Beauty Is Skin Deep

Dove has a new marketing campaign to try to get you to buy their products bring awareness about the beauty industry. It's a short film called "Onslaught" and it's about body image and self esteem for girls. I guess I shouldn't knock it because they don't have to do it at all and it does make you think.

But, it's making me think about things that I'm sure they didn't intend.

First, 95% of the images in it are of white women. So essentially, self-esteem is not for me. Yes, I think this movie is telling me that the self-esteem of black, Latino and Asian women pales in importance next to the self-esteem of our Caucasian sisters. Because you know, culturally, we are okay being a bigger size and we don't get eating disorders. Our little girls might pick the blond haired, blue-eyed baby doll as the most beautiful, but really, it's the little red-headed white girl with the cute freckles that we have to be worried about. That little red-headed girl 's gonna die under the onslaught of images that tell her that she's not dark enough, her hair isn't nappy enough, and her booty isn't round enough. Poor thang!

Gosh, it's gotta be hard for the little red-head girl to see women who look like her on the covers of every major fashion magazine every single month, especially when they're all telling her she's not good enough. And, oh no! She might find out that Lindsay Lohan has red hair and freckles in real life and have a panic attack over it. Horrors!

I guess black, Latino and Asian women shouldn't care about whether most of the media images of us are primarily of lighter skinned women. Last time I checked, I haven't seen any ads featuring really short, dark descendants of Aztecs...or of those really dark Cantonese folks...or those really dark sista's from the deep South. Hmm...I wonder why that could be.

Maybe it's because Unilever, the parent company of Dove, is too busy promoting SKIN LIGHTENERS around the world to women who aren't white. At the end of the Dove film, there's a slow-mo shot of a bunch of girls, and that's where they throw the diversity in, along with the tag line, "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does." Just make sure to skip the talk about how skin lighteners are racist, right?

Feel like throwing up this morning? Well watch this:

Yes, make sure to tell your daughters that if they're lighter-skinned, their career is going to be made! And they're gonna get the hot guy too!

Yes, lighter skin. That's all we need for higher self-esteem.


thailandchani said…
I don't get this "light skin" thing. Really. Call me ignorant but I just don't get it.

In Thailand right now, the darker women (in other words.. um.. Thai women) are using skin lighteners. It seems that the lighter one is, the better.

Can someone explain where this light skin stuff comes from? To the best of my knowledge, it isn't simply advertisers or control of the media. In Thailand, the media is controlled by Asians!


1969 said…
How sad. As a woman of color, there is nothing more beautiful than seeing a rainbow of people.

How sad to be bombarded by media messages that your skin is too dark.
Anonymous said…
One explanation I have heard is that lighter skin shows you aren't outdoors performing manual labour. I noticed the lightening products in Korea while travelling there last year, but they also had a high-end line of cosmetics modelled by Jessica Alba pre-blonde hair.

We talk about relaxers being damaging to the hair and scalp, those skin lighteners are SCARY.
Jameil said…
WOW!!!!!!! that 2nd commercial is off the chain. i didn't know dove was the same company that produced skin lighteners. i wonder if oprah knows. b/c she's been helping w/their everyone's beautiful campaign.

i def. notice when ads contain nothing but white people. my dentist is about to lose my business b/c he has all these smiling people in his front window and none of them are black. i guess you black people don't need dental hygiene or have pretty teeth. even tho that's what people love to compliment us on. our teeth. his teeth are so white. what??
Squirmy Popple said…
Wow - my Indian friend once told me that a lot of people in her country think "lighter is better", but I still wasn't prepared for that video.

So sad.
M said…
Ugh. That was a tough commercial to watch. And it is SO interesting that Dove makes skin lighteners. The hypocrisy is breathtaking! I can't believe I haven't read about this before. Thanks for the heads up!
Anonymous said…
The second commercial makes me want to throw up and sob at the same time. Seriously, does the white supremacist culture we live in have no bounds? Apparently not.

Does Dove own "Fair and Lovely" (or as we deemed it--"Fascist and Loathsome")? I'm all about a boycott...
Liz Dwyer said…
I think it's because colonizers taught native people that whiteness was superior and more beautiful than anything else and so folks aspire to that. Lighter skinned people were usually treated better by the colonizers/slave masters. The interesting thing about Thailand is that it wasn't directly colonized. But Pamela Anderson's face (and the rest of the Baywatch crew) have been broadcast around the world on Star TV, so people absorb the images and start to want to be that. In the meantime, white folks keep self-tanners and tanning salons in business because for them, a tan becomes a sign of luxury.

I love that rainbow too. But not everyone does. Have you seen the new dolls of Beyonce and Jay Z? It's like a Barbie/Ken look for them. They lightened Bey up considerably for the doll. And they straightened out Jay's nose. It's ridiculous.

The manual labor thing was definitely true here in the US, but then Coco Chanel came along and made it fashionable to have a tan. You just can't have the "farmer tan".

I read recently that the skin lighteners have been banned in the UK because they're carcinogenic. I've also read about some women getting permanent burns/scars on their face from them. It's so sad.

You know! I felt so sick the first time I read about that over the summer. From what I understand, Unilever is the umbrella company that manufactures both Dove and "Fair and Lovely" --they also own Ben & Jerry's, Slimfast (go figure!) And they also manufacture Axe with their sexist ads. We all know those are sooo empowering to women!

I always notice when ads lack diversity, especially since I live in California where "minorities" are the majority. And yeah, that teeth thing gets on my nerves. In my last writing class it made me furious that whenever there was a character that wasn't white, the author always talked about, "His teeth shone white against his brown skin." Hate that crap!

I know. The first time I saw it, I just was totally horrified. I mean, it's just so disgusting.

But you know, if I walk into a drugstore here in the States, they sell skin lighteners here too. They call them "fade" creams. Stuff like Ambi, which is specifically marketed to black women here in the US contains 2% hydroquinone, which has been banned in the UK. They try to pass it off as evening out your skin tone from blemishes...whatever.

So, Dove does not own Fair and Lovely -Instead, a parent company, Unilever makes both Dove and Fair and Lovely. The number of products Unilever makes is staggering. They even make Breyer's ice cream. And Klondike bars. And Popsicle brand popsicles. And Vaseline products.
When it gets to that point, when a company has its hand in everything, folks would have to make a really concerted effort to boycott all of Unilever's products. I wonder if that's even possible.
M said…
Liz, I knew about skin lighteners - and their availability everywhere - and also how dangerous they can be- but what I didn't realize was Dove's hand in it. That was the new part to me. Not that I should be surprised.
Anonymous said…
Skin lighteners are everywhere...Asia, Africa, South America...its everywhere...
When I studied abroad in Taiwan, all of the females carried around umbrellas but there wasn't a raindrop in sight. After being poked by those damn umbrellas for like the umpteenth time, I finally asked what was up with the umbrella's. Apparently it was to keep the sun off there face.

With the first commercial I don't think I'm as critical as you because honestly I do think that having a little meat on your bones is more acceptable in Latino and African-American cultures. I was teased unmercifully because I was skinny, because I didn't have a butt nor do I have boobs! I am not saying that black girls don't have a self esteem problem, I just think it is more about light skinned/dark skinned. Big nose little nose...I mean look at the videos those woman are skinny but they have ass and boobs...the white girls...hmm its all skeleton and we won't go into this Dr. 90210 phenomenon...I think that is horrible!

The second video...Well I guess dove figures skin lightening is not killing girls or disfiguring their stomachs so its not as harmful...Not that its better, but I guess I see how they see it as too seperate issues!
Jameil said…
i'll have you know i'll never look at another dove commercial the same!! one came on yest. and i was like, 'LIARS!!!!'
I have dark brown skin. When I see Asian women in L.A. with their umbrellas, or videos on BET I just shake my head.

I look like my parents and I don't think there is anything wrong with my color. Unfortunately many L.A. brothers think otherwise. This is yet another reason I can't wait to leave.
BZ said…
TELL IT! My skin may be pale as hell, but I do understand the issues and what's really going on. I'm glad you're putting it out there.

Personally, I don't see what the attraction is to the recessive gene pool.
Liz Dwyer said…
I don't think I realized till this past year that they were so huge around the world. I've known people here that will slather Ambi on their face and then wonder why their skin looks blotchy and weird later. But yeah, I think we'd all be surprised to find out what some of these huge corporations own. They have a hand in everything, don't they!

I see folks with the umbrellas here in LA and sometimes I'm tempted to sport one here because I get these crazy freckles on my face and I'm scared of skin cancer. But my first year teaching in Compton, most of my Latina girls didn't want to go outside at recess because they didn't want to get "black" in the sun. I was such a desperate 1st year teacher that if they misbehaved, I'd threaten to make them go stand out in the sun. They definitely would stop talking in class then!

Maybe I'm more critical because I'm here in LA and I see black actresses being put through the same beauty standards as white actresses...and I've had black, Latina and Indian (from India) friends who've been bulimic and one ever thinks it's a problem. Overeating is a huge problem in our community, stuffing feelings down with food. Most of the hip-hop viYes,we have Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique --but both look unhealthy to me and seem to fulfill some post-modern mammy role, you know, the fat and happy black woman. Argh! I could write a whole other post on this!

For real. It's all about making money to them, so whatever marketing tool they need to use, they'll use it.

Oh yes, LA brothers definitely have ISSUES! Every black woman I know who's married to a black man met that man somewhere else and then they came here.

Well, that recessive gene pool looks pretty good on my dad...and on Orlando Bloom. LOL! The other thing that's been killing me is how I turn on Dancing With The Stars and the white folks have on so much self-tanner that I seriously think they're part black. But of course, that orange-looking tan can always fade or be washed off.
Ian Lidster said…
Reminds me of when Band-Aid brought out flesh colored strips a number of years ago, but only made them the color of one sort of flesh. You can probably figure out which one.
Hopefully, we are getting more sensitive to the differences in a multi-racial society, but there's obviously still a long way to go, as you point out.
As a child, I was offended by the crayon called "flesh," which was pink.

I remember when there were no black models in ads, no dark-skinned dolls for children who were not blue-eyed blonds, and it was horrifying to see how badly most caucasians treated non-whites; yet when they returned from Florida vacations, the highest compliment imaginable was that they looked black.

So I always thought that people were amazingly stupid and messed up about race.

It's particularly sad to see beautiful women torturing themselves to look like another ethnicity because they have swallowed the lie that the only real beauty is white.
Liz Dwyer said…
So true about the band-aids! I always wondered if they sold the "flesh" colored ones in a different skin tone in other parts of the world, or if people living in Ghana had the same flesh color band-aid as us. Gosh, we'll get it together one of these days. I hope sooner rather than later.

The health effects of those lighteners are frightening. But no one ever thinks they're going to be the one to get liver failure because of a chemical in some skin cream. Yeah, I remember holding that crayon up next to everybody's arm in my house, and it matched no one, not even my white father! I took to coloring pictures very lightly with a brown crayon mixed with yellow to try to make the images look like me!
Malik Akbar said…
I can do you one better: Skin White
Liz Dwyer said…
What is that???!!! Wow.
Anonymous said…
One thing I learned from working in the fashion industry is that the decision to use white models was often a subconscious one. Model scouts and photo editors weren't necessarily thinking "white model wanted" -- they were choosing models that they could relate to.

So even though we're living in a racist world, we're not necessarily among racist people. Racism is so institutionalized that people just don't seem to question it.

I am thankful that YOU continue to question it, and that you challenge all of us to do the same.
Ms Angela said…
I didn't even bother watching the first commercial. I pretty much knew what it was talking about. It goes without saying that hypocrisy is justified when the bottom line is the dollar bill. Sad, but true.

I've been angry for years at the cosmetics and fashion industry and their whacked standards of beauty, and media's portrayal of darker-skinned people, especially women. I loathe the fact they are now importing these crazy ideas to other cultures. It's bad enough that they have programmed women here to feel inadequate, fat and/or ugly. Now they are trying for worldwide domination with these concepts. It's sickening.
MartiniCocoa said…
damn you for being able to scope how a global company sells different messages of 'empowerment' to different audiences!

seriously, the beauty industry's (and their minions, fashion/women mags) commodification of our supposed flaws is a never going to end.

What has to end is
women's (I'm including all women) acquiesence to this BS.

Ask questions.
Email presidents of these companies & editors of magazines to
Explain cogently the point of view why it might be harmful to their bottom line to traffic in such beauty hypocrisy and/or myopia.
They may not answer but we've got to start somewhere.
Anonymous said…
AAARRRGGGHHH!!! I am more upset with Star Jones with how absolutely AWFUL she looks, then I am with Queen Latifah and Monique...I don't think they look unhealthy...because there are alot of Africans (my father is Ghanian) that are thick but live longer and healthier lives then Americans. Monique...yeah she's gotten a little big...but she still excercises, Queen Latifah to me looks perfect. She is the perfect built for her height. Not everyone can or should be exactly proportioned...but everyone should fit some excercise into their regime. Everyone should make sure that fruits and veggies outnumber cheetos and Doritos in their diet...but not everyone should be expected to be a size 6-10. When I watch Moniques beauty contest FAT,she stresses excercise and eating right..but in the midist of that...don't think you have to be super skinny Just healthy...
Liz Dwyer said…
I'm sure that's true on some level. I've read a lot about how women of color are continuously not the "in" look to fashion houses. They'll take the clothing designs, the fabrics, etc., from different parts of the world but throw it all on some 16 year-old from Eastern Europe.

It is sickening and I am continually appalled by what people will do in pursuit of money.

That's true, we have to start somewhere because if we each leave it up to someone else, nothing will happen. I was sad to toss my Dove deoderant away. But hey, now that I know, I'm responsible for what actions I take.

I think Star looks alright but I wish she would have not risked her life by having plastic surgery to get there. To me, the possibility of dying because of a tummy tuck or liposuction is just not worth it.

In our community, over half of black women are obese and I've read that as many as 75% may be overweight. That has nothing to do with being big boned and all the other mess we try to tell ourselves. Yes, Monique can shake it like Beyonce, but it's been painful to watch her gasping for breath, unable to talk for too long because of all that weight pressing on her diaphram. I don't think everybody's gotta be a size six (and what is that really these days with vanity sizing?) but there a whole lot of us who are just plain ole fat and unhealthy and there is nothing fabulous about it.
epikles said…
saw this article about Dove's ad campaign in Salon today and thought you might be interested:

there's more than one hypocrist at work here
alyceclover said…
I don't like Dove soap anyway and knew what I would find when I watched it before reading the rest of your post.

In my Mom's day suntans among whites was considered a sign of lower class working people who spent their days in the sun. In my day suntans were considered a sign of healthy outdoor lifestyle. Personally I find pasty, white pale skin unattractive and prefer shades of brown and black.

I have a niece (through marriage) that would definitely buy the second product; she was looked down upon in her country as being "lower caste" due to her lovely brown skin color. Talk about society destroying self-esteem.

I seldom watch televsion, but was bored enough to put it on the other week. The show had a basically all black cast and I started counting the number of black faces in the commercials. Or should I say lack of them.

That reminded me why I no longer like to watch television. Strange, I guess for someone considered to be a "white chick".
Liz Dwyer said…
Exactly. I hadn't thought of the Axe commercials because I think I always change the channel when they're on. They're so stupid and offensive. But yes, this is total hypocrisy on the part of Unilever.

The dynamics of what is perceived as luxuriously wealthy versus what is perceived as low-status are so entertwined with skin color. I think folks perceive tans positively now and complain when they aren't tan -- which is in itself a form of privilege. Pasty white is fine with me. It's beautiful in it's own way, just as other tones are. Oh, everybody just needs to be okay with the skin they have!
I love these kinds of commercials because there is tremendous propoganda out there saying that race is no longer a problem. It's helpful to be reminded of all the skin color insanity and western culture imitating that is so rampant. It's particularly sad to see how many so called developing nations are trying to outdo each other in adopting the culture and world view of those who they supposedly liberated themselves from! Franz Fanon was right, the colonized obsess over having what the colonizer possesses, including his/her skin color. Mental slavery is alive and well in the 21st century.
Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, these are the commercials to show the folks who want to sit up and say, "Racism doesn't exist anymore!" --It's so clear that it does exist, if only folks choose to open their eyes and see it. And with this kind of mess in the media, someone would have to be choosing blindness to miss it.
Hanna said…
this is huge in Indian culture...They have that cast system from the British rule. They are as much or more skin obsessed as us (blacks from America) The Europeans have done a good job making the entire world hate themselves if they are not white...May God punish them
Anonymous said…
Funny you bring this up because I was just thinking about this the other day. I saw this clip on youtube and was shocked:

One day we'll look around and hopefully there will be a few real women left, naturally beautiful and proud of it.

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