Here at The Gloss, we have a complicated relationship with Dove and their “Real Beauty” ad campaigns. While I think that the company’s attempt to promote a healthy body image in the media is definitely worthwhile, they’re still a company selling beauty products. Getting you to buy shit by showing women saying honest statements about their bodies (or whatever happens to be in their latest offering) might be marginally better than getting you to buy shit by showing ads with busty, Photoshopped models. Still, the ultimate goal is to take your money.
Dove’ latest effort, an eight minute short film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, isn’t an ad per se. Entitled “Selfie,” the film follows a group of middle school-aged girls and their mothers. Looking at the mother-daughter relationships within the context of taking selfies, “Selfie” shows the girls struggling with the act of taking selfies (“I cover my arm, like part of it, to make it more narrow,” one girl said. Another: “I worry a lot about, I guess, my positioning in the picture because I do have like a really round face so it’s kinda hard to take a good picture”) while also discussing their own body image—and that of their mothers.
In the film, the girls attend an assembly about the “power of self portraiture” and then take photos specifically highlighting the things they like the least about themselves. The mothers have to do this, too. Then, all of them attend an event where they see their selfies and write complimentary notes to other women.
I enjoyed watching the film. I felt so much for the tween girls in it, as I vividly remember how strange and awkward and terrible it was to be figuring out your own body during those years. Like, acne + braces + starting to be a sexual being = Oh god, you have all my sympathy. I also felt for the mothers, who seemed shocked and embarrassed when they realized how much their own body issues affected their impressionable daughters.
The film shows that selfies can be powerful and empowering acts of self-confidence and that social media is “widening the definition of what beauty is.” I certainly appreciate that, considering that many people still consider selfies “selfish” and a “cry for help.” Social media, and selfies, are certainly redefining the boundaries of what’s considered beautiful and that’s a definitively a good thing, I think.
But something about the film seems so contrived to me. Because, you know, advertising is contrived! Granted, the film isn’t clearly geared towards getting people to buy body wash or soap, but it is part of the “Redefine Beauty” “#beautyis” campaign, so it’s obviously designed to benefit Dove as a corporate entity as much as it’s designed to benefit “real” women and girls. Dove uses women and girls to better their own image in the public eye by asking “normal” people to be honest about their own bodies, their own deepest feelings and emotions. Although Dove is lauded for their efforts (the efforts which are comparatively better than most other beauty companies), I still think their tactics are a bit exploitative.
I’d love to know more about the class the girls were shown in, the project and the exhibit they took part in. Was that initiated by Dove or by the school? Did Dove conceive of this selfie project and then look for a school that would be willing to participate? Were the women who participated compensated for their time and participation? I guess the film was made in conjunction with a real high school in Great Barrington, MA, but I wonder about the production process of the film. Did Dove just call them up and say “Hey, we wanna make a movie about selfies and mother-daughter relationships. Can we come in with our body-positive agenda and use your students?” (Also I feel like the mothers say the daughters are sixth and seventh grade, but the credits say high school, so now I’m all confused).
Now, that’s not to say that the feelings expressed by the women and teenagers in the film are any less real or legitimate than if they’d come up with the selfie project on their own versus Dove asking them to participate (if Dove even did). From what I can tell from eight minutes of footage, it seemed to be a worthwhile exercise for everyone who took part in it. I know that many women will watch this film and feel inspired, that lots of them will examine their own selfie-taking process or the messages they send to other women when they make negative comments about themselves and their bodies. But let’s not give all the credit to Dove, whose company policy exploits body image issues while purporting to tell the truth about women’s lives.