But something nagged at my conscience. The video made me feel soooo flipping warm and fuzzy that I didn't trust it. I wanted to watch it over and over again, to revel in that bittersweet symphony, but instead avoided it like
My suspicions were validated when other body-image bloggers pointed out some major issues with the video. You
This is all serious stuff, but I've got another bone to pick. Are the claims and assumptions characterizing this ad campaign scientifically supported? I'm a researcher; Show me your data, and I'll show you mine!
Below, I outline 4 science-y assumptions/claims that have been made in this campaign, along with my reasearch-y assessments.
|I tried to find a version of this in which a woman taught a man, but nothing. :(|
1) "Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves to be beautiful."
|Meet Dr. David Frederick!|
I contacted my favorite body-image-expert and co-author, Dr. David Frederick (who was the friend who came up with "Mirror Mirror Off the Wall" as my blog title!). I asked him to share some of his latest research, from a 2013 paper titled Understanding body dissatisfaction: Social comparison, objectification, and sociocultural factors. I asked him for insight on this 4% number. He offered the following:
"In a sample of over 24,000 men and women, we asked "how satisfied are you with your overall physical appearance?" using a 1-7 scale. (1 = very dissatisfied, 4 = neutral, 7 = very satisfied)" Here are the results:
28% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance.If you're wondering how 4% became 58%, it's, again, a matter of semantics. David explained, "There are studies that find most women want to change their weight, but this doesn't mean they necessarily are feeling 'dissatisfaction.'" If we follow the same logic for that 4% number we can imagine that even if 96% of women don't consider themselves to be beautiful, many still (gasp!) manage to be satisfied with their appearance.
15% of women are neutral about their appearance.
58% of women are satisfied with their appearance.
Dove: not wrong, but not quite right either. I'll let you decide!
2) Other people view us as more attractive than we view ourselves; "We are more beautiful than we think."
This statement incapsulates the entire "point" of the video, if it is possible to do so in one sentence. The sketch artist "social experiment" seemingly "proved" this statement to be true. But can the finding be generalized? Let's look at the numbers. I couldn't find one single study that answered this question, but have of several that, when combined, help give us the full picture.
In Dave's 24,000 person study, women ranked their own attractiveness on a scale of 1-10. In another large-sample study, participants were asked to rank the attractiveness of others, pictured in photos, using an almost identical measure of attractiveness (1-5 instead of 1-10). Here are the results, side-by-side
65% of women consider themselves to be "above average"
32.5% of women were rated by others as "above average"
25% of women consider themselves to be "average"
52.1% of women are rated by others as "average"
10% of women consider themselves to be "below average"
15.4% of women are rated by others as "below average"
Dove blew it on this one. Big time. Which brings me to the next core assumption:
3) Dove's "social experiment" is experimentally sound.
No. Not in my opinion, at least. Why? I have a few reasons, but the major one is this: from what I could see from the videos, this social experiment was set up in such a way that the "findings" were almost certainly biased in favor of what they set out to prove. Here are three issues I noted (there may be more):
a) The "real women" being drawn seemed primed to provide negative statements about their bodies. For example, one woman was asked "if you could change anything about your looks, what would you change." She responded by saying "wow, I've never thought about this before..." before deciding she'd like fuller lips. Later, the same woman is asked to describe her chin and remarked "I guess I haven't really compared it to anyone else's chin...." before deciding that her chin stuck out too much. How might the results have been different if she had been asked to name her favorite features?
b) The presence of cameras and interviewers likely caused heightened feelings of self-awareness. This, in turn, would have increased the likelihood that the women participants acted in gender-conforming ways. In other words, the women being drawn were more likely to be properly self-deprecating ladies, and the women recalling the others' features would act like properly sweet and kind ladies. We were basically watching an over-dramatized version of plain old everyday fat talk discourse. Boooooring! (and predictable)
c) Finally, and most damning, the "real women" chosen to be drawn were reportedly selected based on fairly exacting criteria. Here are some choice phrases from the craigslist ad used to recruit them: "FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS!" "FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic," "Beautiful HAIR & SKIN is a MUST!!!" "Well groomed and clean,"BEAUTIFUL ARMS AND LEGS AND FACE" If this report is true, then the social experiment wasn't poorly planned, but strategically rigged. Want to make sure the women sketched won't be described as ugly? Pick "flawless" "real women" with "beautiful hair and skin." BRILLIANT!
(FYI - Dove has released a "blame the intern" cop-out by claiming that the craigslist ad "wasn't approved." In other words, the ad came from within Dove's walls, even though somebody is about to get fired for it!)
4) Women are their own worst beauty critics.
OMG NO! THIS IS A BOGUS CRAPPY ANGERING LIE! Turn on the TV! Open a magazine! Watch a movie! Walk through a mall!
We face a multi-billion dollar beauty industry that DEPENDS on women's insecurities. We don't come up with this insanity ourselves. There is nothing inherent to womanity that destines us for insecurities. Instead, we're force-fed it through the onslaught of media we encounter every single day of our lives.
Hey Dove, do you still sell that cellulite cream that doesn't work? No? How about the "firming" body lotion, or that deodorant that reportedly reduces my "underarm dark spots"? Yeah. That's what I thought.
I'm still trying to figure out what all of these varying data points and interpretations mean for me. On the one hand, I think it's good news that so many women are satisfied with their bodies. And I also love knowing that positive illusions are probably boosting my husband's view of my attractiveness. Do I like the idea that I probably view myself more vainly than "reality"? I'm not sure! I know it's good to HAVE positive illusions about yourself, but is it good to know about them. (Is this blog post going to make you wonderful readers feel more insecure about your bodies?!? Scary!) Does it matter if Dove's ad campaign is a biased social (non)experiment? I think it does matter (frankly, I feel suckered and resentful. That damn mood music!), but I'd rather see it replicated more scientifically, rather than dismissed.
As much as I complain about Dove's "real women" campaigns, I think they do more good than harm. Yes, they reify ideologies that make women focus on their looks and buy more stuff, but nobody else is coming anywhere close to encouraging women to love their bodies, and certainly not with as much energy or commitment. But I need to stop rambling...
What do YOU think of all this?
What's more compelling to your psyche: scientific research or emotional experiences?
Tell my why you love/hate/tolerate Dove!