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The thin and the thick of it

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Date posted: March 19, 2013

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has won awards for its ads and viral videos. From the 2005 Evolution video , which shows how makeup and styling transform a relatively normal looking woman into looking like a supermodel, the videos have been unique and interesting.

DoveRealBeautyIn the latest installment of the campaign, Dove released a free Photoshop Action (a one click tool for achieving a particular effect) called “Beatuify.” Purportedly, it would help give skin a rosy and healthy glow. Dove hoped the Photoshop users who frequently manipulate images of women to make them look younger, thinner, taller, more perfect, would download and use the Beautify Action.

And here’s the clever part. Once someone tried to use the Action, the photo they were working on would instantly revert to its original state, removing all the alterations that shaved off pounds, smoothed out wrinkles, and erased blemishes. A message would pop up calling for these photo editors to “stop manipulating our perceptions of real beauty.”

Many photos for advertisements, publicity, magazine covers, feature spreads and more are heavily edited to make the models look better and more attractive. The downside to this practice is its potential to give people, especially young girls, an unrealistic view of beauty. And that can lead to low self-esteem, may contribute to eating disorders, and likely encourages women to buy products so that they can look/eat/dress like that ideal (if unrealistic) conception of beauty. This is also done with male models, though to a lesser extent, and boys can be affected the same ways girls can.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has been remarkably successful in raising awareness and starting conversations about the meaning and perception of beauty, about media manipulation of images, and about girls’ self-esteem. Dove, and its Unilever corporate parent, also market cosmetics, vitamins, and supplements that cater to individuals’ desire to be seen as thin and attractive.

[Media literacy educator and advocate Bob McCannon points out Unilever’s Axe brand as an example of advertising that contradicts the messages in the Campaign for Real Beauty and can lead to both confusion and frustration among boys (to whom the ads are targeted) but also among girls who see the ads. Added 3/20/13]

We can learn a lot from the campaign’s viral videos, but that’s only one part of a more complicated equation. In assessing this chapter of the campaign, we also have to ask some classic media literacy questions: Who created this message? What is their intent? Who is the audience? How is this in Dove’s interest? How might different people interpret this?

That, as the late radio personality Paul Harvey used to say, is “the rest of the story,” the second part of the lesson and, only when you look at the ads through the lens of media literacy will you truly learn all the meaning of the Campaign for Real Beauty. Learn more about media literacy here.

  • Guadalupe

    Wow, this is amazing! Raising awareness in such a great way!

  • Seb

    When will somebody force them to put a disclaimer on these doctored images?

    The fact about digitally-enhanced photos boosting the product sales is the most important reason to make sure every time they use a ‘photoshopped’ image, we as consumers know about it!

    • FGallagher

      Last year, Israel passed a law requiring disclosure whenever photoshopped images were published. That sparked a lot of conversation and debate about whether other countries should pass similar laws.