The “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” is a marketing campaign for Dove soaps, but also an effort to address widespread, destructive advertising which creates false perceptions of beauty among girls, boys, women and men worldwide every day. The following video, “Evolution,” is an advertisement for Dove soap but also makes a powerful statement in 75 seconds: No one should believe that ANY photograph on a magazine cover, billboard, or other advertisement is real and authentic.

This video and advertising campaign is several years old, dating back to 2006, but I just stumbled upon it tonight viewing videos uploaded or “favorited” by people who have shared videos with me on YouTube in the past few months. The English WikiPedia article, “Evolution (advertisement),” includes more information about the video and its backstory.

We need MUCH more discussion and focus on media literacy in our schools. Interestingly, it appears “Media Literacy Week” was recognized last week (Oct 3-10) in some parts of the United States, including St Louis. In Canada, “Media Literacy Week” is scheduled for November 2-6, 2009. Do we have a “Media Literacy Week” website for the United States? If anyone recognized “Media Literacy Week” in Oklahoma last week, it’s strange there are not any references to those activities in Google News this evening. I suspect this wasn’t an acknowledged / recognized focus week in our Oklahoma schools and communities. If not, that is unfortunate.

My top recommended books on media literacy at this point, more for educators rather than students, are:

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman
  2. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
  3. No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs by Naomi Klein

I’ve read both of the above books by Postman, I’m about halfway through “No Logo” on my Kindle for iPhone app. If you read Klein’s book, you’ll likely never look at “the swoosh” the same again.

This advertising / media literacy campaign by Dove is smart on their part. The messages of the campaign are important and needed, but it’s ironic a branding / marketing campaign is funding the educational effort. Because this is a marketing effort, the “campaign” should invite critical scrutiny by media literacy students and educators alike. Just because marketing companies paid by Dove are promoting positive self-esteem messages for girls and young women, should we all go out and buy more Dove soap? I don’t think so. Yet that is most likely the intent and the result of this campaign.

As part of their U.S. campaign, girls are encouraged to submit videos up to 30 seconds in length and add them to the “Real Beauty Wall.”

The June 2008 Dove-commissioned report, “Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem,” includes troubling findings about girls’ self esteem when it comes to beauty:

– Seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members
– Reality vs. Perception: Low self-esteem significantly impacts girls’ overall feelings about their own beauty
– Girls with low self-esteem are significantly more likely to engage in negative behaviors
– The self-esteem tipping point: Transition to teenage years results in loss of trust and communication with adults
– Parents’ words and actions play a pivotal role fostering positive self-esteem in girls

If you’re a parent of girls, have you told them recently how beautiful you think they are? Certainly this is not a cure-all: We can’t simply tell the women in our lives they are beautiful and hope that will counter-balance all the destructive, fictional messages about beauty which we all face each day in our media-saturated environment. Yet we also should not underestimate the power and importance of our words.

Words matter.

Words can be powerful.

Words help define who we are, because we become the person we repeatedly say we are.

Each of us IS a beautiful creation, wrought as unique beings of infinite value.

We all could probably use more edification each day about our appearance as well as our value.

What are you doing to promote better media literacy in your classroom and home? Do you have links to other videos you like to use for media literacy discussions, besides Dove’s “Evolution?”

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7 Responses to Perceptions of Beauty, PhotoShop, and Media Literacy

  1. Three great choices on the books… all are very much must reads in my book.

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    You have any to add to the list, Chris?

  3. Julie says:

    Thanks for a great post and even though that clip is now a number of years old I still believe it to be the most powerful ‘media literacy’ lesson I have seen to date.

  4. Bill Farren says:

    Thanks for writing about this important topic. Here’s a video that’s been in my “favorites” for a while now:
    I show it after playing the Dove ad mentioned above. It allows for another level of analysis, begging the question: At what price beauty?
    Many find an intact natural landscapes beautiful. I believe it’s the same beauty manifested in human beauty, nature’s way of saying, “I’m healthy, I’m conducive to life, I’m nourishing, I’m good for you.”

  5. David Gran says:

    Thanks for that post Wes! I showed that video for the past few years to both my video and photography classes. I also show them the one below – If you ignore some of the advertisements (ironically), this video touches also on the idea of manufactured beauty, but it also addresses media literacy in a more comprehensive sense…. in the sense that anything that you see on screen should be questioned:

    “Everything You See is Fake”

  6. Kate Tabor says:

    We used the Dove videos successfully along with the work of Jean Kilbourne Killling Us Softly. Here is a blog post about the work that we did last year with junior girls.

    The things we LIKE are complicit in the things we DON’T…

    The girls got it right away. The boys needed some convincing. “Hey, she’s hot…”

  7. Serena Cain says:

    I completely agree. I saw this ad in my college literature class freshmen year and it spoke to me. I am not writing my thesis paper on it and how marketing is becoming fake and there is way too much photo manipulation in today’s ads and yet I know this and still I believe the perceived ads as real and my aspiration is to look like them even though I know they are fake. Women do this to themselves and ads and marketers know it is not good and yet we fall for it every time. The moment we stop falling for it is the moment they will stop using is against us. The even bigger picture is that we women still aspire to look like these pictures because the men in our lives think they are gorgeous so by definition we want them to think about us that way and so the cycle never ends. I am very passionate about this topic and cannot wait to learn more about it.

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