Dove Does It Again

It is a great irony that the beauty industry makes so many women feel just the opposite.

Dove’s Cost of Beauty Campaign

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign is something else. It addresses head-on the negative beauty stereotypes and standards that are created and perpetuated by the beauty industry and challenges conventional standards of beauty to connect with real people in an authentic way.


The Original “Real Beauty” Video. Launched in 2004, Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign revealed what has become common knowledge: the models and celebrities in photos plastered on billboards and filling pages and pages of print journalism do not actually look like their photos. Thanks to all kinds of photo imaging technology, real people are airbrushed into idealized beauty images that look like no one in real life. Like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz, this one-minute video exposes how a naturally attractive woman becomes a magazine cover. The transformation is breathtaking and enraging. It’s not a pretty story.


The “Cost of Beauty” Video. Recently released, Dove’s Cost of Beauty video captures a young girl’s treacherous developmental journey. At the outset, we’re introduced to Mary, an adorable and healthy little girl, who, over the course of the video, becomes a sullen, gaunt, and visibly ill adolescent; the transformation is terrifying, though perhaps, too familiar. Cost of Beauty illustrates the risks of social media for young girls, particularly related to self-esteem, body image, and eating disorders. The video is hopeful in its ending with Mary’s recovery and the recovery of other teen girls from their mental health struggles. Hopeful, but bittersweet in that we would all wish to spare our children from such battles.


Social Media and Teen Girls. There is a tendency to blame social media for all kinds of problems that today’s adolescents report, but that is overly simplistic. In fact, the data paint a complex and complicated picture. The vast majority of young people do not report experiencing significant or enduring adverse impacts from social media. However, the data fairly consistently demonstrate that young girls, who are already socially vulnerable, are at increased risk of experiencing negative mental health impacts stemming from social media. Certainly, falling victim to a medium that relentlessly magnifies and multiplies distorted societal values is also not rare.


Social Media and Eating Disorders. The prevalence of eating disorders is relatively stable in high-income countries, but the rate of eating disorders in younger teens and children is rising. During the pandemic, more children and teens went to the emergency room with mental health problems, and there was a notable rise in young teens presenting for treatment for eating disorders. There are many potential factors contributing to this increase in eating disorders. One is likely linked to the increased amount of time that teenagers spend on social media and teen girls’ propensity for scrutinizing images of peers and influencers on highly visual social media, which has been implicated in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.


Detox Your Feed. In Dove’s 2022 study on self-esteem and social media, 1 in 2 girls said that “toxic beauty advice on social media left them feeling worse about themselves. In response, Dove developed a guide to help parents, guardians, mentors, and young people, work together to #DetoxYourFeed so that social media can become a way to promote empowerment and positivity, as opposed to the current state of affairs wherein social media too often damages self-esteem and fuels negativity.

At the end of the day, social media, like all media, reflects, communicates, and amplifies our cultural values. It is akin to a magnifying mirror. Sometimes we would rather not look so closely to see all the flaws and blemishes. Dove’s campaigns open our eyes to values run amok and provide useful guidance for reshaping and refashioning the narrative.

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University
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