Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beauty in the eye of the beholder?

An advert caught our attention here this week, which has been released by Unilever’s Dove in Canada. Showing a normal girl, the advert, called Evolution, shows her being made-up, her hair being done by professionals, the lighting being made just right before a picture of her is taken. Her image is then manipulated and re-touched. The tagline is "No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted. Take part in the Dove Beauty Workshop for Girls."

Thought-provoking stuff, but how successful has this campaign really been, not only for Dove, for changing the public’s perceptions of what is beautiful?

When Dove launched its ‘real beauty’ campaign, it appeared to strike a chord with many women and sales went up 700%. A few years down the line, Unilever has moved on from simply TV and print advertising and has launched initiatives in a number of countries. It has introduced a self-esteem fund that supports specific educational programs throughout the world designed to increase self-confidence and promote a positive body image in young people. In addition, it has also conducted a survey of women in ten countries aged from 15 to 64 to explore self-esteem and the impact of beauty ideals on women throughout the world. This research found that 90% of women questioned wanted to change at least one aspect of their appearance and 67% withdrew from ‘life-engaging’ activities due to feeling badly about their looks.

It has to be wondered whether it is the images that women are exposed to in the media that are causing such negative perceptions of our body image. This certainly seems to be the case in Fiji. In 1995,TV was first brought into Fiji and at this time there were no body-image eating problems in the country. Three years later there were. It appears that visual culture is actually that powerful.

But the question is, have Dove done enough to change perceptions? Or rather, will they ever be able to? The world of cosmetics is essentially a fantasy world. Research shows that women usually say they would like to see larger models, but are more likely to buy the products advertised by the ‘perfect’ models.

At the end of the day, the images used by Dove are energising and inspiring to many women, but they won’t provide a cure for eating disorders or issues of self-esteem. To think they could resolve concerns that have been with women for centuries is naive. But perhaps they have at least taken a step in the right direction. What do you think?



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