Why #Choosebeautiful Irks Me So

Dove is at it again. They’re trying to get women to buy their soap through shameless flattery. I realize I am in the minority in this, but I hate the message of the Dove Real Beauty series of ads. I do not find it to be particularly empowering.

In this ad, women are given the option to walk through a door with the word “beautiful” over it or one with the word “average.”

(Which door did the men walk through and who interviewed them about their choices? If they did not walk through the “beautiful” door are we meant to understand this is an existential tragedy?)

Where is the door that says “competent” or “intelligent” or “accomplished”? Most people have average looks. That is the meaning of the word “average.” But the message in this video is that it is a tragedy for a woman to admit she might not be above average in the looks department. Why should that be?

According to a study conducted by Dove, most women (96%) said they wouldn’t choose the word beautiful to describe themselves — although about 80% said there is something beautiful about them. Feeling beautiful is a personal choice women should feel empowered to make for themselves, every day.

Suppose women were to make the choice for themselves every day that they weren’t going to feel ashamed of looking average? Wouldn’t we be more “empowered”?

As the word “beautiful” means above average, extraordinarily pleasant to look at, then defining it as the top 4% doesn’t seem entirely out of line. The fact that 80% of women say there is something beautiful about them says to me that vast majority of women actually do take pride in ourselves, but that we’ve been asked to define all of our positive qualities under the umbrella term of “beauty.” If we do not use this language, we are accused of having woefully low self-esteem.

When we define all of our positive qualities in terms of beauty we are implying that the main benefit is that these qualities will be attractive to men. It also affects what we value in women. Certain kinds of qualities lend themselves more readily to being defined in terms of beauty. A “beautiful personality” calls to mind someone compassionate, optimistic, nurturing more than someone who is strong, challenging, powerful.

Try changing the gender and the adjective in this sentence:

“According to a study conducted by Dove, most men (96%) said they wouldn’t choose the word “genius” to describe themselves — although about 80% said there is something genius about them.”

Wouldn’t you infer that, in fact, these men had quite healthy self-esteem? Of course most would not be arrogant enough to insist they be defined as genius. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their own areas of expertise. If 80% felt that they had some genius qualities, that is pretty darned good.

How does this sentence sound?

“Feeling beautiful is a personal choice men should feel empowered to make for themselves, every day.”

And why not make a personal choice, while you’re at it, to believe you’re a great dancer, a brilliant mathematician, naturally gifted at sports? Because it is not all in your head. We’re not equally gifted in everything. My proposal is a simple one: rather than expend mental energy trying to define all of your positive qualities as “beauty” and then express how beautiful you feel, how about skipping the middle man and just be confident about what is great about you?

I would walk through the “average” door with my head held high, and if they asked me afterwards why I had chosen that one I would say “because my looks are average.” (Not ugly, just average, thank you very much.) But you know what? I’m a very good writer. Where is that door?

 

 

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