The problems of ‘Real Beauty’ campaigns

One of the more prominent developments in marketing to women comes with the idea of ‘reality’; magazines will proudly proclaim the use of ‘real women’, while Dove long ago set up a marketing campaign to promote ‘real beauty’. This is intended as an uplifting message to tell women that while they may not be the 5’10, size 6 glamazons that are promoted as the norm in advertising and popular culture, they are just as beautiful, sexy and desirable as any supermodel.

It’s a nice idea, and I applaud the intentions, really I do. There’s just a few problems with it. When you use ‘real beauty’ in your selling strategies, the implication remains that being physically attractive is most important component to a woman’s worth. Men are not routinely told that if they are not good-looking they are not important, and women shouldn’t have to receive that message either. We do everyone a huge disservice when we reduce the value of women to whether or not they are beautiful. Not all women are beautiful. And that’s fine. Many women are clever and talented and compassionate and strong. Yet as a society, we refuse to acknowledge these attributes as being even close to as important as what a woman looks like.

real beauty dove

Secondly, the concept of a ‘real woman’ implies that some women are in fact, not real. It seems to have become almost a sport in women’s magazines to degrade the bodies of thin women – whilst simultaneously using them to model whatever they’re selling, as well as providing weight loss tips scattered throughout their pages. Thin or athletic women are publicly belittled with rolling eyes and this age-old adage of how ‘men prefer curves’. Well, guess what? Men have nuanced and varied tastes, just as women do. Men prefer whatever the fuck they want to prefer. As long as whoever you’re having sex with is physically attracted to you, that should be good enough.

Another damaging implication of the ‘real’ness campaigns is the idea that confidence is a commodity – one that can be manufactured by just using the right shampoo/make-up/fake tan/whatever. Confidence doesn’t come in a can, and it is patronising to suggest that if only women would buy the right products, they would feel their own self-worth. 

I guess the reasoning behind all of this clap-trap can be summarised with this succinct quote about Barbie dolls from Stephen Colbert – He asks “but if girls feel good about themselves… how are we going to sell them things they don’t need?”.


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