The Blog

'Real Women' Are a Feminist Nightmare

Women are beautiful. This we know, because a series of Dove ad campaigns and TV programmes hosted by Gok Wan celebrating so called 'real women' have told us so.

Women are beautiful. This we know, because a series of Dove ad campaigns and TV programmes hosted by Gok Wan celebrating so called 'real women' have told us so.

I have learned, as the target of a media obsessed with 'real women' (presumably the models and celebrities this seems to preclude are the product of some behind-the-scenes Dr Frankenstein; delicate noses, sinewy thighs and exquisite cheekbones hewn together and pushed out into the world for mocking and glorification in equal measure) that, so long as you're not morbidly obese, disabled or have had noticeable plastic surgery, you are a real, and therefore yes, beautiful, woman.

I am unequivocally a real woman. I'm very pale skinned, pushing 30, with myriad hang-ups about my face and a size 12 muffin top which is a bit unsightly for anyone to see popping out the top of a pair of tight leggings but if I cinch my waist with a belt, wear an A-line skirt and make a feature of my C-cups I should get away with it, so I've learned. And if ever I find myself in a pair of pants and vest next to other 'real women' I'll definitely be topping up my stocks of Dove Firming Lotion, because it's been 'tested on real curves'. Or maybe I won't because what would be the point in rushing out to stock up on potions and lotions we don't need because, you know, we've got real beauty?

Picking up from where the previous ads in its 'campaign for real beauty' have left off, Dove's latest US offering is a video apparently 'committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety'. This sees women asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist who then draws them blind. Other female participants also describe the women and the two resulting sketches are shown to the subjects, displaying their own underestimation of their beauty in the first sketch and a more realistic portrait in the second. Much dubious soul searching - "I should be more grateful of my natural beauty, it impacts the choices and the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything, it couldn't be more critical to your happiness" - and a few gulped back tears ensue.

There have already been some questions on forums as to the lack of non-white and 'plus size' women in the video but surely this is a case of failing to see the wood for the trees, or, to put it in a slightly more verbose but particular way, failing to see the actual women for the freckles, the encroaching crow's feet and whether they're representative of the rest of womankind.

After all, such campaigns and TV fashion programmes celebrating 'real women' are perpetuating the idea that women need to be 'beautiful' at all. Surely it would be better if we rejected this 'world where beauty is a source of confidence' that Dove is committed to creating. For all the advice a well-meaning Gok Wan gives to ensure I play up my best features with a vertical stripe and a mid-heel, and all the stirring montages of women discovering they might not be as ugly as they thought, we see no videos of average looking men decrying their lacking confidence in their looks to stirring backing music.

Men don't need to be beautiful to function in society, made screamingly obvious in the advertising for men's sheep-like-gorgeous-woman-magnet Lynx. Which, by the way, is made by Dove manufacturer Unilever.