Beauty is no longer exclusive domain of magazines and films

By Published on .

Most Popular
I have no connection to Unilever's Dove or its products whatsoever, other than having seen some of their commercials on TV and on a billboard as I drive home, but I would like to weigh in.

Its explanation of the genesis of the campaign, called The Dove Report, says that "for too long beauty has been defined by narrow, unattainable stereotypes. It's time to change all that ... because real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages." And their ads actually feature women of all ages, sizes and colors.

When it showcases in the report a list of elements that little girls need to help build their self-esteem, there's not a single mention of anything that firms, nourishes, softens or does anything else to make them beautiful. I like the fact that (working with the Girl Scouts of America) they tie self-esteem to non-products such as experiencing success, good relationships with parents and friends and the opportunity to participate.

Dove is using everyday real people in its ads now, and you even get to vote on whether you like the looks of some older beautiful women or not (wrinkled or wonderful?). So far, age is applauded, as is less-than-perfect skin. But when you get right down to it, the "untouched" photos of real women are not exactly chopped liver in the looks department. Judging from the pictures of the non-models in bras, panties and big, happy smiles, there doesn't seem to be much anyone would need to improve this sizzling group. These may not be models, but they could be-albeit that the "real beauty" that got them chosen would keep them off a high-fashion runway. But it is the smiles that make them the most beautiful-and that old saw about inner beauty comes shining through.


The disconnect between the Barbie-esque model and the average-looking woman who wants to feel prettier begins to fade. A new image, closer to how she feels inside, can begin to replace Barbie as the look she can aspire to and achieve. And "aspiration" advertising can be successful when the consumer can connect the dots to something that is actually doable, instead of so out of reach that it's not even worth trying.

Psychologically, it's interesting to me that those in Dove's survey were more comfortable using the word "looks" when stating their view of themselves as above average, than using the term "beauty." To me this is positive, partly because how we feel about our looks, our overall appearance, is more apt to reveal our true self and esteem, whereas the term "beauty" usually involves some comparison with others, as if we were in a continuing competition, or as if others were judging or determining the correct answer, as if the definition of beauty itself was exact and limited, which it isn't.

Instead, over the centuries, it changes depending upon what decade we are discussing, or what country, what particular part of the globe we happen to be living in, the place we call home. Our attitudes, our appraisal of our own beauty, also often shifts and zigzags from hour to hour, day to day, frequently depending upon what some member of our family or some loved one says, does or even the expression that crosses his or her face when we walk into a room.

The concept of what is beautiful historically has been linked with wealth. In countries where food is scarce, a fat woman was considered beautiful because it meant that she either had a wealthy father or husband to keep her well fed. In China, in the far past, a woman had her feet bound to be beautiful because it meant that her family had enough money so she could be carried everywhere.

Even the beauty of the smile changed from time to time. Smiles in portraits weren't all that common when the Mona Lisa was painted. An art historian says they were frowned upon in paintings and even in real life until the 20th century, when advances in dental care made teeth something people wanted to show off.


Today we consider the wide-open mouth smile to be beautiful, but in earlier times it might have been rude or ugly, while a tentative half-smile like the Mona Lisa's would have been the norm and far more pleasing.

While beauty may be only skin deep, there are advantages that go along with being thought attractive from the very beginning. Studies show that mothers of pretty babies tend to nuzzle and kiss them more and seem to be better about predicting the babies ' needs than mothers of unattractive babies.

As grown-ups, it pays to be looking your best in a number of ways. In one study, researchers had women of all ages give a speech to an audience, once when they looked as pleasant as possible and once to another audience when they were looking scruffy. The audience remembered more of what the same woman said when she was in her well-groomed mode. In another series of experiments, they had a young man of average looks sit in a room with a young woman in her well-groomed guise and again in a room with the same young woman in her scruffy guise. The researcher had students rate the young man as likeable or unlikeable, dull or bright. In all cases, the young man was rated lower if the student thought the "scruffy" girl was his.

It seems it pays to be seen as clean and well-groomed because attractive-looking people are assumed by many to have a lot of positive qualities which they may or may not have and are apt to get preferential treatment. Incidentally, this isn't only true for females. Look at our male governors and senators as well as CEOs.

Dove helps show that we may have come a long way when we no longer have to try to look exactly like every other woman who has been declared by some fashion magazine or film czar to be the epitome of beauty.

Dr. Joyce Brothers a family psychologist and advice columnist who has written a daily newspaper column and several books. She has appeared in

numerous films and TV shows, most recently HBO’s “Entourage.”

In this article: