard of beauty come from? Was it completely shaped by media or a cultural standard simply reflected by media? or both?

3. If we really are all beautiful “just the way we are” then why would we need to buy ‘beauty’ products sold be companies like Dove?

“Sizes six and eight notwithstanding, they’re still head turners with straight white teeth, no visible pores and not a sign of cellulite” – Bob Garfield (Advertising Age)


“disingenuous” – Dr. Barbara Altman Bruno (Worth Your Weight)


“As long as you’re patting yourself on the back for hiring real-life models with imperfect bodies, why ask those models to flog a cream that has zero health value and is just an expensive and temporary Band-Aid for a ‘problem’ that the media has told us we have with our bodies?”  – Rebecca Traister (“Real Beauty – Or Really Smart Marketing?”)


“Do you think Dove hatched its Campaign for Real Beauty because it cares about women’s self-esteem? No, it simply wanted to play to the pack-following newsrooms all over the world that it knew would give this campaign more media coverage than it could have bought with a decade’s worth of marketing.” – Jonah Bloom (Advertising Age)


“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.” – Will Rogers


“…the brand for fat girls…” Seth Stephenson (

4: If so many are so outraged, and so ‘informed’ why does it continue? 

“Black Canseco”, a self-described “industry insider” and blogger feels that:

“It’s simply part of the business; and the business does it because it sells; and it sells because the masses of folks prefer it/are comfortable with it/believe this is how it should be”

Why do so many people still buy ‘beauty’ products and services? and why do so many continue to degrade themselves, diet, alter their hair, resort to cosmetic surgery and lighten their skin? Why are so many so gullible for the marketing of the multi-billion dollar beauty industry?

The Body Project suggests that it is no accident that the emphasis on beauty products boomed at the same time women won the right to vote in the USA in order to distract women from more significant political, social and even moral/emotional issues.

These are all questions I do not know the answer to myself – but am avidly listening to the discussion around these ideas with great interest.


  1. rambukkanastudents

    Sevenny Yue chen
    dove’s “real beauty” campaign real or not real? i think there are two ways to see this
    (pics not shown)
    These are some Dove’s ads. The first girl think “ I will never looks like that” and the person in second picture says “There’s nothing I would strive to change because I work out and eat healthy and I feel great. I feel healthy, I fell happy. I feel energetic, so if I am feeling that way and this is how my body’s going to be and I am going to be proud of that.” (Stacy Nadeau). The third ads shows women in different color and race, they all smiles beautiful and they looks really happy. And the last ads shows that, beauty has no age limit.
    We have stereotype of beauty as thin, white, young, big breasts and sexy. We can find these beauty icons in D&G ads campaign not Doves, but what we see in Dove’s ads are much more close to the reality. The truth is, women are in different size, race, and age, and all of them can be beautiful too. Also, women are not subjects, they have rights to be happy. Women need to love themselves, they are not seek beings, their happiness and sexualities are not depends on men.
    “You almost never see a photograph of a woman considered beautiful that hasn’t been photoshopped.”(Kibourne, Killing us softly 4). That’s true, this problem also exist in Dove’s campaign. Although their campaign called “real beauty, they do make-up on every model for hours, and after photo shooting, they use photo shop to edit their face, and body shape, and also whiten their body color. So the beauty bodies they showed are not that “real”. Also, if they really think these women are already beauty enough, why they still need to purchase Dove’s products?

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