On the face of it, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty seems to be striking one back for the sisterhood. "Look!" it cries, "Look! This lady standing here in her pants has some jiggly bits! She's managed to grit her teeth and soldier on past them! What adversity she has overcome! And this one beside her is a bit ginger and freckly! But we've allowed her to get her photograph taken! It's ok to be a bit ginger! We're telling you, it's fine! We're all beautiful. Look at us. Aren't we all lovely?"
Well, no, we're not.
Not every single woman in the world is beautiful. This is actually ok. Being plain is not a tragedy. Being rubbish at pub quizzes is a problem. Being an actively nasty person is a problem. Being so monumentally dull that people consider chewing their arms off to create a conversation-ending distraction is a problem. Having quite an average arrangement of facial features is not. Even worse is the simpering mantra that everyone is beautiful in their own way which is a bit like saying everyone can play the piano. Well yes, if you count thumping the keys discordantly and the delivery of a perfect sonata both to be "playing the piano". It's as patronising to tell someone they're beautiful when they're not as it is to suggest that my rendition of Chopsticks is as good as a really well played Gnossienne. Being able to play the piano and being beautiful are of similar importance: a nice addition in a person but their absence isn't exactly something to weep over.
This patronising effort stems from thinking that if a woman is ugly then she is fundamentally flawed as a human being. This waltzes into our consciousness along with the belief that a woman has to be beautiful in order to be worth paying attention to. No one feels sorry for ugly men because they've got being funny or clever or the ability to do a decent impression of Ronnie Corbett to fall back on. No one has ever felt the need to defend David Dimbleby's place on Question Time against his own aging face because that's not why he's there. We don't extend this thinking to female panelists, because they are women and women are sort of always there decoratively. This is what makes us ignore what Mary Beard is saying and instead think "Ooh err, she could do with running a comb through that hair."
My problem with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty begins with the fact that it's still arguing that beauty is paramount; it's just moved the goalposts slightly wider. I understand that it makes sense for Dove to tell me that my underarms are hideous and my skin is scaly and I'm sweaty because they're selling me the solution. So far so cosmetic company, but that's not the annoying bit. The problem is that Dove pretend to hold your hand through your latent self-esteem issues whilst all the while propagating them. At least Chanel has never promised me anything except a good time laughing at their bizarre adverts and a nice smell in a bottle. They've never pretended to be interested in me as a person and the impact they can have on me as a person is thus far less than that of Dove's hand-holding campaign.
Dove act like they're doing you a massive favour by giving you permission not to look like a model, which is a bit like giving you permission not to be a primary school teacher, chef or scuba-diving instructor and about as much their business. They still want you to be beautiful. That is still the most important thing about you and the definition of beauty that you must adhere to is their's. It's hair-free, smooth and limited. It's not a free-for-all, however much they pretend it is.
It's like getting a big consolatory hug from an auntie about your lady moustache, while she gently reassures you that it's not a problem and then telling you about all the bleaching, waxing and sugaring options open to you so you can look less like Stalin. Dove are the Regina George of the cosmetics industry. Friendly to your face, they're bitching behind your back, undermining you at every step. And that's so not fetch.