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Dove's Dirty Tricks

29/04/2013 13:28 BST | Updated 25/06/2013 10:12 BST

The nice folks at Dove are at it again: in their bid to convince women that they don't have to look on the point of collapse or have preternaturally symmetrical features and skin unmarked by life to be beautiful, they've conducted what they're calling "a compelling social experiment". Real Beauty Sketches is a film in which a group of women each sit on the other side of a curtain to a forensic artist and describe themselves. Based on their description he draws them, then does another drawing based on a description of them by a stranger.

The women talk about the height of their foreheads, shadows, lines, protruding chin and rounded cheeks. Then the strangers say things like "nice, thin chin", "short, cute nose", and "very nice blue eyes" which, somehow, the forensic artist turns into an image that looks less like Barbie than it should.

The result is two drawings depicting average-looking women that both bear some resemblance to the one on camera. The women tear up, one saying, "I should be more grateful of my natural beauty...It impacts everything. It couldn't be more critical to your happiness". I can think of several things I'd consider more critical to happiness, but none of them has anything to do with obsessing over appearance. Nor do they have anything to do with needing instructions from a corporate brand on how to think and feel. Basing its claim on some unreferenced data ("Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful."), Dove seems to have assumed that women are in need of this sort of instruction, as though we're incapable of forming our own opinions about our appearance and just how much importance we give it.

There's a fatal flaw in the experiment: any woman who has a face or features like those in the self-described drawings is deemed unattractive or, to attempt Dove parlance, less beautiful. I happen to have a friend who looks very like one of them and she's happy with her appearance, as well she should be. The woman it depicted wasn't, saying it looked "closed off and fatter" than the drawing done from the stranger's description. Not intended as a compliment, but then maybe women being nicer to each other isn't part of Dove's plan. For all its talk of democratic notions of beauty, Dove Real Beauty Sketches pits women against each other as much as any pageant by giving the women a choice of which drawing they'd rather resemble.

I appreciate that there's a company in the beauty industry making an effort to offer consumers a change from the usual pristine faces and bodies, but really, it's all just so much marketing. If Dove's professed attitude of care towards women were based on anything other than corporate profit, they'd stop using known carcinogens in their products. They'd also stop testing them on animals, in line with the wishes of the majority of consumers. Instead of films about women fixating on their flaws until some stranger tells them they're not all bad and they tear up in gratitude, Dove could show happy rabbits frolicking in meadows and not being kept in labs having chemicals tested on them. I reckon the feel-good factor of that would outweigh any negative feelings a woman might have about her appearance. I suppose they'd have to work out how to tie the rabbits to the products and the campaign. Maybe women of all sizes having a super time playing with the rabbits and not giving a thought to their bulges and creases? Sounds like marketing gold to me I may have missed my calling.