Dear Social Media Friends,
In case you do not have a Facebook or Twitter account (or friends) the ad I’m talking about features a forensic sketch artist. He interviews some women and has them describe themselves. Without seeing them, he draws a likeness based on the woman’s self-description. Next the same artist interviews another person who has seen the woman and this person describes her. In each case, the second person uses more complimentary terms than the first and the picture comes out more “beautiful.”
(The example at the left strikes me as especially odd because the woman has longer hair according to the second person.)
“See how beautiful you are?” is the message of the ad. “Oh yeah, and now that we’ve buttered you up, buy our soap, please?”
Here is what bugs me about this ad: When the women look at the pictures and see that they do not have the same estimation of their physical beauty as the stranger we are supposed to understand that a woman’s sense of being less than beautiful physically is an existential tragedy.
“Of course you are beautiful.”
Well, you know what, so what if you’re not?
In trying to show women how beautiful they are, The Dove campaign reinforces he idea that we women should measure our worth in terms of beauty. I don’t agree.
Try this, tell a friend “I am not beautiful, but I am smart.”
There is a good chance that she will object. “Don’t be so negative, of course you’re beautiful.”
Compare this to the reaction you might get if you said, “I’m not a fast runner, but I have good eye hand coordination” or “I am not good at business but I am a great dancer.”
The underlying message here is that being beautiful is, if not more important than being smart, at least a requirement in addition to being smart. You can not be valued for your “smarts” alone.
As a matter of fact, we do not all have the same strengths, the same assets. Just because I do not consider myself to be especially physically beautiful– seriously, mathematically only a few people can be extraordinarily good looking, this is the definition of extraordinary– it does not mean that I am unrealistic, hard on myself, or tragic. I happen to know that I’m quite a good writer. I happen to know that I have a fairly decent mind and I’m happy with my sense of humor. I value the qualities that I actually have. If it turns out you think I’m prettier than I think I am, well cool. Thanks. But that doesn’t change my sense of self.
We should not have to refer to intelligence as “beauty” or kindness as “beauty” to value them. (We generally don’t insist that men’s positive qualities all be labeled as “beauty.” You could say a man’s strength or intelligence is “beautiful” but it would be quite unusual.)
I prefer the word “attractive” to beautiful. Beauty unquestionably has a power to attract. But you can be very attractive without being traditionally “beautiful,” and when it comes down to it, being attractive is actually what we crave because we desire union with other people. We want to be drawn together. I want people to be drawn to me for what is extraordinary and unique about me. I want to be drawn to what is extraordinary and unique about you.