Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video went viral this week, but what does it really say about how we perceive ourselves versus how we perceive others?
The basic premise was that women were brought to a warehouse and paired up with a partner without being told why. One was then sent to describe herself to a former police sketch artist, and her partner then went in to describe her for a second drawing. The sketch artist was separated from the women by a curtain and did not see them during this phase. The women who were drawn were then brought back to see the sketches side by side to compare how they pictured themselves versus how a stranger saw them.
Many women have been deeply moved by the video. Seeing the women’s reactions to the different sketches had me tearing up a tiny bit. The pairs that were shown looked drastically different from each other, and the self-described portraits were much less flattering than the pictures described by the strangers. We tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others, and this definitely showed that.
Or did it? The video is edited to only show the negative things the women said about themselves and the positive things others said about them, but we have no way of knowing if self-complimentary statements or derogatory descriptions by others were left on the cutting room floor. We also don’t know if the artist deliberately skewed the images to exaggerate the differences. As Erin Keane at Salon points out,
When he reveals both sketches to each woman, everyone has feelings, because Sketches A, based on self-description, look like outtakes from the Napoleon Dynamite Book of Cryptozoology. Sketches B, of course, look like actual human beings.
And besides, isn’t this all just reinforcing beauty as the ultimate attainable goal? Let’s not forget that, while this isn’t an ad for a specific line, Dove wants to sell us products to make us look “better.” The women highlighted in the video are all fairly young, conventionally attractive, and, for the most part, white. JazxyLittleDrops on Tumblr sums it up better than I can:
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. If you’re fat or old… uh, maybe other people don’t think you look as fat and old as you do yourself? Great? Oh, and by the way, there are real women who look like the women on the left. What are you saying about them, exactly?
Of course, the inevitable parody video has already emerged as well. I can’t quite decide if it’s a hilarious sendup, or is kind of shitty for stereotyping all men as egotistical maniacs and women as really harsh critics (and I really could have lived without one of the women describing a man as having “rapey eyes”). Obviously it’s taking the premise to its most extreme level and is totally scripted rather than based on how the men actually perceive themselves/are perceived by women, so I may just be a bit of a killjoy for not applauding it wholeheartedly.
What do you think about the Dove video? Does it make you feel better about your looks or worse, or do you see it as pure emotional manipulation?