Real Beauty?

Most clothing brands manipulate our desires for perfection in order to sell us things we think we want. Brands are rarely associated with positive messages about personal image. Walking down any high street will bombard you with photos of thin, “perfect” (airbrushed) models. Most of these have been criticized at some point or another for creating unrealistic beauty standards for women (and men) to live up to, but it isn’t just these posters we should be aware of.

Even Mattel’s Barbies couldn’t escape the controversy. We all played with Barbies at some point, but have you ever thought about how that doll has affected your perception of real beauty? When applied to an actual human, their body proportions are unsustainable (and frankly ridiculous) : women would have to grow two feet taller, extend their neck length by 3.2 inches, gain 5 inches in chest size, and lose 6 inches in waist circumference (calculation made by The Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders)

No woman could ever hope to achieve such impossible dimensions. Yet, young children play with these dolls and want to be like them. A ridiculously unrealistically proportioned doll is the body-type that we show young girls to be beautiful, and ask them to emulate it4. Hmm.

The huge difference in our perception of Barbie-beauty and real people was shown by Nickolay Lamm. This Pittsburgh artist designed an “Average Barbie” modeled off the body measurements of a normal 19-year old American girl using data from the CDC. When put next to a real Barbie, the contrast is shocking.

We criticize clothing brands of distorting our definition of beauty, but really it seems to start from a much younger age. If there is even a small chance that Barbies influence particularly young girls’ development of body image standards, then surely this is an issue worth tackling.

And that is exactly what Dove has done. Dove is probably one of the only brands that has tackled the issue front on. Its real beauty campaign has not only made the headlines for how it challenges trends in the marketing industry, but it has also gone viral. In the most famous video, “real beauty sketches”, regular women were asked to describe themselves to a sketch artist. Then, someone else would describe them. The end-results were very different; our own body image almost never compared to reality.

In another take Dove visited an American high school and asked girls to take honest selfies with their mothers. It then promoted a photo-show. Girls, with support, were encouraged to discover their own beauty.

This issue is talked about a lot, and most people are probably tired of hearing about it. But really the only way we are going to change our perceptions of image, is if we start from the bottom. Campaigns like Dove’s are often scoffed at, but really, we should admire them for taking a stance against something that people dismiss as trivial. Ask any 13 year old girl, body image is never trivial.

By Maria Clara Neves and Josie Millichamp