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[Pn. 4] Beauty is Only Skin Deep: Normative Beauty, Self-Care, and Self-Transformation in Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

19 October 2013


In 2004, Dove launched the Campaign for Real Beauty to “make women feel more beautiful everyday by challenging today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring women to take great care of themselves”. The study behind Dove’s campaign, which found that only 2% of the female participants identified themselves as beautiful, reiterated many feminist concerns regarding Western societies in which the female body is scrutinized if it does not fit the normative thin ideal. Since its release the campaign has been scrutinized for air-brushing, profit-oriented motivations, and creating a post-feminist citizenship that equates material consumption with social activism, the impact of this campaign on social and individual conceptions of female bodies has largely been ignored. Drawing upon Cressida Heyes’ Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies, then, I argue that although Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty problematically reinforces normative beauty standards and inserts individuals into modes of disciplinary (and self-disciplinary) power, it also has the potential to enable women to achieve self-transformation―an aspect that should not be discounted based upon Dove’s increase in profits. Applying a Foucauldian framework to my analysis of female bodies and self-transformation in Dove’s campaign, I explore the impact of the Campaign for Real Beauty in creating moments of resistance to potentially harmful normative conceptions of beauty and thinness, and modes of self-transformation by focusing on self-care rather than self-criticism. By creating self-esteem funds, supplying educational materials, and encouraging female mentorship both on-and-offline, and encouraging bodily self-care, Dove is creating spaces for counterdiscourses on what constitutes beauty.


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