Way back when Dove was just beginning its crusade to make every woman feel beautiful (and to get them to buy Dove products, natch), I supported companies that took even the slightest bit of responsibility for their ads, rather than unabashedly abusing their power to diminish people’s self-esteem.
But then every other brand targeting women pulled a Dove, too, by jumping on the “every woman is beautiful” bandwagon. Soon, what started as a slightly exploitive campaign has now become an unoriginal bit of pandering propaganda that is annoying at best and harmful at worst.
Here’s the thing: I'm tired of beauty. I'm so, so tired of beauty being the one and only thing that anyone talks about when it comes to women—and especially when it comes to women and their self-esteem. The more campaigns there are targeting women and their supposedly fragile senses of self, the bigger the focus there is on beauty.
To say “all women are beautiful” is to say “all women want to be beautiful,” which is also to say “all women think beauty is the most important part of who they are, or who they aspire to be.” It’s a slippery slope, a long downhill slide into territory where beauty is inclusive (good!), but where it also remains a fixation (not good!).
I want women to feel beautiful in their own skin, but I don’t want women to believe that the most important thing about them is how they look. I want women to feel confident, but I don’t want women to think that the only way they can feel confident is by receiving external acceptance—be it from a lover or some company trying to sell body wash.
I refuse to watch yet another campaign that insists I'm sexy, beautiful, perfect, just the right size, just the right color, just the right everything. Constant affirmation makes me feel small, as if the assumption is that my self-esteem needs nonstop encouragement in order to be anything but abysmal.
It’s exhausting to watch women be talked down to and condescended to. Are we really so delicate that we need everyone to tell us we’re beautiful no matter what? When I see these campaigns now—these transparent ploys to tug on our heartstrings and exploit, yet again, our deeper insecurities—I feel like a patronizing hand is patting me on the head, going, “There, there, don’t worry your pretty little head over anything.”
Are we really so delicate that we need everyone to tell us we’re beautiful no matter what?
While I appreciate that there's a movement towards beauty standards beyond “thin, white, blonde,” I demand more. I want society to celebrate all of our attributes with the same enthusiasm it has for our beauty. What about a woman’s capabilities? What about talent, intelligence, diligence, persistence, and resilience? (Mostly white) men are lauded for their contributions to society, but women are still largely praised for being decoration in society. Even though beauty standards have evolved to be more inclusive, a woman's appearance remains the focal point.
I'm not weak. I'm not in constant need of validation. I'm not waiting around for someone to tell me I'm beautiful. I'm more than my physical attributes. My beauty doesn't belong to anyone. Nobody gets to tell me whether or not I'm beautiful, and I resent the implication that my self-esteem is so low that the only way I can accept myself is to have someone else do it first. Self-acceptance is baked into the self. It resides in me entirely.
I don't care if my body or face or skin or life is represented outside of me. I don't care if you think I'm beautiful. I know I’m beautiful because I believe I am. I also know that there's a long list of attributes that I cherish far more than my physical appearance. I'm continually insulted that societal conversations refuse to revolve around anything other than how I look—positive or otherwise.
Because, honestly? I don’t need you to accept me in order for me to accept myself. I don’t need your love to achieve self-love. I've already been there, done that, all on my own.