10.18.2006

Real Beauty

I don't consume much entertainment so I was only peripherally aware of
Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. But last night I came across two
video shorts they've produced for the campaign. One is a time-lapse
depiction of the transformation of a pretty but imperfect model into
the visual perfection shown on a billboard, a transformation that is
equal parts real (eye shadow, blush, hair styling) and virtual
(removing blemishes, puckering up lips, thinning the neck). The other
is clips of pre-teen girls being interviewed about their
dissatisfaction over their bodies, times they were told they were fat
or ugly, and what they do in response to the poor-esteem that results.

I think it's safe to say that we as a society have substituted real
beauty for a mirage; and that not only does that make us deluded but
it has caused us deep pain. Not to let the women totally off the
hook, but you can pretty much blame most of that pain on the men. I
can't speak for all men but I can speak for myself and say that I
deserve some of that blame; and that I too, enlightened as I'd like to
think I am, am deluded. A colleague of mine at my previous job once
remarked to me that all of the interns I hired were physically
attractive. My somewhat lame explanation was that people who are
physically attractive are usually more confident, and it was the inner
confidence and not the outer beauty that sold me on them. I think
that's a valid point, but it isn't the whole story: like most of the
rest of my generation and my gender, I value the physically attractive
over the physically unattractive.

So I applaud the efforts of Dove to inform our culture that what we
equate with beauty on billboards and in magazines is a fairly shallow,
artificial, and easily manipulable construct, and that by upholding
such values we are causing great confusion and hurt, especially upon
our young girls. My only criticism of the campaign is that it focuses
on the mother-daughter relationship as a way to war against these
lies. While I agree that is a relationship that can build up
self-esteem where it is being torn down, I wish there was more of a
focus on the responsibility of us dads. We need to build up our
daughters, to tell them they are beautiful and to define for them what
real beauty is, and then to live lives that are not inconsistent with
those lessons, in terms of who and what we value. I don't know how
successful Dove's campaign has been so far, but it's reaching at least
one dad, who hopes to reach at least one little girl.

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