Tuesday, August 30, 2005

You Can't Please Everybody...or Every Body Can't Please You

This is a belated repsonse to a topic that had been whirling around the media for the past few weeks. I had dismissed it before with a snort followed up with a "who cares", but I've been having a particularly "girly" week. In other words, I'm having body-image issues. So I got to thinking about what is attractive and if it can be defined, or if beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. It got me thinking about those Dove divas.
For anyone who hasn't heard, there have been some "unconventional" ads for Dove's skin-firming lotion, in which so-called normal women were used as models. Normal being not the size 2 models that currently rule print ads, but the kind of gals we all see walking down the street. The kind of gals most of us are.

These ads, like any form of media that challenges what is normally forced down the public's collective throat, were met with praise at the beginning. The initial response was positive, mostly from women who were tired of seeing rail-thin models depicted as the standard of beauty. Women who were tired of seeing obviously twenty-something women advertising anti-wrinkle cream, or genetically blessed bikini models hocking ab-crunchers and butt-shapers. We're all smart enough to know that if we use Pantene, we won't automatically look like Beyonce. We also know that most celebs have enough money to hire personal trainers and nutritionists to keep them looking gorgeous, so the 30 minutes we spend at Curves 3 or 4 times a week isn't going to be getting us a cameo on Desperate Housewives anytime soon. So it was great to finally see a company willing to embrace real women with real curves for an ad campaign. After all, their target audience is real women, so why not?

But soon enough, the rumblings started. Up first was the issue of exploitation. Some folks felt like it was unfair to use heavier women in a skin-firming ad campaign. The argument was that if Dove was really trying to promote self-acceptance, they shouldn't be telling the very women in their ads that they need to use their product. To me, this is not a very logical argument. The ads weren't for any kind of weight loss product or diet pill. Basically all the skin-firmer does is tighten up the skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite. Even skinny women can have cellulite. If a woman is a little chunky, she might love her curves but I guarantee you that she doesn't love her cellulite. No woman wants that. A voluptuous body is very sexy to many men and women, but the cottage cheese just ain't happening. It's not something that anyone finds attractive. It's not unbearable, and most of us and our significant others can live with it, but given the choice we would banish it forever.

Another problem that all the complainers out there conjured up was that the ad campaign was condoning being overweight, rather than promoting a healthy lifestyle. This is an overreaction, most likely from the I-run-5-miles-a-day-every-day-and-my never-had-a-cookie-vegetarian-bony-ass-talks-about-wheat-grass
smoothies-for-hours-on-end-to-anyone-who-will-listen contingent. The ad is simply promoting a beauty product. Dove's ultimate goal is to help women look and feel better about themselves while making boatloads of cash. Pretty simple. There was no huge tagline that read "Be Fat Like Us and You'll Live Forever!" Everyone knows the risks involved with being overweight. None of these models were morbidly obese. The thing is, people can be heavy for a variety of reasons. Yeah, sometimes weight gain comes from pure laziness and love of food. Sometimes it's genetic. And maybe there are women out there, like myself, who know that they should lose some pounds but they're either unmotivated or just trying and running into problems along the way. So, what should we say to these women in the meantime? "Feel bad about yourself until you look like Gisele?" No. There is nothing wrong with promoting having a healthy body image. And it's really hard to care about how you look, or even how you feel, when your confidence is in the toilet. Love the body you're in now, and you'll be more apt to take care of that body in the future. Or as one of Dove's competitors simply says, "love the skin you're in."

Of course, the most usual reaction came in the form of insults and mockery. People just flat-out said that they didn't want to see billboards with fat chicks on them. Apparently, it's disgusting. I think that some morons out there just make too big a deal out of body size. I wouldn't get turned on by a billboard of a hairy fat guy in a Speedo, but I wouldn't lose my lunch over it either. I certainly wouldn't write a nasty letter to my local paper or the company who was advertising, moaning that it should be taken down.

What's funny is, in such a PC world as we're living now, it's still perfectly acceptable to make fun of fat people. And not even just "fat" people, but those who are just carrying a few extra pounds around. Hell, I remember in college that if you weren't a petite girl with a perfectly flat stomach to show off your standard-issue butterfly (or dolphin) bellybutton piercing, you were virtually un-datable by most guys' standards. Then again, I've seen plenty of heavy women in great relationships with thinner men and vice versa. So obviously, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Why then, do we continue to look to the media as a gauge for what is attractive and what's not?

Making it all even more ridiculous, now all we read about in the tabloids is how girls like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie are too thin. It's hilarious the way the media blames things like this on the media, and then they just continue to perpetuate the problem. Lindsay Lohan is so skinny, she needs professional help! Those Dove models are too fat, we get sick just looking at them! The Victoria's Secret models' perfect bodies are an unattainable goal, they need to be taken out and shot! I guess this will go on until some far-off future date, when science and medicine will have advanced to the point where all humans are genetically-altered, perfect freaks. But who will those models of perfection be?

What if they're Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? Won't that be a kick in the ass!


Bar Bar A said...

Excellent post.

Brooks said...

excellent points made throughout this post. the media is so sick the way it trashes celebrities for being "too fat" which is usually a normal body weight and then turns around and trashes them for being anorexic. i will always hate the double standard of the media seeing fat men as cute and cuddly, but an overweight woman "has let herself go."
more power to dove for these ads i say and i think what pisses me off the most about this backlash is that none of these women are fat, they just aren't sickly underweight skeletons. our standards of beauty in this country are twisted and sadistic when it comes to the topic of female beauty.

BadGod said...

I think it is great to use "everyday" women in those ads.

As a guy, I don't find the "bone thin model girl" attractive.

Doggie Extraordinaire's Mom said...

Why do humans seem to be one of the few species in the animal kingdom where the ugly guys are perfectly viable while women are forced into self-torture (make-up, heels, bras, breast enlargements, hundred-dollar hairstyles, etc.) to compete for the schmuck with the bald head and hairy back? I refuse to participate. Well, I do wear a bra, for the good of everyone around me, but the effort isn't there to be pretty and perky and thin and generic.

I had a friend who insisted on having a peticure when she was going into labor because she felt like people would be criticizing her feet. I tried to tell her that no one would even realize she had feet, but she insisted on looking as pretty as possible given the circumstances.

There are days when I'm glad (truly ecstatic) that I'm me, simply because I don't care.

Lavinia said...

There's a saying that I always try to keep in mind when I'm feeling pressured to be thinner than this one, prettier than that one etc.

"Show me the most beautiful woman in the world and I will show you the man who's tired of sleeping with her."

I don't know who coined that little gem. I don't think its purely in indictment on men either, because women and girls put each other up to levels of scrutiny and humiliation that make locker-room beatings look like a bake sale.

From a young age girls with short hair, a little weight, the wrong clothes get chastised by their friends and take that with them into adulthood.

I think no-matter how successful and together a woman is, she will always feel pressure to be 'more' something. Men have similar issues but I doubt to the extent we do.

Mario Sergio said...

not only women live that..

T.L. Barker said...

The size issue is frustrating. I am the hypoactive thyroid child of a mother who is has a hyperactive thyroid. My mother at her heaviest was 115 during her last pregnacy. I on the other hand haven't been below 200 pounds since the eighth grade. I feel healthy in who I am now and find it wonderful to see those women on the Dove ad. I feel much better wrapping my arms around healthy or full-figured woman.

Masha said...

I think it's great that Dove tried something different, and, hey, they obviously acheived their goal, because they have the whole country talking about them and their ad.
And honestly, an ad like that makes you look twice

Sangroncito said...

A thoughtful and well-written post. Isn't is sad that no matter where we turn or what "ideal" we try to attain someone, somewhere will find fault with us? Our culture is so obsessed with image and looks. Whether we choose to be slaves to body image and "lookism" or thumb or noses at it we are all captive in some way to this obsession in our society.

teletart said...

I just don't buy the argument that visual images like this somehow endorse being overweight. Don't people have eyes? Can't they see a difference between these lovely gals - sure, all of them curvy and rounder than we usually see in ads - and the kind of obesity that is causing health problems? Or are people just stupid?

I think if we could expand our ideas about beauty, we'd actually see fewer people crossing the line to obese - they'd accept that they could be a bit fleshy, eat well, exercise, and be healthy. There would be less of that negative cycle of blame, self-loathing, and self-medicating with food.

Of course, when I say 'beauty', I mean 'beauty in advertising'. The world outside of magazine pages and TV is full of women like these ones - and of men (and women) who love them. Who already think they're beautiful.

The same holds true in reverse as well - plenty of us love men who don't have six pack abs, sculpted pecs, and perfect calves. They're still beautiful - and yes, they can still be healthy.

In commerical culture, we have a huge mental block with this: harder and firmer equals healthy and attractive, softer and rounder equals unhealthy and unattractive. (For proof, let's consider fake breasts. Okay, that's long enough to consider them.) I strongly believe that you can carry some curvy pounds around and be fit. Which isn't to say we shouldn't work on the muscles beneath those curves! And no, three hundred curvy pounds doesn't fall into that category. But that's not what we're talking about here.

Oh, you've got me on a soapbox now! I'll stop - but I could go on all day. Awesome post, becks!

JC said...

I, for one, don't think those girls are fat. Those girls look normal and healthy to me. I don't see loose hanging skin, I see girls that eat and play sports. I am sorry, but our whole idea of what obese is-well, it is skewed. The funny part is that in a real health crisis, these gals at the upper limit of their healthy weight range will outlive their skinny cousins by a long shot. I say GO DOVE GIRLS!

Lee Ann said...

I think it was great to see those "normal" sized girls. The girls used in the ad were not even "fat", but some people thought of them that way because they weren't that anorexic skinny model. Good post.

T.L. Barker said...

When I see the ad, I think healthy...happy!

Rex Venom said...

Rock on!

Homer Jay said...

I love the Dove Models. The complainers just need to be shot.

Prométhiûs said...


pia said...

great post!

Wish that when I was younger women who were normalweight were represented in ads and movies and TV

Spent so much time thinking that I was fat when I wasn't because I was surrounded by people who were too skinny.

And I confused great legs with a great figure--I had the later not the former. So I had to be fat

The Everglades said...

Even when the media seems genuine, they are always scheming. I agree that there are mixed signals, but if it will make a splash and get them free media coverage, I'm willing to say that any company will do anything to get that buzz, because buzz turns into dollars, and their current campaign has worked.

I hadn't really thought about this until you wrote something about it, so thanks for giving me something else to mull over!


Bailey said...

The sad thing about society is that those girls AREN'T fat! They look pretty normal. But to 5th Ave. they are considered fat.

Alecia said...

I love these Dove girls. I love this post. Truly. So many people, women and men walk around uncomfortable with their bodies. I loved these Dove ads when they came out. I was like, SEE, they're still beautiful. Your message,and thoughts I think bring a lot of us together.


Anonymous said...

OK Beck -
I haven't read in awhile bacause I've been busy w/ work but I will chime in on this one. I am HAPPILY married to a VERY HOT guy who chases me around the house as if I were a porn star. And I am a healthy, yet overweight, woman. I no longer posses the great bod I had in my early 20's and had already lost it by the time I met my husband years ago. I think the Dove add is a breath of fresh air. These women are a true representative of what "most women" like me, look like. I am not a size 2 and I am not 300lbs. I am a healthy size 12/14 (depending on the garment). I have spent the past eight years being stared at because I am not attractive enough to be with the man I am. Skinny (and younger)women have bravely approached my husband assuming I could not be with him because of my size. Now for those of you out there who are not "models" and I'm sure that's most of you, ignore the sociatal bullshit and the media hypocrasy and know that you too, at any size can get the hot stud. I did. :)

Angela....wife of hotty :)

m00nsh1ne said...

As a recovering anorexic and daughter of a diet-obsessed mother, it is hard for me to see the girls that are in Hollywood and all the ads/magazines that airbrush celebs so that they look "right". I love celebrity culture but it is also a morbid curiosity for me. I have had 2 kids and was almost 200 lbs at 5'7 the first time and I remember when I started losing the weight everyone would say how great I looked and it would feel so good when someone would say "wow you're skinny again! You look wonderful!" It just feeds the disease. I fight a constant battle in my mind and with food and struggle to maintain a balance and not be tempted to go back to old ways. Thank you for writing such a great post!


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