The Dove campaign called Real Beauty Sketches was released last week and garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative. I even blogged about it here, and in one sentence, said that it made me cry because it’s true. After watching it again for the second time just before writing this, it brought tears to my eyes again.
A few days after I first saw it, I then began seeing critical reaction to the piece. Some said it had more white people than colored ones, and if there were colored people in them, they were simply added in, as if as an afterthought. I’m definitely not white, but did I notice that in the piece? No.
Some said that it was pure manipulation (hel-lo, everything we see on media is manipulation. Get with the program already), that Dove is just doing this for publicity (again, see the previous comment).
Some said that the piece focused only on the outside beauty and at this point, I basically just stopped reading what everyone else was saying because somehow, they lost the whole point of the piece.
To me, it was about beauty, plain and simple. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder – us. Beauty may be simply skin deep for some, and more than skin deep for others. But the bottom line is this – what we see when we look in the mirror may be beautiful to us – or it may not be.
That the idea of beauty have been dictated by others throughout the years is nothing new. All you have to do is look at the evolution of art through the ages, and you will see how beauty was perceived then. And how beauty is perceived now.
There’s some difference. And then there’s not.
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to attend a curated exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art entitled The Ghost in the Machine: The Photography of the Human Soul, 1850 – 2000 by Robert A. Sobieszek. It was amazing.
There was one particular artist whose work really stayed with me. Her name is Orlan. She is a French feminist performance artist who uses her body literally to display art.
In this case, she, in following the concept of beauty through the ages, subjected her body to what was considered beautiful according to pieces of art like Mona Lisa and Venus in “Birth of Venus”. She was conscious through most of the surgeries and documented her whole process of healing and transformation here.
She acquired Mona Lisa’s high forehead and if I remember correctly, Venus’ lips, among others. I think she ended up with nine different surgeries with the last one being the most controversial one because no surgeon (mostly men) would willingly do it simply because it went against their idea of beauty – and that was to put two bumps just above her eyebrows that aren’t exactly horns but basically could be interpreted as such.
When she finally found someone willing to do it (probably a woman, I can’t remember now but do correct me if I’m wrong), it reinforced the belief that beauty through the years have always been dictated by men.
So where does that bring us women? When we look in the mirror, by whose standards do we view whether we are beautiful or not? Do we look beyond what lies under the skin – at qualities that do last a lot longer than firm and dewy looking skin, the perfect eyebrows and nose, the full lips?
One of the things that worried people back in the day when photography first emerged was that photographs would capture their soul and bind it. Through the years, there are photographs that do grip us, that bring up so many emotions in each of us.
What if we were to look at our own photographs for a change? Will we only see the little stain on our shirts the day the photograph was taken? Worry that we didn’t wear any make up and hence look “horrible”? Will we see the soul that the camera captured or simply stop at skin level?
So for me, the Dove ad was about this: It’s about how we really see ourselves, and about how we can sometimes be harder on ourselves than on others, especially when it comes to the outside beauty. It’s also about how we determine our own idea of beauty and not let some media entity do so.
I know we’re only human and we want to fit in, to stand out, to feel special. But also remember that hardly anything on print and screen is what it really is. Not everything we see is what it appears to be.
Except that person in the mirror.
That person is real, and if the eyes were the windows to the soul, let your own internal camera capture what resides inside – whether what you see is beautiful or not – on your own terms.