So there’s this article from Jazzy Little Drops making the rounds about that Dove clip that made the rounds yesterday.
(This Dove clip.)
If you can’t access the article for any reason, the short form is this: “The Dove ad is nice and presumably well-intended, but it reinforces the idea that being pretty is important and has a narrow definition; but screw pretty, because there are other more important things to be”. And I hear that, and I get that, and on a lot of levels, I agree with that; but as it happens, I loved the Dove spot. And so after reading the JLD article a couple of times now, I think I’ve figured out why it’s making me want to tell its author to go jump in a lake.
Here’s the deal: I started getting teased–which turned into “mocked” and eventually upgraded to “outright bullied” before mercifully fading out in high school–about my appearance when I was like seven. I was the “fat kid”; pictures from that time reveal that I was just ahead of the curve developmentally, so while I weighed more, I was also taller and had round bits starting to show ahead of schedule. But between the media and my peers, it was made abundantly clear that “pretty” was off the table for me.
So instead I focused on being the Smart Kid, which was also something that was true (and a source of bullying. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.) I was the Polite Kid. I was the Kind Kid, the Thoughtful Kid, the Helpful Kid. I was every “positive” character trait I could find…except the Pretty Kid. I suppose it was a sort of compensation tactic, and since it certainly did a lovely job of making people–mostly teachers and other grownups–like me, I just stuck with it. And I kept those traits as I got older–the Empathetic Woman, the Gracious Woman, the Considerate Woman, the Caring Woman. Everything except the Attractive Woman, which I was still being told daily was never going to be an option, because ZOMG SO FAT EW EW EW.
So y’know what, Blogger Who Is Probably a Very Nice Person Who Has Nonetheless Irked the Buffalo Today? I hear you. I get you. I see your point. Yes, there are more important things to be than “pretty”. But on behalf of myself and folks like me, who already know damned good and well that we are “so much more than beautiful” because beautiful was never an option for us, you can just go right ahead and shove it. Maybe you’ve had a healthy self-image this whole time, or maybe you’ve had some amazing self-love breakthrough, and for that, I congratulate you. But for those of us who haven’t–those of us who have been told in no uncertain terms, over and over, ad infinitum, by our peers, by the media, by the clothing manufacturers, that “pretty” was the one thing we could never, ever, ever be–the Dove ad was exactly the sort of message we needed. I needed to hear someone say that other people thought I was pretty even if I didn’t. I needed the reassurance that yes, maybe people might be capable of looking at me without becoming physically ill (for the record, lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, I was told exactly that on numerous occasions by various people. “You are so ugly it makes me puke”; alternately, “How can you even stand to look at yourself?”, and my personal favorite, “You can be as smart as you want to; nobody will ever care because look at you”). I needed to hear, from a complete stranger–y’know, so I couldn’t dismiss it as “you care about me. You have to tell me I’m not horrifying to behold”–that maybe the voice telling me I should invest in paper sacks or veils was coming entirely from within my own head, and that it was in fact totally possible that a stranger seeing me for the first time would notice my eyes or my dimples instead of my waistline or my weirdly pigmented lips.
And yes, I know the real takeaway from this ad was meant to be something like “Dove is an awesome company and I should buy their products because sure, I’m already beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it would kill me to try to get some more bounce in this limp hair”. Yes, I know that Dove is a corporate entity like any other and they shouldn’t be allowed to dictate–or indeed have any say whatsoever in–my self-image. Yes, I know that their messages and the messages of their parent company have not always been consistent or positive.
But I don’t care. For three minutes, I was told quite clearly that not only was “pretty” not off the table for me right now, but it had actually been there the whole time, regardless of what I’d come to believe.
And for a girl who learned how to be “so much more than beautiful” because she thought those were the only things she could be, that’s one helluva powerful message.