Tinted Lens: Musings on culture and beyond

The Beauty Myth: Dove Cosmetics Rides The Wave – Part II

Posted in Adaptation, Feminism, Intercultural Advertising, Intercultural Marketing, Semiotics by interculturaljournal on February 28, 2011

Updated: Feb 28, 2011 
Published: Oct 21, 2008

… continued from Part I

     The meticulously articulated marketing strategy described in the first part of this article is in no way unique to Dove. Jean Kilbourne explains that advertisers’ unifying message is this: a problem or need exists for which their product is the solution. By purchasing their product, we are brought closer to resolving our issues, be they physical, financial, political, or emotional. Kilbourne also believes the myth advertisers enforce is that their products ultimately empower us, whereas the opposite is true. She writes, “the story that advertising tells us is that the way to be happy, to find satisfaction—and the path to political freedom, as well—is through the consumption of material objects. And the major motivating force for social change throughout the world today is this belief that happiness comes from the market” (Kilbourne, 1999, p.75). Certainly, not all myths are dangerous or destructive. Yet, within capitalist societies, the ruling myth that individuals’ pursuit of happiness can be met, or at least aided, by consuming goods is both irresponsible and disparaging.

     Psychologist, Carl Rogers who ascribed to the phenomenological tradition believed that three main conditions were necessary for individuals to develop and thrive: congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathic understanding (Griffin, 2003, p.32). While Rogers developed his findings within the therapeutic setting, he believed it remained valid in any interpersonal exchange. Advertisers rely heavily on phenomenology when crafting their marketing messages. This is precisely why they conduct market research. By pinpointing our insecurities, our deepest fears and desires, they are able to fabricate the very myths we would want to believe. As in the case of Dove, good advertisements successfully exude a genuine, caring, real, empathic, and warm personae that represents the company, and by extension, its products. When these myths become a part of our reality (whether intentionally or not) we co-author them, weaving in our own subjective experiences. What follows is a ritual participation that sees us purchasing select products and utilizing them to extend the experience of the chosen myth for as long as possible.

     Myths are considered by many a powerful and creative means of negotiating our reality. They appear healthy in as far as they are demarcated as such: myths we choose to engage in to enrich and enliven our lives. What is alarming is when our perception of reality is so distorted by the images that engulf us everyday that the line which separates reality and myth becomes jagged. This is precisely what Wolf referred to as the Beauty Myth. Over time, the jagged line of this particularly profitable myth was further manipulated until it zigzagged its way between two entirely conflicting realities: one in which poreless, statuesque she-figures are the norm, and the other reality our mirrors reflect. Different media have contributed to solidifying this split personality within society. Magazines, television, billboards, and cinema all present conflicting images and messages of what beauty represents. Is it any wonder that bulimia, anorexia, and premature osteoporosis are on the increase?

     Wolf and others believe the Beauty Myth to be a form of patriarchal hegemony. Within this system, the symbol “beauty” is repeatedly associated with the word “female” until this becomes a standard. Since beauty is presented as fragile, ephemeral, and sensual so do these depictions become imposed onto women. Systematically, the very matrix that forms a woman’s identity is unraveled, splintered, and re-molded into a mere icon of her multifaceted potential. However, while the claims of patriarchal involvement are valid, the assumption that men do not suffer the same systematic manipulation is unlikely to hold true. Furthermore, it is regrettable that women are often labeled as “victims” of a predominant system, or the media. This is usually done by well-meaning feminist auteurs, who believe they are breaking the walls of repression. I hold that the opposite is true; such a label is stigmatizing and disempowering in itself.

     One must also recall that hegemony does not imply forceful domination, but the ability to convince the masses of the inherent usefulness of a given discourse. As Real (1996) suggests, “we also choose fictional worlds because they do not resemble our real world but offer a variation from it, a new and different experience” (p. 126). Indeed, these experiences can be novel and entertaining. However, while weighing the benefits, we need to remain aware of the effects. We can be more discriminating by insisting on mainstreaming myths which empower and inspire, while challenging ones which do the opposite. Endeavors such as Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, could help in their mainstreaming effect— but their symbiotic nature needs to remain in check. Ultimately, the biggest myth of all is that we do not have a choice. In the advent of social media, more than ever, advertisers dance to the tunes we compose. Let us compose wisely.



comScore Networks. (2006) Paying Millions for ‘Brand Damage’? Retrieved on April 1st, 2007 from: http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=740

Crain, R. (1999, January 18) When ads don’t produce sales, watch the (phony) excuses fly. Advertising Age, (23).

Dove Cosmetics. (2006). Campaign for Real Beauty. http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/dsef/temp2.asp?id=4199

Griffin, E. A. (2003). A first look at Communication Theory. McGraw-Hill.

Harris, R. (1989, November 12). Children who dress for excess: today’s youngsters have become fixated with fashion. Los Angeles Times. A1.

Howard, T. (2006). Dove ad gets serious for Super Bowl. USA Today.

Kilbourne, J. (1999). Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. Free Press Publishing.

Ms. Magazine blog (2005). Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign Getting Under Your Skin? Retrieved on April 2nd, from: http://www.msmusings.net/archives/fashion/index.html

Nelson, A. (2007) Dove’s Self-Esteem Fund 2006 Super Bowl Ad: How Does This Ad Fit into the Super Bowl Lineup? Associated Press. Retrieved on March 23, 2007, from: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/138225/doves_selfesteem_fund_2006_super_bowl.html

Real, M. (1996). Exploring Media Culture. Sage Publishing.

Ryder, M. (2004). Semiotics: Language and Culture. Retrieved on March 15, 2007 from http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~mryder/semiotics_este.html

Wolf, N. (1992). The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. Harper Perennial.

The following videos were also referenced:

Dove – True Colors (US)

Dove – True Colors (Canadian Version)

Dove – Campaign for Real Beauty (Chinese Version)


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