Thursday, April 18, 2013

A difficult face

I've been considering for a while now whether or not I should talk about this topic again here, but yesterday I found a video that really made me wanna write a blog post about this topic once again. Most of you might actually have already seen it, as it went kinda-viral in the past 24 hours. It's a promotional video by Dove, the company that in recent years caught public attention with its ""Natural Beauty" line of marketing, that aims to show us a more realistic image of especially women in advertisements.

Before I tell you anything more about it, I suggest you go and watch the video, and make up your mind about it:

The campaign also has its own homepage where you can see the pictures that were drawn in the process of this little "experiment", you can find it here. There is actually another, slightly longer version of the video too, which can be found here.

So, first off, I can tell you that I saw the video yesterday, a friend of mine posted it on facebook and it had a huge impact on me. Yes, I cried. Because when I listened to these women talking about themselves in such a negative way, I could hear myself. I think the video has a very beautiful, positive message, but it seems that its message does not get across in the same way to everyone, or rather that it is perceived very differently by different people. Such as the person who wrote this on their tumblr - go and read please, as there are a lot of points mentioned that I want to pick up and talk about.
To everyone their own, and I have a lot of respect for other people's opinions, but seriously, this put me off. Probably made me more angry than the writer initally was about the campaign. 

[...]And I’m not trying to shame those girls!

No wait, actually, are you serious? Because to me, it seems like this person is shaming them a hell of a lot.
Trying to tell them that they were manipulated, that they got the message wrong, that the advertisement had a negative message because instead of broadening our perception of "beauty" and promoting thinking out of the box, it only tells us again how we have to beautiful to be happy and successful in life. It basically seemed to me like an attempt to make those people who were "lulled" in by Dove's campaign feel ashamed about their stupidity. That's not what was meant by the tumblr entry? Oh, you might have come across an important point there: messages are perceived differently by different people...I quote:

“I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, they way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

Did you hear that, ladies? How beautiful you are affects everything—from your personal relationships to your career. It could not be more critical to your happiness!
Okay, I can see how you might get that message from what the interviewed woman said. maybe it's the editing, maybe she's just no professional actor and didn't manage very well to get her point across. But the point is: to ME, the insecure-about-herself-prime-example-of-target-audience-person it did not seem like she was talking about the importance of beauty, but the importance of self perception.

Dear ladies out there, I don't know about you, but I can be sure for myself that I do not feel in any way negatively manipulated by that ad. I do not think that any of the women who perceived this ad in a positive way are thinking about how beauty is the most important thing in their life and they should strive to be beautiful to be happy, instead, I am pretty sure they are grateful for somebody pointing out to them that our self perception is always much more critical than another person's view of us. Basically...

Ads can only manipulate you as much as you let them.

Because WE ARE NOT STUPID. We are no empty containers waiting to be filled up by lies about how perfect our life could be if only we were more beautiful. Why does a person find themselves ugly? Probably not because fucking make up or cosmetics or whatever ads showed them perfect people - much more likely because some asshole made an unfriendly remark about their appearance. Maybe once, maybe twice, maybe over a period of years. Maybe it was a person close to them, or somebody they liked and wanted to get closer to. Maybe it was a family member.
"My mom told me I had a big jaw"
...says one of the women taking part in the experiment. Well, guess who probably made her feel uncomfortable about her jaw. The media? An image of a supermodel on the cover of a magazine? Or maybe rather her mother?

It's not ads who we get our values from, it's people. It's not ads that crush our hopes of ever becoming happy and pretty, it's the people that surround us and make us believe that we are either wonderful, lovable beings, or that treat us like shit and makes us hate ourselves. It's not ads that raise people to either be friendly and polite and respectful towards others or fail to do so. It is parents passing on values to their children, children and teenagers and their group dynamics that shape how people behave, and if you happen to come across an unfriendly person who insults you based on your appearance, it's not an ad's fault that they are being an asshole.

If a person strives to be "perfect" and wishes to have the beauty of a photoshop-polished supermodel, it's not because they are stupid and fed with lies from the advertisement industry. It's much more likely because at some point in their lives, something bad happened to them, and when they looked for support, they didn't get it. It takes so much more effort to build something back up again that was crushed ages ago, than it takes to support something that is weak at a young age. What I am talking about is - of course - self confidence. If you lack it, you will know what I mean and you are likely to have perceived the ad in a positive way. If you nit-pick on that ad to find all the negative aspects and hints towards another meaning, then you probably don't lack it, or never lacked it, and then - excuse me - you are also not the target audience of this campaign and shouldn't be talking about how it ruins women's perception of beauty when all it does is give a little comfort to people who are somewhat broken inside. So don't call them blind or stupid for not "understanding" the true meaning of the ad, because you are the ones picking your own truth and telling us that it's "truer" than the one we perceive.

Dove has been called out for hypocrisy about their campaigns several times, most of all because they are owned by the mother company Unilever which also owns AXE which is infamous for its ads. Without wanting to touch the subject of the image of women in ads, honestly, this is ridiculous.

OF COURSE a company wants to make money. OF COURSE they will try to market their stuff to you. OF COURSE Dove's aim is to sell their products and not save the freaking rain forest or stop global climate change. And luckily, they found a way to market their products that is pretty revolutionary: instead of showing you polished perfect bodies, they show you more natural, more average women that you can relate to much easier. Yes, the "average woman" they present in their ads is still rather pretty, but most of all, she is natural. She radiates the image of "I could be you! You are like me!" It's easy to relate to this kind of woman for most of us because she reminds us much more about ourself than most other women we see in ads, like for example the super skinny woman in Nivea's ad for a special skin care that's supposed to make your skin retract easier after having given birth - seriously I found that far more disturbing than any ad by AXE or Dove I had ever seen, and the biggest thing that woman probably could fit in her belly is  maybe a well-chewed head of lettuce.
Dove changed the message from "We present you the perfect woman!" to "THIS IS YOU. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL".

So… I don’t know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. No real diversity celebrated in race, age, or body shape. So you’re beautiful… if you’re thin, don’t have noticeable wrinkles or scars, and have blue eyes. 

Criticizing them for showing cultural diversity, but doing it just not well enough, or pointing out how many people of which ethnicity get how much screentime - well, I just think it's a bit far-fetched. Diversity is important, but not the most important thing in an ad like this one. Because what makes you relate to this women is not their skin color, it's what they say about themselves. Seriously, if you can only relate to people because of their ethnicity, I feel as sorry for you as people who sympathize with 50% of the world population only based on their gender (but that's another topic). Also, not all Caucasians look the same, just as not all African Americans or Asians look the same. Could we please appreciate the diversity of these women's faces without regard to their skin, eye and hair color? Wouldn't that be much less racist than regarding them differently based on their ethnicity?

I really don't see where this ad was shoving any fair-skinned-blonde-blue-eyed-thin ideal to my face. Also, I don't know where you live but here in central Europe people get themselves roasted in tanning beds, because they don't want to be pale. Actually when you buy sun blocker because you want to stay pale, they laugh at you. And they tell you that you look sick if you look pale. And that you should get a tan because you will always look healthier with a tan. I guess it's just another kind of "you always want what you don't have effect".

When the participants described themselves, these were some of the things that were implied as negatives: fat, rounder face, freckles, fatter, 40— starting to get crows feet, moles, scars… Whereas some of the implied positive descriptors used by others were: thin face, nice thin chin, nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive (my actual favorite), short and cute nose, her face was fairly thin (this was said twice), and very nice blue eyes. So… I don't know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. 

The only person who uses the word "fat" is one and the same woman who has a round kind of face.
It is obvious that she uses the word with a lot of hatred in her voice and dislikes that feature. This woman probably hates her face for being so round, and that's we she chose a word with a strong, negative connotation to it, despite the fact that her face is not "fat" but just round shaped.
The woman who is described as "thin" definitely has a thin face. Where is the problem here? How else could you describe it, if that's the most prominent feature you noticed when you looked at her? The only issue is that we perceive the words "round" and "thin" as extremes and are apparently only able to see them as "extremely good" and "extremely bad" so we overreact when we hear them. Or some of us, that is. So apparently we must not describe people using these words any more? What should we use instead - "circle-ish" and "horizontally insufficient"? And what about "nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive" ? Seriously? That comment doesn't even say anything about the eye color.

It doesn't really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and it doesn't really tell us that fitting inside that definition isn't the most important thing.

No, it doesn't, but why should it? It's not its purpose. We are not talking about definitions here because they are not defining anything. They are not telling you which of the interviewed women are more beautiful than others. On screen time of different people and the frequency of mentioned adjectives do not necessarily tell you this either. If you perceive it that way, it's a pity, and I am sorry that you don't like the ad because of this, but I highly doubt that this was the intent. But people are not stupid hollow shells that subconsciously take up any crap that is thrown at them, purposefully or not, anyway. If you look around and talk to people you will probably notice how different beauty ideals are. We are not all envying the same kind of people for their appearance. We do not all find the same kind of person attractive. And we do not all find the kind of person attractive we see on the cover of a magazine or a TV ad. Or at least not exclusively. And even if I like an image of a beautiful woman, photoshopped to hell and back, it doesn't mean that I put up that picture next to my mirror and compare my skin to it every morning and chose my partner based on the image. Could we still appreciate that also in real live, you have people with nicer looking skin than others, and may I still envy those people a little bit without being blamed that I'm just influenced by the media?

The ad doesn't aim to show you ugly people to make you feel better about yourself, it shows you beautiful people that have self doubts. Problem?

All of these women are of course not "ugly". They are actually beautiful, in an interesting, closer-look kind of way. They are not our "average" idea of beauty either. But they are beautiful, and honestly, I don't get it why people criticize that they are "not actually ugly". Isn't that... kind of judgmental?  Actually, how do you define "ugly"?  Why would you want to see "ugly" people in such an ad? To make you feel better about yourself...? Well, maybe you shouldn't use this argument to criticize others for liking the ad then, don't you think? Those who are positively affected by the ad probably didn't even compare themselves to these women in the first place. If I compare myself to them, I'd consider myself less beautiful then some of them. So what? I still can relate to what they say, because the way they talk about themselves is the way I talk about myself. Can't we just appreciate the fact that even the people we consider "more beautiful" than ourselves have doubts about themselves too? It's not supposed to makes us feel worse about ourselves on purpose - and in that ad it definitely didn't come across this way, at least not to me.

Finally, now that we've spent so much time discussing about how to bring across the wrong message, how about this one:

I know we’ve been told it thousands upon thousands of times before, but I hope you heard that, girls: your physical, superficial beauty is the most significant part of who you are, and the most important determining factor in your life. And now I want you to hear this: that is a lie. 

It is not a lie, and no matter how much we wish for it it will never be. There are certain traits that we perceive as more beautiful than others, above all symmetry of the facial features, and these won't even change with fashion or time, because they are deeply rooted in ancient instincts that used to help us to pick our partners. Nowadays we make other choices based on what we see. From the moment we see a person, most of us already judge them. And not all of us give others a chance to prove them different. How you look will influence who finds you attractive and who will try to talk to you. But that's not only based on your facial features and body but of course also on your general appearance, such as clothes, the things you do, such as listening to music, jogging, reading a book, the places you go to. Seeing you will make people judge you based on what they see. They will assume you like music, are a sporty kind of person, like books or movies or are part of a certain subculture. The way you look will always influence the way people see you.

Above all, what matters is self confidence. It is perceived above all. Before beauty, before the actual facial features. Being confident about yourself will make you look more attractive, happier, healthier. It will impact the way people look at you dramatically. I have seen it myself. And it's not just appearance. If you're confident in your wits, or your abilities in one way or the other, if you are enthusiastic about what you do, it will get you much farther in life than sulking over your seemingly loathsome self.

That being said, I think it has come clear that i really like the campaign and its message, and I wanted to point out what I think is important about it. But I also wanted to tell a little story.
Lately, I was told I have a "difficult face", in the context of make up. I was not told directly, though the same person said something else about me while I was next to her which was a similar statement. To be honest, it made me cringe. It made me unhappy. It made me angry. But after a while, I realized I actually didn't care. It was ridiculous. It was a person I don't even care about. Why bother? Why let myself be dragged down by it?

I am far from perfect and I have a lot of flaws that cannot compete to most other people's "natural beauty". I know exactly how I would describe myself if I was part in such an experiment: asymmetrical jaw, crooked nose, protruding eyes, very pointy and sharp chin, asymmetrical lips and high, asymmetrical eye brows, bad skin, shadows under the eyes, deep nasolabial grooves and roundish cheeks. That's how I see myself when i look in the mirror. But I also know that's probably not how most people would describe me. And seeing this ad strengthened my self confidence, because it showed that everyone has flaws only they see about themselves. That in a random encounter with a stranger, he probably won't walk off thinking "Wow, that girl has pretty deep nasolabial grooves!" about me.

I would love to take part in such an experiment, simply to see the two pictures next to each other.
Some person pointed out how the experiment is biased because the artist knows if he is drawing the "good" or "bad" picture of the described person, so he will of course draw them in a more flattering way the second time. But comparing the people to the drawn pictures in the video, they are most often better described by the stranger than by themselves, artist's flattery taken aside.

Well, I just hope that some of the people who criticized that ad might understand a little better now why some people were so deeply affected by it. I am not saying that you are not right about your perception of the ad. I am just saying that you shouldn't be condescending towards people who feel touched by that ad, only because they perceive the message differently from you.

What do you think about the campaign?
What were your initial thoughts, and did they change after you read the tumblr post or my entry?


  1. schwieriges Thema. Ich kann beide Seiten verstehen. Aber ich denke auch, dass viele Leute bei solchen Werbungen auf jedes winzige Detail achten, um es später schlecht zu reden. Gerade dieses schwarz/weiß denken... es geht im Spot nicht um schwarz oder weiß. Hätte man nur dunkelhäutige Frauen gesehen, hätte sich sicher jemand beschwert, ob das denn bedeutet soll, dass diese alle hässlich wären. Man kann's den Leuten nicht recht machen. Das ist wie bei der Frauenrechtsbewegung, die in jeder Anrede ein Mitarbeiter /-innen möchte. Man kann sich auch unnötig aufregen...

    Natürlich will Dove verkaufen. Natürlich sind wir aber clever genug, um das zu wissen. Die Werbung kann noch so toll sein, deswegen werde ich noch lange nicht das Produkt kaufen. Werbeversprechen kann man eh nicht glauben ^^

    Dove will ihre Produkte verkaufen und Aufmerksamkeit, also nehmen sie als Models schöne Menschen. Gleichzeitig möchten sie sich sympathisch darstellen. Also zeigen sie uns schöne Menschen, deren Ideal wir nacheifern können, ABER ihre Models sind realistischer, näher am "echten" Kunden dran. Das sind Menschen, denen wir auch im Alltag begegnen könnten und uns denken "ui, die neue Nachbarin ist aber eine Hübsche."

    Ich finde es unrealistisch von einer Werbung zu erwarten, dass sie das gesamte momentane Schönheitsideal umwerfen sollen. Sowas passiert in kleinen Schritten, mit Durchschnittsfrauen in der Werbung, mit kurvigeren Schaufensterpuppen, mit Normalgewichtigen Models auf den Laufstegen.

    Ich persönlich finde die Idee gut. Weil es stimmt, wir selbst sind unsere schärfsten Kritiker. Wir sehen Fehler, die anderen nicht auffallen. Und wir sehen andere (Mädels) häufig zurechtgemacht, geschminkt und aufgehübscht. Uns selbst sehen wir morgens im Spiegel mit Zombieaugenringen, dass es uns gruselt. Das andere Frauen morgens auch erst nach einer halben Stunde so "perfekt" aussehen vergessen wir natürlich ^^ Das verzerrt unsere Wahrnehmung. Und gerade da ist es doch gut zu zeigen, dass wir selbst mit uns zu hart ins Gericht gehen.

    Schönheit ist natürlich nicht alles, was zählt, aber ich verstehe dein Argument. Wer sich selbst unwohl fühlt, weil er/sie sich als "hässlich" empfindet, dessen Selbstbewusstsein leidet. Und ohne Selbstbewusstsein findet man schlechter Freunde, traut sich im Job weniger zu etc.
    Ich finde es durchaus wichtig, sich in der eigenen Haut wohl zu fühlen. Schönheit ist sehr subjektiv, der eine findet sich mit Make-Up schön, der andere ohne. Man muss nicht Supermodel-schön sein, um zufrieden mit sich selbst zu sein.

    Ich glaube auch, dass Dove weniger auf "Schönheit" im klassischen Sinn anspielt, als auf das Selbstbewusstsein. Oder auf die Einstellung: "Ich bin nicht perfekt, aber ich bin schön und interessant und liebenswert und das sehen andere auch so."
    Das verstehe ich unter dieser Werbung.

    Und wie du schreibst, es ist beruhigend zu sehen, dass auch schöne Menschen Selbstzweifel haben. Ja, es ist beruhigend, wenn eine Hammerfrau wie ASU zugibt, dass sie morgens mit Augenringen aufwacht. Wir sind nicht perfekt und das ist okay so :)

    1. Danke fürs Lesen und deinen langen Kommentar ♥

  2. Maaan, du hast ja schon alles niedergeschrieben, was ich zu dem Thema sagen könnte -.- xD

    Also, ich war erstmal ziemlich sauer, als ich diesen Tumblr-Post gesehen habe! Ernsthaft, es liest sich so, als würde sie KRAMPFHAFT versuchen, Böses in dieser Werbung zu finden. Ich glaube, diese Person hat ein Problem mit ihrer Weltanschauung. Vor allem, wie sie dieses Zitat interpretiert hat, indem es darum geht, wie wichtig es sei im Umgang mit den eigenen Kindern, beim Job etc.
    Ich denke die Meisten werden es so verstanden haben, dass nicht die SCHÖNHEIT wichtig ist, sondern WIE MAN SICH SELBST SIEHT! Wer sich selbst hässlich findet, schränkt sich selbst sehr stark ein (spreche ebenfalls aus Erfahrung). Wer sich schön findet, wer selbstbewusster wird, für den lässt es sich leichter leben. Es hat für mich sehr lange gedauert, bis ich die Grundmessage aus diesem Video im echten Leben verstanden habe (glücklicherweise schon vor dem Video, umso toller fand ich die Bestätigung): man selbst sieht sich nicht so, wie andere einen sehen und nur man selbst sieht all diese "Makel" und "Fehler". Als mir klar wurde, dass andere mich in einem ganz anderen Licht sehen, konnte ich das erste Mal ohne Make Up das Haus verlassen. Mir wurde klar, dass sie nicht wissen, ob ich normalerweise geschminkt oder ungeschminkt rumlaufe. Dass ich für sie wohl ganz normal aussehe, vllt. sogar für manche eine "natural beauty" bin, und kein schreckliches, hässliches Ungeheuer, wie ich mich für viele Jahre hielt.

    Und wie du schon sagtest. Daran sind nicht die Medien Schuld. Dass ich jemals so über mich dachte, war die Schuld von neunjährigem Mobbing. Das höchste der Gefühle war, dass ich gerne so ausgesehen hätte, wie die, in der Werbung, weil ich mir dachte, dass solche Menschen nicht gemobbt werden. Mittlerweile fällt das Mobbing weg und ich konnte viel Selbstbewusstsein sammeln. Ich habe viele tolle neue Menschen kennengelernt, was damals niemals möglich gewesen wäre! Und das liegt garantiert nicht daran, weil ich schöner, dünner, blasser oder keine Ahnung was wurde. Sondern weil ich mein Selbstverständnis und die Sicht über mich selbst geändert habe.

    Also im Prinzip alles nochmal wiederholt, was du bereits schriebst, mit kleinem Ansatz. Guter Post, spricht mir aus der Seele! Over and out. :D

    1. Genau das meinte ich! Bei mir war es ja auch so: Leute die mir jahrelang vermittelt haben dass ich hässlich bin, die mich wirklich expolizit gelehrt haben Dinge an mir zu hassen, die mich sonst vielleicht nicht mal stören würden oder mir nicht so auffallen würden. Und als ich angefangen habe zu sehen, dass das für andere die mich sehen, gar kein Makel ist oder nicht auffällt, habe ich mich auch langsam wieder ohne Make-up rausgetraut, ohne mich jedes Mal wenn jemand hinter meinem Rücken lacht, mich damit gemeint zu fühlen.

      Danke fürs lesen! :)

  3. "not the importance of beauty, but the importance of self perception"

    People should be reminded of that more often, thanks :)


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