By now we’ve all seen the video, on the Web and on the morning shows. The makers of Dove products hired a forensic artist to make sketches of women based on their own descriptions of themselves. With the artist sitting behind a wall so he couldn’t see her, the artist would sketch the woman based on how she described her own face. The artist then drew another sketch of the same woman, this time based on how she was described by another woman, someone she’d just met.
The point of the exercise was to show women how hard and critical we can be of ourselves. The video I watched on Facebook showed several examples; in each, the sketch based on the woman’s own description was harder-looking, less open and less pretty than the sketch done according to how the new friend described her.
That’s proof, isn’t it, that we’re all prettier than we think we are. It’s a valid thing that Dove’s trying. They’re the same company that put all those 30-something women in their underwear and then stood them there like in a police lineup, all soft tummies and spongy thighs, as a kind of monument to normal femaleness. I remember looking at the photos in a magazine and thinking how fit everybody looked. If Dove is trying to portray fluffy imperfection, is this all they could come up with? Choose me. I’ll show you imperfect.
I’m just nitpicking, though. It’s commendable that someone on Madison Avenue is at least trying to adjust the message that young women are getting about their worth and their beauty. I have little hope that this – or any – advertising campaign by Dove will do much to balance the prevailing cultural message that thin and young equal worthy. (The curvier among us are happy that the media are finally showing celebrities with actual female bodies, but did it have to be a Kardashian?)
I think about this a lot these days. My daughter is 13. Remember 13? As if that weren’t fraught enough with insecurities, she is the tallest person, boy or girl, in her grade. I remind her that tall is good, that all the boys will catch up in high school, that she’s pretty.
But I wrestle with that word, pretty.
Pretty shouldn’t matter. Isn’t that what we mothers and teachers and professionals believe? If what really matters is how our daughters think, that they think, and what they accomplish, and how they will make the world better, then who cares about sketches, or whether other women think they’re pretty? Or, more to the point, what men think.
Watching the sketch thing, I wondered how my own drawing would turn out. Here’s how I would describe myself: a long face with large eyes, a roundish nose, great big cheeks, a bit of sagging around the mouth, and a high, high forehead. Based on that, I think the artist would sketch something that looked like Mr. Potato Head.
And how about my friends? How would they describe me? I honestly don’t know. I thought about calling my friend Karen and asking her, but for this to work she’d have to be looking at me. If I had to describe her, I don’t think I could give, just from memory, details of her features. Karen’s tall and thin and wears glasses. She just got a really good, shortish haircut. But her face? What kind of nose does she have? And her chin? Her forehead?
When I conjure Karen, all is see is the face of an intelligent, soft-spoken, happy person. All I see is the face of my beautiful friend. And how do you capture that with pencil and paper?
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.