The personal care company Dove, a subsidiary of parent corporation Unilever, launched the Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 with a stated mission to widen the definition of beauty. In tandem with this advertising campaign, Dove markets products such as lotion, body wash, deodorant, firming cream, shampoo, and conditioner for skin and hair; it has also created the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, the Dove Global Study, and the U.S. Dove Report with the goal of putting perfect media images of beauty into perspective and revealing the artifice of touched-up perfection on television and in magazines.
One aim of the Dove campaign is to cut through what the campaign refers to as “a world of hype and stereotypes” by portraying real women in advertising in lieu of professional models. Real women of varying height, weight, and ethnicity appear wearing only undergarments in print ads for products such as the Dove Firming line, which includes a body wash, lotion, and cellulite gel-cream, all of which serve to reduce the appearance of cellulite. The purpose of using real women in advertisements, according to Dove, is to provoke debate about dominant beauty ideals. A video on the Campaign for Real Beauty Web site entitled Evolution Film also sends the message that contemporary beauty ideals are distorted. The video, which contains no dialogue, portrays the process of applying makeup, hair product, and then computer alterations to the face of a model, which is then used as an advertisement on a billboard. As part of the campaign, this video suggests that the unrealistic beauty ideals created by such images are damaging to women’s self-esteem.
Self-esteem is the primary concern of another of the campaign’s projects, the Dove Self-Esteem Fund. The Dove campaign states that beauty pressures make it hard for girls to keep up, resulting in low self-esteem and introversion; thus, the goal of the fund is to create change and to educate girls about a wider definition of beauty. A primary recipient of funding in the United States is the Girl Scouts of the USA, and specifically a venture called uniquely ME! that uses activity booklets, exercises, and hands-on activities to build self-esteem in girls ages 8–14 in the United States and Puerto Rico. The concerns of the program include recognizing one’s strengths and best attributes, the power of positive thinking, and the effects of relationships and stress. The Dove Self-Esteem Fund cites statistics that suggest an increase in self-esteem problems in girls and young women, which the campaign links to distorted beauty ideals that are reinforced by the media.
More recently, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has included a Pro-Age line, which stresses the message that “beauty has no age limit” with commercials depicting artfully posed nude women, often with gray hair or wrinkles, and the tag line, “too old to be in an anti-aging ad,” followed by, “but this isn’t anti-age, this is pro-age.” This line is accompanied by products such as pro-age body lotion, hand cream, and face care. The Dove campaign’s message of female empowerment has been very successful as a marketing tool, garnering positive attention from mainstream media sources, but it has also been critiqued by some as hypocritical for promoting inner beauty and pro-aging while marketing products that reduce blemishes and signs of aging.