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Dove’s Emphasis on a Culture’s “Real Beauty”: A Comparative and Critical Analysis of American and Chinese Dominant Ideologies Revealed within Marketing Strategy

Dove’s Emphasis on a Culture’s “Real Beauty”: A Comparative and Critical Analysis of American
and Chinese Dominant Ideologies Revealed within Marketing Strategy
Annaliese B. Piraino
Nicolette Deyarmin
Yiwei Xu
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
April, 2015
Dove’s Emphasis on a Culture’s “Real Beauty”: A Comparative and Critical Analysis of American
and Chinese Dominant Ideologies Revealed within Marketing Strategy
A world leader in beauty products, Dove Beauty’s recent shift in marketing emphasis has
drawn much public attention. Both their Campaign for Real Beauty and Movement for Self-Esteem
(launched in 2004/2010, respectively) purportedly serve to inspire female confidence about natural,
“Real” beauty, and alter standards of beauty to function as confidence building tools rather than
sources of anxiety ("The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty," 2015). The Dove Campaign for Real
Beauty website ( first provides a
timeline of the campaign and its stimuli, processes, and justifications. Along with its associated
goals and mission, the site also offers both teacher and parent materials, readings of studies and
corresponding data, and many resources designed to help you engage and support young people
aged 7 to 17 on issues relating to self-esteem and body confidence("The Dove Campaign for Real
Beauty," 2015). In addition to product promotion, links to social media and topics for
discussion; the campaign equally imparts customer engagement techniques and directives like
“Tweet a photo with a friend who inspires you with their confidence using #speak beautiful ("The
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty," 2015). At current, an unofficial Internet search of “Campaign
for Real Beauty” yields 41,400,000 hits—clearly, the Campaign is making its mark on not only the
USA, but also the world. An online magazine, The Inquisitive Mind reports that, “Media exposure
has provided $150 million in free media time for Dove’s campaign (“Grand Prize”, 2007).
Furthermore, “Evolution” received over 1.7 million views during its first month, making it the most
viewed video on YouTube in October 2006. It is quite clear that Dove “hit a homerun” with this
advertising movement.
Also throughout the site, users find Dove product recommendations and award details of
Dove Beauty productsall placed in juxtaposition with inspirational quotes (e.g. “#Love your
curls!” / “I love my red hair because it matches my passionate personality! etc.). Furthermore, the
site maintains a “changing” wall wherein aforementioned are suffused within changing tile Dove
ads along with poignantly espoused and rather disturbing information and statistics pertaining to
women’s concerns and subsequent self-esteem. For example, one datum notes, “82% of women
feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic”; another that “6 in 10 girls avoid
participating in fundamental life activities because of concerns about the way they look. Being held
back at this age significantly affects their future ("The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty," 2015).
While these examples provide only a spattering of information found within, the answer to any and
all such issuesbuy a Dove productemanates from site successively. One page espouses “Your
purchase counts” and, more deliberately, “we [Dove] can help. They go on to say:
In the 11 years since we launched the Dove Self-Esteem Project, we’ve helped 17 million
young people in 112 countries. More than 625,000 teachers have delivered a Dove self-
esteem workshop and more than 1.5 million parents have engaged with our online content.
No other organization is acting on this important issue on the same scale or with the same
impact. We are also proud to say that by working with independent academic experts and
conducting rigorous scientific research, we have been able to show that Dove’s self-esteem
education is world-class and scientifically proven to significantly increase body confidence
and self-esteem in young people. ("The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty," 2015)
Assuming the above numbers are accurate and honest, no argument herein stands against the
program’s amity nor its efficacy. Yet, by applying a critical lens and cognitive base to this highly
inventive and outstandingly effective marketing phenomenon, primary ideologies emerge from
within Dove Beauty’s strategy—specifically, within the Campaign for Real Beauty (i.e. the Vote
Ads). This analysis frames selected campaign Vote Ads from within two divergent Campaign For
Real Beauty market foci: 1) the America effort, and 2) the Chinese effort. It is suggested within
this analysis that although Dove's messages seemingly function as empoweringand as an
ideologically defiant response to oppressive feminine narrativesdeeper assessments reveals
specific and intentioned emphases; particularly, Dove Vote Ad messages correspond with those
same cultural myths the campaign ostensibly seeks to counter. In effect, these two particular sects
of Dove’s Vote Ad campaign emphasize parts of the female most frequently associated
with societal standards of beauty, thereby offering dichotomous sets of characteristics to entire
groups of women within each of these two cultures. In this, Dove imparts to women that only two
choices exist for each given body characteristicand, most disturbinglythat if you are not one,
you must be the other; for example, if you are not “fit” then you must be “fat.” Within each
campaign market, Dove tailors Vote Ad messages in appeal to the characteristics of “beauty”
within that particular society; thus, Dove’s acknowledgement of cultural variation and beauty ideals
lacking universal adoption supports Dove’s desire to employ each country’s concomitant standards.
Not only does such selection and isolation suggest Dove’s intent to point directly to each standard,
but the manipulation of that standard; all while these actions reinforce the essence and
“importance” of said standards. This campaign declaration thus suggests that womenespecially
those analogous to Dove’s representative beauty idealsmust still have need for beauty (products,
that is).
Essentially, Dove Beauty provides a feminine narrative forthright in its fight to abolish
prejudiced ideals. Let us theoretically consider this process: first, within each given culture,
significant cultural beauty ideals need be identified (those that prove most pressing to women);
next, selection of female representatives, in archetypal and pellucid form, must first acknowledge
the existence of that very same ideal. Quite cleverly, Dove Beauty is able to use this counter-
narrative to sell products, for it appears an effort of just cause and subsists quite personally to all
women; therefore, Dove Beauty creates a market of just slightly over half of the world by appealing
to women’s fight for equality (Dye, 2009).
Background and Intent
Reviewing the overarching campaign through cognitive-based theoretical underpinnings,
this analysis selects and views six advertising products, three from the United States Campaign and
three from the Chinese Campaign; next, an analysis of the motifs within each market group
uncovers campaign design considerations related to beauty ideals. For example, revealed within
Western messages are motifs reminding women to consider body size; stomach tartness; managed
[low] weight; large breasts/posterior; and long, flowing hair. Similarly, Dove's Chinese campaign
reveals the same ideological presence of beauty, asking Chinese women to consider corresponding
motifs. Here, value is attached to exceedingly small stature/weight, yet divergent standards ask of
the Chinese the following: “perky” [but not excessive] breast size, “angelic” face featuring double-
fold [Western] eyelids, straight/lifted [Western] nose, heart-shape face, and pale skin. It is thus the
proposition of this piece that, while such messages appear well intentioned, they continue to
reinforce and perpetuate those same ideologies of which they claim to oppose, holding to
traditional, exploitative marketing of the female body as it ties to self-worth. Moreover Dove’s
“branding strategy perpetuates an oppressive ideology of ‘real beauty’ requiring a behavior (“self-
esteem”) that underscores neoliberal self-improvement benefiting the corporation’s power (Murray,
2013). Theories of media, psychology, sociology, biology, and many other fields of study apply to
gendered standards of society; beauty is a vastly studied topic within this territory, and statistical
analyses within empirical studies illustrate the pervasive nature of the beauty myth within women’s
lives. To illuminate just a few, the following five quotes appear within female self-esteem and
appearance literature. First, and reported by Irving (1990), impossible societal standards produce
harmful consequences; “Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and chronic dieting, problems involving
obsession with food and dissatisfaction with self or body, are examples of such consequences.”
Second, Hargreaves and Tiggemann (2002) find that “viewing [unrealistic ideal-based] appearance
commercials led to increased schema activation, anger, and body dissatisfaction, as well as to
decreased confidence….” Finally, Morgan (1991) so poignantly offers the list of professionals
needed to construct this required beauty; she write of a woman’s needs:
The beauty culture is coming to be dominated by a variety of experts, and consumers of
youth and beauty are likely to find themselves dependent not only on cosmetic surgeons,
but on anesthetists, nurses, aestheticians, nail technicians, manicurist, dietitians, hairstylists,
cosmetologists, masseuses, aroma therapists, trainers, pedicurists, electrolysists,
pharmacologists, and dermatologists. All of these experts provide services that must be
bought; all these experts are perceived as administering and transforming the human body
into an increasingly artificial and ever more perfect object (Morgan, 1991)
Women and girls who acquiesce to beauty’s dominant ideology feel the need to change nearly
every part of their physical appearance, all in an effort to comply with unobtainable societal ideals.
Dove’s website notes that 90% of girls would like to alter at least one part of themselves, and
estimates report only four percent of women within the entire world feel “beautiful” (interesting,
given only 5% are “model-like” in shape). Likewise, “Approximately 11.7 million surgical and
nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2007; of these surgeries 91% were
executed on women” (Dye, 2009). Furthermore, expectations of such picayune nature only serve to
imprison the “afflicted” woman in additional nuisance, thereby distracting them from other goals
and considerations. For example, in the Huffington Post’s “7 Ways the Beauty Industry Convinced
Women That They Weren’t Good Enough” attributes much pressure on women to marketing, for as
long as women dislike their bodies, the more they will spend. Cellulite was introduced and
demonized as a major public enemy of the ideal female body” (The Huffington Post, 2015). The
Beauty Bias (Rhode, 2010) covers and the Beauty Myth (Wolf, 2013) are both foundational
summaries of such topics, “The beauty myth of the present is more insidious than any mystique of
femininity yet… the contemporary ravages of the beauty backlash are destroying women physically
and depleting us psychologically(Wolf, 2013).
Theoretical Framework
Human existence becomes real, becomes tangible, through the intrinsic understandingand
innate useof dichotomy. One is able to discern her or his world by what things are and by what
they are not. Human consciousness and subconsciousness unremittingly decipher whether things
are black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, heavy or light, smart or stupid, here or there, living
or dead. Human life persists according to certain, rather concrete, dichotomous understandings; for
instance, the self exists each day under the implied understandings that one is alive, not dead; one is
here, not there; of these nominal elements one is aware, but only by their converse possibility.
Attractive women are often labeled “stupid,” while unattractive women are thought more
likely to possess intelligence. These labels and understandings make sense because of dichotomy:
in this case, beauty or brains, for women cannot be both. Additional qualities keep women under
thumb: pretty/ugly, dark/light, fat/skinny, blonde/brunette, etc. Hesse-Biber (1996) explains that
the dichotomy of body/mind keeps women focused on the body and teaches them that, with the
right body, there is no need for the mind. While we rarely recognize duality around us, it exists
within each element: we are happy or sad, married/attached or single (and, if too old, a woman
must have a defect), rich or poor, sick or healthy. As such, standards either exist or they do not
exist; for one thing cannot be without its other. If this holds true, than both sides of a dichotomy
exist in some formsome stateof being. Even in lack of tangibility, there remains
acknowledgement. Furthermore, it is the position of this analysis that acknowledgement insinuates
form; i.e. acknowledgement of the existence of something perceived in daily life. These
perceptions, concepts, and ideals shape most standards of beautyconsider, for example, that only
one to five percent of women even come close to (but never reach) the ideological image of what
constitutes external beauty.
The advertising industry has long used dichotomy as a means of viewer attention grabbing.
Pointing to one thing, in juxtaposition of its other, effectively urges the viewer to accept an
extreme, particularly when that thing is far more desirable. Consider, for example, that one is alive
and faced with its adverse. One will most likely select alive, as when she or he forcibly must select
one of two, there is no grey. Such contrast expresses to the consumer something is precisely what
they want, and what they need in order to be, or to have what is “good,” or maintain what is “right.
In an advertisements where dichotomy is explicit, the advertiser is subconsciously telling the
consumer what they are, or what they are not, and thus provides instructions on how to live, and/or
what to buy. In doing so, one thing exists and one thing does not, one thing is bad and the other is
good, one thing is right and the other thing is wrong, and—in Dove’s Campaigns—one choice is
beauty, one choice is not. A powerful example of such dichotomy in Dove Beauty’s marketing is
their recent Vote Ads. A part of the Campaign for Real Beauty, Dove employs antithesis to entice
action by the manipulation of a women’s insecurities. Each picture ad of a “real” woman bears a
rhetorical question; each question serves to question each ideal, yet by labeling examples of women
whom embody their respective themes and expectations of cultural beauty, they pigeonhole the
voter/viewer/customer into yes or no questionswhere yes is beauty and profit, and no is
imperfection and losswith little debate. In a semiotic analysis of the Dove Vote ads, (Murray,
2013) provides this summary (CFRB is Campaign for Real Beauty):
The message of “real beauty” in these texts functions as a social myth wherein the
denotative signs of liberation oppose the connotative signs of oppression in the depictions
of “real” women. The central meaning of “real beauty” in these texts is connected to a
voting device; the linguistic sign “cast your vote” connotes the feminist value of suffrage,
however, CFRB is not an election. By tallying the votes on publicly displayed interactive
billboards and on the CFRB website, the women become objects for approval or
disapproval by the “real” judgment of global audiences, with potentially disempowering
consequences for the “real” women. Moreover, CFRB’s oppressive construction of these
signifierswherein the voter is able to select only one optiondoes not allow for debate.
It seems that many of Dove’s actions and much of Dove’s content could be helpful for teens,
parents, and others; yet, their advertising, rather effectively, draws attention to the appearances and
characteristics society forces women not to want, but then offer Dove Beauty products as the
inverse; essentially, the campaign and its materials seem tainted by Dove’s paradoxical corporate
appearance. Unilever, the corporation that owns Dove, also owns a company that manufactures
and sells diet pills. It is in this context that Dove Beauty’s hypocrisy lies, as they spotlight (and
sell) the exact societal standards that their campaign claims to contradict. By highlighting these
“flaws,” Dove Beauty acknowledges the existence of the ideological preference, and uses them for
financial gain through emotional manipulation. Each ad, varying by culture, exploits different
shortcomings, and in turn offers the antithetical solution: a Dove product (Dye, 2009).
Cognitive Response Theory
Cognitive Response Theory outlines one possible consideration for such effectiveness in
Dove Beauty’s marketing strategy. This theory purports that people attend to their own personal
contexts, yet they are most often unaware of their own reactions at responses to outside stimuli. As
such, most people are thus “unable to verbalize the cues governing those responses" (Marshall,
Stamps, & Moore, 1998, p. 23). Because we are subject to these automatic and central cognitive
processes, we are often unaware of our own biases and prejudices, and how (or when) outside
influences such as media or advertising messages might affect our actions and/or thought processes.
Through the consideration of this theory, it is clear that such attitudes can potentially distort our
perceptions about others, especially those ideologies whereby one finds his or her open wounds to
lie. In turn, there is little surprise that female imageand thus female worthprove effective
ways to induce action; in this case, it is buying action (Merianos, Vidourek, & King, 2013).
Greenwald (1968) notes that, “When a person receives a communication and is faced with the
decision of accepting or rejecting the persuasion, he may be expected to attempt to relate the new
information to his existing attitudes, knowledge, feelings, etc. In the course of doing this, he likely
rehearses substantial cognitive content beyond that of the persuasive message itself.” Within this
statement, Greenwald references the aforementioned dual measures of acceptance or rejection. For
a woman, this means she accepts that beauty requires Dove Beauty products (and then buys them),
or she denies and lives as the antithesis.
This analysis relies on attractiveness (or lack of) as a human condition detailed throughout
history by poets, scholars, artists, rulers, and historians; examples of immense beauty thread
throughout the pages of history, and reference levels of beauty which, as with Helen of Troy, could
even "launch a thousand ships." The power that attractiveness holds has only recently become an
area of academic study. Beginning in the 1970s, academics have begun to uncover the influence
attractiveness bears, including perceptions pertaining to personality, quality of life, and talent.
Furthermore, studies outline beauty biases slanted in favor of the "beautiful," as individuals that are
more attractive are more desirable, and for more than aesthetic appeal. Early research related to
this phenomenon attributes to Dion, Berscheid, and Walster, particularly their 1972 study outlining
the mantra that "What is Beautiful is Good" (WIBIG). WIBIG finds that attractive individuals
appear more sociable, interesting, sympathetic, out-going, and dignified than the less attractive.
Furthermore, Dion et al. find that the physically attractive are recognized as better spouses (and
more likely to find a spouse) and better parents. Not long after WIBIG, Gillen adds research that
supports hypotheses outlining increasing levels of "social desirability" with increasing levels of
attractiveness; and, that highly attractive persons "were seen as more likely to possess positive traits
and, conversely, less likely to possess negative traits than unattractive persons" (1981). Thus,
Gillen notes that even when considering "sex-irrelevant goodness," a what-is-beautiful-is-good
effect persists. Unfortunately, the WIBIG bias persists as an unstated yet implied ideal for women.
Most women therefore strive for the unattainable, blaming lack of beauty for personal, social,
academic, and other failings. Advertising agencies frequently manipulate these unstated
insecurities, but Dove Beauty has quite brilliantly created a campaign even more appealing than
petitions to only insecurities. Dove Beauty, within these narratives, has added to these cognitive
consequences a sympathetic component. Consequently, through these ads, women not only
recognize their flaws (as per custom), but conjure a fondness for Dove Beauty. To both the
cognitively unaware and the cognitively aware, Dove Beauty, as an entity, fosters a relationship
with its customers wherein the customer feels that Dove Beauty wants to combat these insecurities
and biases for and with women, and help them boost confidence, etc.; in the interim, however, a
Dove product or two are necessary. Thus, while drawing on the “warm fuzzies” of women, they
also implicitly draw on their diffidence. Moreover, within this context the campaign perpetuates
these beauty myths; this time, however, the myth goes along with the message that while it still
exists, women and Dove Beauty can fight it together: they only need buy products first (Dye,
As a final concept of foundational material, it is important to note that the company that
owns Dove, itself, contradicts its message of belief in “real” women, and through an entirely
different way than inherently. Unilever, the owner of Dove Beauty, also maintains a company of
personal male product—Axe. Within this company’s marketing campaigns, the women featured
are precise embodiments of those [supposedly] negated within their campaign for “Real Beauty.”
Tiny waists, large breasts, flawless skin, long hair, and every other ideal persistent within the
American beauty ideal exude from these models. Accordingly, the male figure is the center of each
ad, while the scantily clad female pursues he who uses Axe products. By propositioning such
myths within Axe ads, Unilever now forcefully perpetuates them; whereas its Dove Beauty ads
only acknowledged the myth’s existence, Axe actively cultivates it. Considering this binary
opposition, it seems Unilever buttresses its own agency; for as long as there exists such myth, there
exists lifelong need for beauty products. The following quote from Dye (2009), her analysis
arriving at a similar position, fares quite telling:
…by encouraging images of “real women,” Dove implies that women who do fit the ideal
are not real women, and that “real women” are not the ideal. As a result, the Dove campaign
even excludes women from participation. The slogan “Real women have real curves” shows
how Dove’s campaign for diversity negates itself; some bloggers on Dove’s website argued
that because of the stigma against the un-real ideal, many naturally thin girls are accused of
having an eating disorder, and consequently, suffer from a negative body image and low
self-esteem. because of the exclusions placed against both men and women within the
Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, recognition and tolerance of diversity goes unrealized,
reinforcing people’s reliance on commodities for acceptance in an increasingly fragmented
society of private individuals.
Dove Beauty in American versus Chinese Markets
In American society, women feel it necessary to meet myriad varying beauty standards (i.e.
WIBIG). The standards for American women that emerge within the following three campaign
artifacts while functioning under the youthfulness umbrella. These include the possession and
maintenance of 1) flawlessly straight, shiny, “healthy” hair; 2) borderline emaciated-looking thin
and lithe bodies, with supple breasts and thin hips; and 3) soft, smooth, blemish and wrinkle-free
skin. The following provides a comparative analysis of Vote Ads by juxtapositioning American
advertisements with their Chinese counterparts. While features slightly vary, categorical
considerations remain similar: 1) the skin, 2) facial features, and 3) the body. By comparing these
ads within Dove’s three primary categories of product marketing and within two divergent cultures,
we see the blatant emphasis placed upon cultural myths of beauty perpetuated by Dove. We thus
ask the reader: if a company seeks to counter an idea, will a universal appeal not better
deemphasize that particular appeal? Within these particular ads, whatever the characteristic, one
can imagine that any woman with said characteristic would instantly self-ridicule; it appears this is
the marketing goal. Particularly poignant are characteristics unchangeable through Dove products,
for if a company is to draw on an insecurity, it seems only logical that they offer a solution to that
same insecurity; here, Dove does not, drawing on overall emotional states to manipulate women
into buying. For instance, what solution might Dove’s deodorants, hair products, or moisturizers
offer to a Chinese woman made increasingly insecure about her eyelids? None--in such cases, it is
the advertisement’s appeal via pathos wherein women build brand loyalty to Dove products.
Varying statistics show the unease most women feel about their attractiveness, and the
subsequent need for change in some part of their appearance that fails to reach societal standards.
Dove Beauty, in an ironic twist, reports these statistics themselves; mentioned in some Dove ads,
the “Dove Self-Esteem Project” is a campaign project poised to help nationwide self-esteem in
women; for example, the site notes “six in ten girls stop doing what they love because they feel bad
about their looks” (
Within the Dove Vote Ads lie the samples of analysis for this essay. Vote ads “featured a
woman who deviated from the idealized beauty norm presented by the media. The ad invites the
reader to judge each woman‘s deviant physical feature/s. The reader had the option of choosing
from two adjectives. The remaining line of text provides aphoristic like rhetorical questions (e.g.
“Does beauty mean looking like everyone else?” and “Does true beauty only squeeze into a size
6?”), and then directs readers to At the website, readers vote
on the lacking characteristics displayed within the image. Furthermore, the woman’s attributes and
missing attributes are to foster discussion on linked message boards, and/or social media.
Furthermore, as noted by Roedl (2010); “Each ad critiques the one area of the model’s body that
does not meet the beauty standard,” and thus, as abovementioned, points directly to a yes/no
decisionand all provide solution in Dove product. Murray (2013) suggests, this phrasing
suggests optimism or pessimism, an intertextual reference to the rhetorical expression, ‘Is the glass
half empty or half full?’ (Murray, 2013). Essentially, each woman must choose between buying
beauty and not buying beautyand, which to obtainwhile at the same time pointing to what is
“wrong” with each woman. By offering women the opportunity to judge, Dove creates an
additional underlying complication by assuming viewers and consumers envisage and embrace
cultural myths and stereotypical norms, and then act (and buy) according to their parallel directives.
Furthermore, while presenting the female body as inferior, “This [campaign] excludes men from
having body issues, firmly establishing body insecurity as a feminine trait” (Roedl, 2008). To
summarize, Dove is unnoticeably supporting the media in their perpetual oppression of women
within physical characteristics, while noticeably denying it.
In the consideration of dominant appearance and beauty ideologies within China, and as
Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign emphasizes, Chinese women particularly care about three things:
white/light facial skin, the lack of double eyelids (i.e. Caucasian eyes), and maintaining a skinny,
yet curvy body. These three foci correspond with Western women’s desire for wrinkle free (to
some, also tan) skin, long and lush hair, and a thin, lithe body. While the Chinese eye ads do not
expressly parallel American hair ads, both characteristics are facial features, and thus best fit this
analysis. Similarly, while Chinese women may seek differing standards, they nonetheless
experience the same ideological exigencies.
The Skin
Within one of the more questionable Dove Vote Ads, a young dark-skinned woman stands with
crossed arms aside the selections “Dark?” and “Dazzling”? An objectionable dyad nonetheless,
one must wonder why the use of “Dazzling” (other than catchy alliteration). Popular political
advertisements and product lines employ simpler strategy, attaching vague words where meaning
should lie; in this instance, the word “Dazzling” is an adjective normally associated with objects,
things like diamonds. Digging deeper, The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) recommends a
number of steps for assessing such tactics, methods also known as glittering generalities. For
brevity’s sake, we induce two: whether or not the question under consideration 1) has a legitimate
association with the true meaning of the word (so, is this black woman/black skin dark or dazzling?
More directly, is she beautiful?); and, 2) whether or not an idea is being forced through a pretty
word. Applying these steps through this particular ad, 1) the Oxford English Dictionary defines
“dazzle” (verb) as a. “Of the eyes: to lose faculty of distinct and steady vision: from gazing at too
bright light”; and b. “To be or become mentally confused or stupefied; to become dizzy” ("The
definitive record of the English Language," 2015). Both of these first two definitions refer to color,
particularly of a strong, blinding type. Neither seems insinuative of anything pleasing to the eye.
While “dazzling,” colloquially, often indicates something shiny or fantastical, it does not seem an
appropriate referenceby itselffor a woman of color, or any other. Continuing on to step two, it
might appear to some that the color, as it is listed as the second choice, is the characteristic being
“sold.” According to the rules of glittering generalities, it appears the woman’s dark skin is the
“bad” choice on the Vote Ad, whereas the second holds little to no meaning at all; apparently, her
skin is not “dark” but is simply hard on the eyes. IPA says of the glittering generalities technique,
“the Glittering Generality device seeks to make us approve and accept without examining the
evidence.” Applying such reasoning, here one is to approve and accept dark [skin] is the bad,
incorrect choice; therefore, it is better to accept the label of dark skin as hard on the eyes
("Propaganda Techniques ", 1938).
As Dove’s campaign ads mimic, Chinese peoplealthough expected mostly for womendo
care about skin color, especially the facial skin. Usually, white and light skin is considered as the
ideal appearance, and is closely related to Chinese traditional cultural values. A longstanding
Chinese saying notes: “Yi Bai Zhe San Chou,” meaning (essentially) that light, white skin hides
numerous facial flaws. This partly explains the Chinese ideological value of skin: white skin is
better than dark skin. Moreover, Mak mentions that whiteness” symbolizes higher social status,
particularly for the Southern Chinese culture, as southern girls born to rich families did not need to
work in sunny, hot farmlands; and, therefore they naturally maintained white facial skin.
Accordingly, the antiquated manifestation remains, wherein those with dark skin are outside
laborsand lower classwork exposing them to sunshine. (Mak, 2007).
Ironically, western women often seek tan, golden skin; this desire contradicts cultural ideals
before about 1920. Women report their desire to appear tan as a means of combating weight issues,
such as cellulite and the overall appearance of thinness. Mary Williams (1999), in a foundational
study of this phenomenon, found 84% of women cited this catalyst. She writes that the
…discussion of women’s plastic surgeries is particularly relevant to the tanning question…
Our culture provides young women with a plethora of signs indicating their bodies’
unacceptability…by encouraging women to work continually on their appearance, by
demanding that they obsess over body shape and skin tone, patriarchal institutions can rest
assured that females will never gain equality. (Adams, 1999)
Williams goes on to explain the beauty myth ensures that women feel their natural state
unacceptable, and thus in constant fight to “destroy ugliness” and this state drives consumerism;
furthermore, should the woman hate the very skin she is in, she thus becomes the ultimate
consumer. Additional Dove Beauty Vote advertisements are equally perplexing; a red haired
woman smiles, with the dichotomy “flawed” or “flawless” beside her. While the image does not
call on skin color, per se, the reference in question accentuates the woman’s skin quality flaw:
freckles (although one must wonder why this woman must be “stereotypically red-headed). In an
additional Vote ad using the same female image, the ad offers a different dichotomy: “ugly spots”
or “beauty spots.” Regardless of ad or culture, these skin ads all target female insecurities about
the particular “skin they are in”; after all, what better way to sell products than to a woman
disappointed with her entire body?
The Eyes and The Hair
Dove Beauty’s campaign highlights one of Chinese women’s most pressing beauty
concerns; this characteristic cannot be changed with makeup, lotion, nor any available Dove
product, but is certainly bothersome to increasing numbers of teenage girlsdouble eyelids. Within
the Chinese market, Dove’s Vote Ad delineates this concern with a “Single Eyelids?” or “Twice as
Nice?” choice. In a glance of this ad (which features a smiling Asian woman), similarly-eyed
women promptly turn focus to this personal dilemma. Moreover, ever-expanding Chinese
ideological preference for “Western looking” eyes is a true concern for young women, but is
especially dangerous in China where regulations to the plastic surgery industry are young, and
common are “black market” surgeries by unlicensed or unethical practitioners. Prior to 1980,
plastic surgeries in China were allowed for only the physically deformed. Chinese women, in a
separate research study, reportedly feel of cosmetic surgery as a way to see themselves as “the
embodiment of a new China: perfect, successful, and wealthy” (Lindridge & Congying, 2008);
furthermore, idiosyncratic language in China now includes word translations of "Man-made
beauty" or "Knifecut beauty.
Recent research of eye shape preference as it relates to beauty suggests that both Chinese
and non-Chinese observers consider medium-height upper eyelid crease most attractive, and thus
current pop culture deems the absence of an upper eyelid crease “least attractive” (Harry S Hwang
& Jeffrey H Spiegel, 2014). An inherited trait, double eyelids are expressly common among
Europeans, and are absent in Approximately 50% of East and Southeast Asian women”; in medical
jargon, this references presence of a well-defined supratarsal. (Harry S. Hwang & Jeffrey H.
Spiegel, 2014). Harry S. Hwang and Jeffrey H. Spiegel (2014) note that women born with either a
minimal or absent supratarsal eyelid crease” do not meet the cultural criterion for this “beautiful
eyelid”; They explain, “Among people of Chinese descent, the creation of a supratarsal crease
("double" eyelid blepharoplasty) is the most common cosmetic surgical procedure”; furthermore,
increasing levels of Chinese girls use double-eyelids stickers, or makeup in attempts to change the
appearance of their eye shape, and thus more appropriately coincide with Western ideals (Harry S
Hwang & Jeffrey H Spiegel, 2014).
Linda, “a 40-year-old Asian woman”, told Weitz (2001) that her hair must be carefully
guarded, as certain looks, i.e. her natural hair, are simply “too Asian.” In her effort to preserve her
preferred style (which, needless to say, is that style relational to “beauty” within her society) she
“…always carries an umbrella, never swims with friends, and dries her hair after showering before
letting anyone see her.” Undoubtedly, most American and Chinese women relate to Linda
regardless of cultural predilection; consider, for example, the many times women declare a “Bad
Hair Day.” A separate Asian woman within the same study notes of such days, “If I’m having a
bad hair day, I’m having a bad day in general… My day is just shot” (Weitz, 2001).
In a separate note, although a woman’s head hair is a sign for many things such as her culture
and her personality, her body hair is particularly offensive and thus needs removed. Startlingly,
99% of women reportedly remove some form of body hair; and from this data the authors
explaining that the inherent issue within this standard practice for women, like many others, is just
that: it’s standard practice (Toerien, Wilkinson, & Choi, 2005). A separate, also rather telling
factor emerges from Basow wherein about around 80% of women remove leg and/or underarm hair
(no other forms of hair assessed here as in Toerin, et al. above), at least occasionally. The study
goes on to report uncovered meaning found within the data: “Two types of reasons for shaving
emerged: feminine/attractiveness reasons and social/normative reasons. Most women start shaving
for the latter reasons but continue to shave for the former reasons (Basow, 1991). Basow (1991)
also reports lesbian and feminist groups of women are least likely to shave.
The Body
Dove Beauty Vote Ads draw attention to the female body characteristics, most notably weight.
Vote Ads ask “Fat?” or “Fit?” and “Oversized?” or “Understated?” Traditional Chinese culture
persists within a Confucian framework, wherein identity and allegiance are familial; altogether,
Chinese culture is not individualist, but collectivistand thus the emergence of self-centered
phenomenon, and body appearance centrism, are in direct contrast with Chinese traditional values;
ultimately, the reveal the manifestation and influence of modernization and western culture.
Written of these conflicting ideals, Lindridge and Congying (2008) offer the following explanation
from within their study data:
…the argument that the body can be converted to cultural, economic and social capital was
evident amongst all our participants who, with their parents, viewed their body as a product
that should be invested in and refined to reflect a modernizing China… a modernizing
society is partly characterized by exposure to mass media, educational achievement and
employment of women. Indeed, these three identifiers were evident amongst all our
participants, who felt that a modernizing China offered them opportunities beyond their
parents' imagination and their life experiences. Plastic surgery represented then the
culmination of this modernization process, where the body could be altered and improved,
just as Chinese society was being altered and improved.
Body weight and size is an important issue in both China and the United States. People in both
countries consider body size as a significant measurement for women’s beauty. According to the
research conducted by Xie, Chou, and Spruijt-Metz, 41.6% of girls who were actually normal or
underweight described themselves as either relatively heavy or very heavy, demonstrating this
common phenomenon. Weight dissatisfaction is epidemic among both Chinese and American teen
girls (Lo, Ho, Mak, Lai, & Lam, 2009). In China, it is the skinny, yet curvy body most desired by
women; this research is consistent with previous observations on self-perception of body weight
status among U.S. teenagers, as well. Interestingly, the situation in China is currently far more
severe than that in the United States. For example, China has one of the lowest body fat percentage
rates in the worldthe average citizen maintains only about 5% body fat; conversely, the United
States average percentage per citizen reaches 30%. However, yet another instance seemingly of
western influence, the average weight among 7-18 year-old Chinese youth increased 28 times from
1985-2000 (Lo et al., 2009). According to statistics from, the comparison Becerra
countries is staggering, with 18.9% of Chinese citizens overweight, and 66.9% of Americans; as for
obesity, only 2.9% Chinese qualify, whereas do 33.9% Americans ("US and Global Obesity Levels:
The Fat Chart," 2011).
Although both Chinese and American societies keep progressing while women’s equality
takes steps with each passing year, suppression and inequality still exist. Not only do Dove’s Vote
Ads point out these unrealistic dominant ideologies, they indicate what most women still feel under
antiquated, oppressive social controls and constraints many hoped today to be a bad memory of the
past. It may hold true that “Normative social controls (such as internalization of a feminine beauty)
may have become increasingly important over the course of the twentieth as external constraints on
women’s lives diminished” (Baker-Sperry, & Grauerholz, 2003); or, it might be that women’s
suppression will always exist. Or, most likely, inequality will be eradicated in form to emerge as
another. Numerous Vote Ads failed to mention, including grey/gorgeous, wrinkled/wonderful, 44
and hot/44 and not, half empty/half full, boy/babe, and flat/flattering. Dove Beauty also finds
success in advertising through commercials, blogs, social media, and others, but “Emotion
Marketing” works as their enterprise wide pursuit, which sustains connections with customers
(Robinette, 2001). More concerning, Dove’s optimistic messages divert women from the true
messages, and thereby positions the corporation in the market as a hegemonic force able to usurp
the feminist role of engendering social change for women and relocate that missive into wide-
reaching institutional power (Murray, 2013).
Dove Beauty has the power to in effect reestablish beauty standards within their broad
public reach, although herein increases corporate social responsibility; in addition, notes Dye, these
Dove Beauty messages, of individualistic nature, are potentially “…replacing considerations for the
greater public with the tasks of narcissistic self-promotion and image-construction” (Dye, 2009).
Overall, Dove’s campaigns are popular. What viewers do not notice is that Dove Beauty actively
pinpoints messages of body characteristics not related to soap, deodorant, nor body wash; and,
these tactics sell product and appeal to the emotions and insecurities of women. Toerien et al.
(2005) offers a profound statement concerning “narcissistic” and “trivial” bodily obsessions such as
these: The requirements of this work place women in a double-bind: trivialised for taking them
seriously; treated as feminine failures for not doing so (see Bartky, 1998). By refusing to
trivialise women’s ‘beauty’ practices, then, we question the narrow definition of
‘acceptable’ feminine embodiment, which maintains–at the most ‘mundane,’ and, hence,
insidious levelthe message that a woman’s body is unacceptable if left unaltered. (Toerien
et al., 2005)
It is true that social ideologies of such magnitude place women in precarious circumstances of,
once again, binary opposition; if she worry about her looks she is vain, if she does not she suffers
the WIBIG prejudice. Women cannot fight such a massively invasive construction themselves,
which is why we turn to the powerful for help. At the advent of this campaign, women across the
globe felt a flicker of hope for changeand it was some change, for it was at least a consideration.
We can only now wait for the next corporate superpower to make an attempt, and once again
dissect its messages for genuineness and benevolence; or, as we see here, an interesting spin on an
antiquated ideological manipulation.
Dove’s Emphasis 14
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Dove’s Emphasis 15
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Over the past decade, cosmetic procedures have significantly increased in options available for females to achieve the American cultural standards of beauty. The purpose of this study is to conduct a content analysis of brochures and to observe what cosmetic procedures are made available to female customers from plastic surgery centers, and also to examine the medical and therapeutic framing techniques used to encourage females to undergo cosmetic procedures. Three plastic surgery centers (overall response rate= 60%) located in one metropolitan area served as participants for this study. The researcher observed the locations and collected all brochures made available. Twenty-one diverse brochures were used in this study as well as the researcher located the websites to view any missing information of services offered not included in the brochures. A content analysis was conducted of the brochures. All of the cosmetic surgery centers were accredited and advertised each plastic surgeon's credibility. Various invasive and noninvasive cosmetic procedures were offered by each center including procedures that focus on the face, breasts, body, and skin care. Additionally, all cosmetic surgery centers marketed their elective surgeries to females by using medical terms as well as therapeutic terms. As the rates of cosmetic procedures have significantly increased overtime, cosmetic surgeons appear to benefit from employing medical terms to diagnose beauty among their target population of healthy females. In addition, using therapeutic terms to ensure increase self-esteem among females is another beneficial framing technique. © 2013: Ashley L. Merianos, Rebecca A. Vidourek, Keith A. King, and Nova Southeastern University.
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This article examines the cause branding strategy of The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty (CFRB) as a case study in the production and consumption of contemporary popular meanings of feminism, social change, female citizenship, and female beauty in global consumer culture. A feminist semiotic analysis of the print, television, and new media texts that launched CFRB and its brand extensions reveals a juxtaposition in its “real beauty” messaging: signs reference a key opposition in feminist politics (liberation and oppression) while dictating a beauty ideology that encompasses appearance and behavior. Further, the texts situate the brand as the site for female activism about the dominant ideology of beauty; this strategy positions the corporation to usurp the feminist role of engendering social change for women and displaces the influential mentoring role away from women who share girls' everyday lives onto an agent of institutional power. Finally, the author argues that this postfeminist-supported campaign encourages the global spread of and individuals' enlistment in postfeminist citizenship via becoming a “real beauty” who self-brands her neoliberal identity ideologically and materially in the name of empowerment. This “social change” denies agency regarding beauty, sanctions postfeminist citizenship, and holds danger for future meanings and practices of feminism.
It is a common assumption that the effectiveness of a persuasive communication is, at least in part, a function of the extent to which its content is learned and retained by its audience. This assumed learning-persuasion relation is based on a reasonable analogy be-tween the persuasive communication and an informational com-munication such as a classroom lecture. In the lecture, it is by defi-nition of the educational situation that retention of content is taken as a measure of effectiveness. In the persuasion situation, however, the essential criterion of effectiveness is acceptance of content. It remains an empirical question to determine whether acceptance of a persua-sive communication is related to retention of its content. The hypothesis that acceptance of a communication is, in some part, a function of learning or retention of its content has received explicit endorsement by a number of attitude researchers and theorists
Authors in the field of eating disorders suggest that increasing preferences for thin body shapes in women may be related to recent increases in the prevalence of eating-related problems. Using a social comparison theory paradigm, this study looked at the impact of exposure to slides of thin, average, and oversize models on the self-evaluations of 162 women exhibiting varying levels of self-reported bulimic symptoms. Contrary to the author's expectations, exposure to thin models was related to lower self-evaluations regardless of level of bulimic symptoms. Women reporting high levels of bulimic symptoms did, however, report a greater amount of pressure to be thin coming from media, peers, and family than did women reporting lower levels of symptoms. Results suggest that media have an impact on women's self-evaluations regardless of their level of bulimic symptoms. Implications are discussed.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, approximately 11.7 million surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2007; of these surgeries 91% were executed on women. While contemporary conceptions of beauty are limited to say the least, Dove's campaign to counter such ideas are similarly limited. In attempting to appeal to what they call "real" women, Dove markets itself as an esteem-building brand based on enhancing women's natural beauty; however, what Dove sells are nevertheless beauty products. I will argue that the message of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty is not only contradicted by its product-line, but that Dove exploits women's desire for such an inclusive message. The appeal of the campaign works to create a deep brand loyalty that covers up its own inherent flaw: that Dove itself upholds the beauty myths and expectations it claims to aim to reverse, expectations that are both consuming and consumed.
Background: A well-defined supratarsal crease has often been considered attractive, representing a significant component in a beautiful upper eyelid. Approximately 50% of East and Southeast Asian women are born with either a minimal or absent supratarsal eyelid crease. Among people of Chinese descent, the creation of a supratarsal crease ("double" eyelid blepharoplasty) is the most common cosmetic surgical procedure, but no comparative study has assessed the height by which an upper eyelid crease is deemed most attractive and depending on cultural background. Objectives: The authors assess how attractiveness is interpreted by different cultural groups to determine whether double-eyelid blepharoplasty enhances attractiveness according to both Chinese and non-Chinese observers. Methods: Facial photographs were taken of 19 women of Chinese descent. The photographs were enhanced with computer imaging software to generate 3 additional pictures, depicting low, medium, and high upper eyelid creases on each model. Via an Internet-based survey tool, Chinese and non-Chinese observers were asked to rate the attractiveness of the faces with each potential eyelid position. (Surveys are available online at, as Appendix 1 and Appendix 2.) Results: Both Chinese and non-Chinese observers considered the medium-height upper eyelid crease most attractive (P < .00001). An absent upper eyelid crease was deemed the least attractive (P < .00001). Conclusions: These preference data for eyelid height can be used to better counsel patients on perceived attractiveness and expectations for surgical results, since these results further elucidate which facial features are universally considered attractive.
A major component of “femininity” in the United States today is a hairless body, a norm that developed in the United States between 1915–1945. Little has been written regarding the development of this norm, and virtually no empirical research has been done to assess how universally ascribed to is this standard or why women actually remove their leg and underarm hair. More than 200 women from two national professional organizations responded to a mailed questionnaire (response rate 56%). The majority (around 80%) remove their leg and/or underarm hair at least occasionally. Two types of reasons for shaving emerged: feminine/attractiveness reasons and social/normative reasons. Most women start shaving for the latter reasons but continue to shave for the former reasons. Certain groups, however, were least likely to remove leg and/or underarm hair: strongly feminist women and self-identified lesbians. The results of the study are discussed in terms of the function the hairlessness norm may serve in our culture.
Proponents of sociocultural theory suggest that body dissatisfaction results from unrealistic ideals of attractiveness transmitted through the media. In the present experiment, 195 female and 206 male adolescents viewed 20 appearance-related or 20 nonappearance-related television commercials. The results showed that viewing appearance commercials led to increased schema activation, anger, and body dissatisfaction, as well as to decreased confidence in women compared to the viewing of nonappearance commercials. Schema activation was shown to partly mediate the effect of commercial viewing on appearance dissatisfaction. The level of appearance schema, an individual difference variable, moderated the effect of commercial viewing on body dissatisfaction. For men, viewing appearance commercials led to increased schema activation, although mood and body dissatisfaction were not affected. These results support the usefulness of self-schema theory in proposing schema activation as the underlying process by which the media can increase body dissatisfaction, and appearance schematicity as the explanation for why some individuals are more vulnerable than others to media effects.
This article explores how women seek power through both resisting and accommodating mainstream norms for female hair and delineates the strengths and limitations of these strategies. The data help to illuminate the complex role the body plays in sustaining and challenging women's subordinate position, how accommodation and resistance lie buried in everyday activities, the limits of resistance based on the body, and why accommodation and resistance are best viewed as coexisting variables rather than as polar opposites. Finally, these data suggest the importance of defining resistance as actions that reject subordination by challenging the ideologies that support subordination.
The paper identifies the phenomenal rise of increasingly invasive forms of elective cosmetic surgery targeted primarily at women and explores its significance in the context of contemporary biotechnology. A Foucauldian analysis of the significance of the normalization of technologized women's bodies is argued for. Three “Paradoxes of Choice” affecting women who “elect” cosmetic surgery are examined. Finally, two Utopian feminist political responses are discussed: a Response of Refusal and a Response of Appropriation.