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ANALYSIS Are we ready yet for real bodies?



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Curvy civilians pose in undies for real women ads.

By SUE HUTCHISON

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Well, it was bound to happen. After we've spent years bemoaning advertising images of famished fashion models wearing size negative-2 jeans, one player in the beauty industry has decided to call our bluff. I refer to the Dove "real women" ads, featuring six curvy "civilians" posing in their undies.

Maybe you've seen the billboards and thought, "Wait, something's wrong. Where are the jutting cheekbones? Where are the protruding hip bones?" But the question is, did your reaction make you want to buy what Dove is selling?

Survey says ...

The campaign was conceived after Unilever, which manufactures Dove products, conducted an international survey about women's impressions of themselves and the current beauty ethos. Not surprisingly, only 2 percent of the 3,200 women surveyed described themselves as "beautiful." And most said they felt pressure to live up to a narrow standard of beauty that is virtually unattainable.

What happened

On the Dove Web site, www.campaignforrealbeauty.com, results of the study are described, hilariously, as "groundbreaking" and "startling." Uh, well, anyone who has been on the receiving end of the "Do these pants makes me look fat?" question should realize that these insecurities are old news.

Nevertheless, Dove had the brilliant idea to use our bad body image as a way of selling soap. Actually, the gals-in-their-undies ad is hawking a firming lotion to tame the jiggling flab of these "real beauties." But isn't that promoting the stereotype of ... oh, never mind. At least it's better than looking at a huge-eyed waif trying to convince us that she needs firming lotion. It's a step in the right direction.

So far, Dove is reporting a boost in sales, but it remains to be seen whether many of us who suffer from loss of self-esteem in the supermodel-driven beauty retail racket are ready to buy the idea of a broader beauty definition. That is, "buy" with cash. For all our complaining, the sad truth is many of us respond to an airbrushed beauty urging us to smell better, feel softer, be smaller and look taller.

Maybe, maybe not

A quick survey of the blogosphere shows that while many women are cautiously positive or even enthusiastic about the "real women" ads, there are many others who are turned off. Some say they won't buy stuff unless the models hawking it look a lot better than they do.

Witness blogger Kim Nicole, 21, who admits on her Web site, "Call me shallow or stupid, but if you put something on a typical model, I'm more likely to buy it." Then she offers a twist on the low-self-esteem issue that the Dove marketers probably hadn't thought of: "Actually if the real models are cuter than me," she writes, "now I'm depressed because I'm not even cute enough by everyday standards."

You see how deep the pathology goes? My guess is there are thousands of women who would agree with that assessment even if they'd never confess to it.

No one expects the premium department store brands to start using "real woman" models -- though I will pledge right now to buy 20 ounces of Chanel No. 5 if the next spokesmodel sports sausage-like upper arms in her little black dress.

But the question is, do we really want to buy beauty products from women who look like someone we might see at the grocery store? In the culture of Botox parties and graduation-present boob jobs, are we ready to celebrate beauty that's real and shop accordingly?

Somehow, I think we're not quite that evolved. But I'll be very happy if I'm wrong.




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