I love what Dove is doing with their platform as a company selling beauty products. They seem to really “get” what women go through with body image. In one, an artist sketched women as they spoke, based solely on their descriptions of themselves. He also sketched the same women based on others’ descriptions. Dove then displayed the two sketches and invited the women in to see how much more radiant, beautiful and happy others had described them. Though the focus of the video was on self-perception, the catch to me was that these “others” were new acquaintances. Dove took strangers, introduced them, and had them describe each other’s appearances after their conversation.
I looked through the other Dove videos. Another had a similar concept, but asked women on the street to describe what they liked about their own appearance. Their responses were slow, indecisive and contained phrases like “as long as I hold my arms at this angle” or “I guess my calves… if I have a long skirt or pants covering them.” When asked what they liked about the friends they were with, they were quick to respond, making the friend being described blush.
In another, Dove asked the women what they like about themselves, but also what they disliked about themselves. Again, the responses about what they liked were delayed and hesitant, but the responses about what they disliked were certain, quick and well practiced.
Watching the self-criticisms in these videos, I heard something that broke my heart in each – “My mom said.”
Over and over, when talking about what they hate about their bodies, adult women picked something about themselves that their mother criticized.
Another Dove video talked about how little girls give up activities they love like dancing, swimming and gymnastics because they don’t like the way they look. These girls didn’t just wake up one day and change their minds about doing what they love. Someone taught them that their bodies were shameful.
It’s not just the media bombarding them with a message of “Be thin. Be beautiful. Be perfect.” It’s not just their peers, as cruel as they can be. It’s not even about impressing boys. It’s actually a lot closer to home.
What stuck with these grown women in the Dove videos were the words, actions and example of the person whose opinion matters most to them, their first model of what true beauty is. For at least one woman in each video, it was the things their parents said that stuck with them about how flawed, ugly and unlovable their bodies were.
Of course teens need to be taught how to take care of themselves and sharing healthy beauty tips can be a great bonding time, but the shame has to stop. Teens need parents who have made peace with their own appearance. Then, they have to know what you, as parents, see when you look at them. Is it their flaws? Is it how different you wished they looked? Is it how they don’t measure up to your expectations?
That’s what those women in the Dove videos (and countless other women like them) heard from their parents. At least in these videos, for once, it wasn’t the opinions of their friends or strangers that criticized and cut them down. It was their own self-perceptions, based on the words of their mothers.
Parents – you have more impact than you know. Your girls are listening. Your girls are watching. Your girls are remembering.