Kim Penstone

The beauty of advertising

2005-01-13 10:09

So many women's magazines, for so many years, have been paying lip service to the notion that beauty is only skin deep.

Despite declaring in the editorial notes that they do not support 'traditional' views of beauty, the vast majority dedicate almost every one of the pages that follow to blonde, blue-eyed, size-six supermodels sporting itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bikinis.

If it's not in their own fashion pages, it's in ads from brands around the world - from beauty products and sunglasses, washing powder to sanitary pads.

No wonder women around the world are nipping and tucking, implanting and pumping. The only time they see real women, with non-airbrushed skin and photo-shopped bodies, is in their own mirrors. And, I speak from experience - it's quite a shock!

Which is why I'm completely bowled over by Dove's global "Real Beauty" campaign. Despite the fact that it's not as well publicised in South Africa as it is in the United States and United Kingdom, the campaign deserves a mention here - if only to convince the Powers That Be to bring it to our shores.

Where other beauty brands are falling over themselves to sign up the latest and greatest global celebrities, Dove has opted instead to feature real women - women with lots of freckles, wrinkles and plenty of curves - it's one of the most insightful campaigns I've seen in years.

The brand declares: "For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes. You've told us it's time to change all that. We agree. Because we believe beauty comes in many shapes and sizes."

And this is one brand that has put its money where its mouth is. In rejecting 19-year-old blonde bombshells in favour of a 96-year-old grey and wrinkled pensioners as the faces and bodies of the brand, Dove is no doubt saving itself a great deal of money.

Money that's being put to use sponsoring programmes; like the one it conducts with the Girl Scouts of America, called "Uniquely me", which focuses on building the self-esteem of young girls.

Programmes like these need to be repeated around the world. In 2003, Dove conducted a survey with 3 200 women from 10 countries around the world. Only two percent described themselves as beautiful.

The "Real Beauty" campaign is a small step in a world so enmeshed in 'traditional' beauty that 12-year-old girls routinely starve themselves to death.

And 30-year-old women enter pageants that require them to surgically alter their appearance before they're considered 'beautiful'. But it's a step in the right direction.

It's also a step, that for me at least, restores my faith in the world of advertising and media. Yes, modern media and advertising have played a large role in creating a virtually unattainable image of beauty. But, they also have the power to play a role in deconstructing that myth.

There is, in my humble opinion, only one thing that could improve the Dove campaign, and that is to expand it to include men. After all, men are just as susceptible to the beauty myth as women. And it wouldn't do any harm for women to be exposed to some real men in the media either!

- Kim Penstone is recovering from her December holiday, during which time she ate and drank up a storm. The "Real Beauty" campaign is helping her forgive herself, and for that she's truly thankful.

- For more articles on media, marketing and advertising, go to


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