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Women, bodies and self-esteem – one company has a conscience


Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty wants to help widen the definition of beauty — to celebrate real women with real curves.

I’m flipping through my guilty pleasure US Weekly today, and there’s this pullout section, sandwiched between the many photos of celebrated waifs/anorexic Hollywood types, featuring unretouched photographs of lovely, shapely women for a line of Dove skin products. They are not professional models, just attractive, real women, the type you aren’t going to see in Playboy, in the a porno flick, in any fashion magazine, or as the lead in a Hollywood flick (that isn’t a target of jokes). You know, women with real boobies, full thighs and actual hips.

Dove has started a Campaign for Real Beauty, first launched in the U.K. to great feedback and success. What’s remarkable is that this isn’t just a lame PR effort for Dove; they commissioned a global study to find The Truth About Beauty, and have established a Dove Self-Esteem fund, acknowledging that beauty pressures affect women, young and old, but especially in teens, who have fallen hook line and sinker for our culture’s obsession with unrealisitic images of beauty. Consider some of the results from the company’s study* of 3,200 women worldwide, aged 18 to 64 (PDF):

* Only 2% of these women describe themselves as “beautiful”
* About 3/4 of them rate their beauty as “average”
* Almost 1/2 of them think their weight is “too high” — This is particularly the case in the U.S. (60%), Great Britain (57%) and Canada (54%).
* Italian and Argentinean women are most likely to say their weight is “just right.”

On the social cues about beauty that emerge from the mass media and popular culture — it became apparent that – when women report on the messages they get from popular culture and the media – the idea of “beauty” and the idea of “physical attractiveness” are treated as largely synonymous. Furthermore, both are seen as highly valued by society, but, at the same time, rendered almost impossible to attain. The study reveals that women see beauty and physical attractiveness as increasingly socially mandated and rewarded, with almost two-thirds strongly agreeing that:

* “Women today are expected to be more physically attractive than their mother’s generation was” (63%); and,
* “Society expects women to enhance their physical attractiveness” (60%).
* 45% of all women strongly agree that “women who are more beautiful have greater opportunities in life.”
* More than half of women (59%) strongly agree that “physically attractive women are more valued by men.”
* More than two-thirds (68%) of women strongly agree that “the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve.” Women over 30 tend to believe this more strongly than women 18 to 29.

Women around the world would like to see the media change in the way it represents beauty, with the majority strongly agreeing that they wished that:
* Female beauty was portrayed in the media as being made up of more than just physical attractiveness (76%).
* The media did a better job of portraying women of diverse physical attractiveness – age, shape and size (75%).
* Younger women 18-29 and 30-44 are more interested in seeing women of various body weights and shapes, where older women are more likely to have an interest in seeing women of different ages as well as various body weights and shapes.

What about cosmetic surgery? With all the botoxing, pulling, nipping and tucking, both in Hollywood, and increasingly the average public (see the popularity of Extreme Makeover), these results were interesting:
* Women who are less satisfied with their beauty are significantly more likely than those who are more satisfied to report considering cosmetic surgery.
* Half of all women in Brazil have considered having cosmetic surgery, with 7% reporting having some kind of cosmetic surgery completed – the highest of all countries surveyed.
* Women from Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands are the least likely to consider having cosmetic surgery. While only a quarter of women have ever considered having cosmetic surgery, this number increases to almost four in ten women if the procedures were safe and free. This is particularly true in Brazil, Argentina and the U.S.
* However, only 24% of women who are satisfied with their beauty would consider cosmetic surgery even if the procedures were safe and free.

Along with the study, Dove’s decided to put its money where its mouth is by:
* Creation of a forum for women to participate in a dialogue and debate about the definition and standards of beauty in society
* Advertising that inspires women and society to think differently about what is defined as beautiful
* Fundraising initiatives (sponsored by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund) to help young girls with low body-related self esteem
* Self-esteem workshops with young girls in schools to help them foster a healthy relationship with and confidence in their bodies and their looks
* Establishment of the Program for Aesthetics and Well-Being at Harvard University, through a grant from Dove, which will continue to examine the way we think and talk about beauty in popular culture and the effect that this has on women’s well-being
* Creation of a Million Faces of Beauty feature on its site, where you can submit photos of women you know and love that you consider beautiful.

I don’t hold out hope that Hollywood is going to get the message — look at poor Lindsay Lohan, she has disappeared before our eyes, and ever worse, had her boobies digitally downsized for her next flick — because of “the children” — protecting us from possible tittilation.


Before. After. See FeedLindsay.com

That said, you can give feedback to Dove/Unilever below; encouraging corporations that take the high road goes a long way:

The Campaign for Real Beauty
www.campaignforrealbeauty.com
* Web form
* Phone: 1-800-761-DOVE (3683).

See? US Weekly isn’t completely useless trash…

* The study was by Dr. Nancy Etcoff – Harvard University, Dr. Susie Orbach – London School of Economics, Dr. Jennifer Scott – StrategyOne, Heidi D’Agostino – StrategyOne and commissioned by Dove (a Unilever Beauty Brand).

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding