So, I really pretty strongly dislike Dove. For one thing, they're owned by Unilever, which is a company that doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to not totally sucking. Like, they've been accused of using child labor, and they've been involved in labor violations, poor working conditions, and pollution.
For another, they have the Campaign for Real Beauty thing, which, I'm sorry, I dislike. Wait, actually, I'm not sorry at all. The campaign allegedly is supposed to increase self-esteem and make women and girls feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves by using "real women" in advertising. However, the array of bodies and women shown is, uh, not actually that diverse.
Disability is rarely if ever represented in these ads, let alone fat bodies or very thin bodies, bodies with cancer, trans bodies, bodies of color outside a limited range of "attractiveness," or, you know.
Bodies that aren't pretty darn close to what we're supposed to view as beautiful already. Show me old saggy boobs, Dove. Show me women with deep dark inky black skin. Show me ritual scarring. Show me wheelchair users and women on ventilators. Show me tattooed women. Put your money where your ad campaign is -- oh, wait, you won't, because that would gross out your customer base.
Dove wants a big ole fat snuggly kiss for basically having advertising that is marginally less gross than that of competitors. Well, hoo-rah, Dove.
Oh, and Unilever also owns Axe, which runs notoriously misogynistic and gross ads. So that makes the whole "real bodies" (GAG) thing seem a lot more like a canny PR move than an actual genuine desire to address self-esteem or the limited diversity of bodies in fashion and advertising.
So, yeah, I am cynical as a stack of cynics at a cynic conference when it comes to Dove.
AWKWARD CONFESSION TIME
But I have to grudgingly admit that I actually kind of like this advertisement for a shampoo/conditioner product for color-treated hair that ran in Britain:
It shows a lovely femme woman with reddish hair moving through the world. We see her playing on the beach, holding a series of flower-filled vases, next to a carousel, riding in a car, and doing other things. She talks about her relationship with color and her love for the textural and visual world. And, at the very end of the advertisement, she says, "Being blind, I can't physically see the color of my hair, but I can feel it."
I love that this ad centers a woman and her experiences, with her blindness as an incidental comment at the end of the ad. And I love the myths that this advertisement explodes when it comes to how blind people interact with the world.
Sighted people often think that blind, low vision, and visually impaired people aren't interested in the visual world, don't appreciate aesthetics, and aren't capable of truly understanding sight. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are blind photographers, fashion designers (warning for disability bingo on that article), makeup bloggers, and more out there. There's an entire site dedicated specifically to blind and low-vision fashion, StyleAble.
Being blind or visually impaired doesn't mean you can't engage with the visual world, and it also doesn't mean you don't care about visuals, whether in your presentation, that of your home, or that of your environment. Blind people like to garden! In fact, some blind people have really cool gardens that are as much about smell and texture as vision, and encourage multi-sensory experiences! Blind people like to engage in fashion! They care about whether their clothes match and how things fit, drape, and feel on them! They care about what color their hair is!
They feel the world around them and enjoy input from their senses!
In other words, yes, Shirley, blind people really ARE just like you. And I am forced to admit that Dove captured that in this ad, which is about a woman who loves the world around her and likes really smooth shiny hair with even, glorious color. Oh, yeah, and she happens to be blind.
A shorter version of this ad has also run in the US, although it was very obviously produced/developed in Britain.
In the US, a very tragedized view of disability is constantly reinforced in media. It's rare to see any media with a disabled person, and when disability does come up, it's usually in the context of how awful it is. Not that the British media are necessarily any better most of the time, but sometimes, more often than in the US, they get it right.
This ad is mainly about a woman, not a disability, and there's something very British (to me, at any rate) about that. Which makes it all the more delightful that it made it to US shores.
Like Valentina Guerrero, a model with Down syndrome who appeared in a kids' swimwear catalogue, Kate is positioned as a woman first here, and her impairment is very much placed second.
You don't have to see to love the visual world. Reluctant props to Dove for saying that.