Approved by real women. The sticker on my bottle of Dove moisturiser smirks up at me every time I use the stuff, taunting me for forking over my cash to a grasping multinational corporation whose advertising technique makes the Nuremberg Rallies look like a soft sell.
Every time I slap on a layer of their body lotion I feel my just-out-of-the-shower freshness being tainted by the crude cynicism of that sticker. Approved by real women. I know what they mean by real women (how could I not? They’ve pumped millions into TV ads, Underground posters, magazine spreads and a flashy, multi-lingual website). They don’t mean ordinary women. Oh god help us and heaven forfend no.
They mean something much more specific. They mean “not thin”. That’s pretty much the size of it. The whole nasty, insidious campaign was kicked off to supposedly showcase “real” (i.e., a bit larger) women. Because, they bleated, women’s tiny, fragile little minds were being warped by constant bombardment with images of “unreal” (i.e., thin) women.
Needless to say this was praised (by the brain dead) as some sort of triumph for “realness.” Nobody thought to wonder how skinny women felt at being unilaterally unsexed. Because in Dove’s unabashed ad campaign the lines are clearly drawn: plump, robust, buxom, zaftig, pear-shaped, apple-shaped, chubby… it’s all good. But show up sporting a little musculature, an angular hip, or a too-defined cheekbone and you’re out of the sisterhood faster than you can say, ‘really, I eat carbs’.
The message is as clear as sky-writing. To be a bit on the pudgy side is to be honest, warm, lovely, caring, cuddly, one of the girls. Not like those nasty, whippet-like, gender-traitor bitches who refuse to embrace their inner marshmallow. It’s so pathetically transparent it would be funny – if insecure idiots didn’t take it seriously.
The Campaign For Real Beauty, as Dove so infuriatingly brands it, doesn’t signal the end of body facism. It simply shows that body facism has grown up and gotten a better PR agency. Their ads “liberate” women from unreasonable beauty standards the way Stalin “liberated” the Russian peasants. Eyeball their advertisements. Drink in the glossy swathes of hair; the flawless, dewy skin; the suspicious absence of cellulite on their full-figured models; the sparkling eyes; the blindingly perfect smiles. Read between those (photogenic) laugh lines: it’s okay to be over a size 10 as long as you are a radiant complexioned, Rapunzel-tressed, perfectly depilated would-be toothpaste model. But hey, no pressure ladies, just be real.
Not content with using this vicious double-standard bullshit to shill their “1/4 moisturising lotion” underarm deodorant and shampoo, et al Dove has, with truly breathtaking gall, set up the Dove Self-Esteem Fund. Apparently: The Fund develops and distributes resources that enable and empower women and girls to embrace a broad definition of beauty [and] provides needed resources to organisations that foster a broader definition of beauty. Who or what the fuck they’re talking about god only knows. But surely having a cosmetics company telling women how to think about beauty is sending the fox to guard the chicken coop.
At best, their “empowering” website spouts harmless, sub-Chicken Soup For The Soul drivel like, “write down things that make you feel good”, “smile inside” and “have a self day.” At worst, you can see quite clearly where the expansionist aim of their evil empire lies. In one of their surveys (reported on www.campaignforrealbeauty.com) Chinese women were the only nationality who significantly failed to agree with the statement: “The idea of beauty is often too narrowly defined by physical attributes.” This, the site notes ominously is because in China, “western beauty ideals are a newer phenomenon.” Not for long, if the money-grubbing corporate overlords of Dove have anything to do with it.
Oh and – because they want you to get involved in all this empowerment and embracing shit – you’re invited to make a donation to “support self-esteem programs around the world.” Funny, they don’t mention how much of parent company Unilver’s £3.87 billion annual profit (a 7% increase, thanks to suckers like me buying their moisturiser) is going to this worthy cause. Nor, it seems, has anyone stopped to consider is there might be things women around the world need more than some prig telling them to “smile inside.” You know, stuff like education, contraception, health care, protection from domestic violence.
Like an onion, the layers of the Campaign’s objectionability are seemingly endless, and make your eyes water. If the brazen dismissal of thin women as “not real”, or the blatant cultural imperialism, or the naked capitalism, or the cynical exploitation of women’s insecurities in the guise of empowerment isn’t enough to make you gag on your Special K bar stop for a minute and think about how goddamn patronising the whole thing is. Thank god we have Dove around to explain we shouldn’t feel suicidal if we have freckles, or are over 23 because, geez, it might never have occurred to us otherwise. Obviously, women are such helpless, brainless slaves to media that in order to stop us rushing to the toilets en masse after every meal, like so many bulimic lemmings, we need Dove and their sanitised, size 14 “real women” to help us keep our pudding down. Dear loving lord above. It’s enough to drive a real woman insane.