Body image campaigners have long been sceptical of the worth of ‘empowerment advertising’ and the message that everyone needs to feel beautiful to function like healthy, happy humans. (You can read about the six flaws we picked in the desire to be flawless here. )
But now skincare brand Dove, the company that made a name for itself -- and legions of fans -- by championing the ‘every woman is beautiful’ mantra, has taken empowerment campaigning to a new level.
Dove's latest project Selfie, a short film that explores how social media has shaped the way we perceive beauty, will feature at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
The 7-minute short follows a group of (female) high school students and their mothers who are asked to take photographs of themselves highlighting their physical insecurities – things like big hair, braces, rosy cheeks and glasses.
In an experiment reminiscent of Dove's viral "beauty sketches" ad, the participants learn that many of their disliked attributes are actually the things that others consider to be their most beautiful and, in that regard, the film achieves its goal.
(Even the mother who insisted her daughter wear makeup at the beginning of the film has seen the light – “Since we’ve had this experience together, I have realised she’s fine just the way she is,” she says about her daughter.)
But the film, as is the case with all advertising of this nature, also does young women a disservice by again equating a woman’s worth to physical appearance, and happiness to ‘feeling beautiful’.
While the conversation on how the proliferation of social media has affected young women is a worthy one to have, in bolstering teenagers’ self-value by demonstrating how others judge their appearance we are sending the message that beauty remains a significant, if not vital, commodity in becoming successful.
What of the subjects these women are studying in the classroom? What future dreams do they harbour? When will being confident, considerate and intelligent weigh more than their outwardly appearance?
As Tina Fey pointed out in Bossypants, back in the day not every female had to be hot and that was perfectly acceptable. Beauty is not essential. Feeling empowered is not, and does not have to be, the same as feeling beautiful. And that’s the message we should be sending to young women.