What is Real Beauty?


As some of you may well know, Dove released a new ad for their “Real Beauty Sketches” project, called “You are more beautiful than you think.” 

First, I applaud the Dove company in their first few, groundbreaking ads over the years. The first one I ever saw was extremely powerful to me. The majority of their ads revolve around the idea that the media distorts our idea of “real beauty.” I’m completely on board with that, but with some hesitations. 

Of course, at the end of the day, they’re just selling soap … and hair care, skin care, deodorant, body wash, and lotions and creams. But we all know that ads usually carry a far wider-ranging message, and that somehow, even though we think we can ignore it, the media makes a huge impact on us.

The media impacts even me, who refuses to own a TV, doesn’t subscribe to one magazine, and shields my eyes at billboards, logos, ads and flyers (true story). I try as hard as I can to resist “media pollution,” because there’s so much I find objectionable.

This ad campaign is different than the shallow, airbrushed, thin smiley models looking like only about 2% of our population.

When I asked for feedback about the ad, some of the other wonderful members of CatholicMatch had equally insightful things to say:

Lisa, encapsulated my sentiments exactly: “I don’t need a beauty company to tell me I am beautiful. I know I am because God made me that way, inside and out. No beauty cream is going to change that.”

Amen, sister!

Kate -756604 points out that, because we reflect the beauty of our Maker, there’s really no way we can (or at least, should) find ourselves unattractive: “Personally, I think that since we’ve all been created in the image of God, we are all beautiful but only if we keep our souls focused on God. The more pure in heart we are, the more it reflects in our mannerisms, expressions etc. A person who smiles a lot or is very charismatic will glow and people will find them very good looking.”

Very true, and it’s a good core belief to carry around within us in order to ignore the media onslaught telling us we need to be more attractive.

One great insight came from Joe – 388825, who, is thoughtful and very sensitive to the feelings of others, particularly women (are you paying attention, ladies?)

He echoes what I felt as well: “When I first saw it, I thought about passing it on but decided against it. It seems nice on the surface, but there’s a celebration of superficiality to it. See? Your looks should make you happier!” 

Exactly right, Joe! I wanted to like it when this ad was released, given what Dove has done before, but I found that there was something missing.

Joe explained it well: “It also confuses beauty with physical appearance. Beauty is internalized grace. It comes from making good choices, aligned with conscience and compassion, then following through on them, moment to moment, day after day. Looks are nice, and everyone can appreciate different versions of them, but they’re fragile and temporary. Beauty comes from working with God. It lasts.”

I think Joe hits on something very important: the fragile and temporary part. This is the very foundation of the beauty and fitness industry, isn’t it? Our current culture celebrates youthfulness and fitness over internal substance as markers of beauty. And while Dove shows a few moments here and there of being “sympathetic” to the few women that are slightly — and very slightly — outside our narrow, restrictive norms of beauty, it really falls short of that mark.

Joe noticed that too: “Maybe it did help some of them with self–esteem. But I don’t see anything that bears on their true beauty in this video. A truly beautiful woman is powerful in the real world not because of how she looks, but because of how she reflects the beauty of God that’s alive within her.”

Wise words! I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about this ad campaign. Watch the ad here and leave me a comment below. 



  1. Mike-795165 August 29, 2013 Reply

    The cult of beauty in American pop culture destroys the self esteem of women and conditions men to perceive female beauty in a very narrow and limited view. This is done for the sole purpose of selling beauty products and fashion magazines by telling women that they must have these things, they must buy into this cult of beauty in order to have value as a person, in order to be worthy of love and admiration.

    Would a self confident woman with a healthy body image spend ridiculous amounts of time and money obsessing over her insecurities and buying up beauty products and fashion advice? Would a woman who is satisfied with her healthy weight spend her income on diets and clothing to make herself look like a size 0?No. Certainly not. A woman with a healthy self image is not a sound financial investment for marketers of the fashion and beauty industry. Neither are the preferences a man who has not been properly conditioned to reinforce these rigid and arbitrary definitions of beauty.

    Fashion and beauty are big business and a person’s beauty and appearance (and by extension their outward identity) have become just another commodity in the consumer society of modern American pop culture.

    Cultural conditioning and the cult of beauty is all about money and this is a case of the industry going to great lengths to convince their audience that something is genuinely inadequate about them by excluding them from being beautiful or having value, but as long as they buy enough product they can overcome their inadequacy because in American consumer society buying enough product solves everything.

    I have listened to one of the most beautiful women in my life repeatedly calls herself fat and ugly because she has a figure like Marylyn Monroe and watched her suffer from low self esteem that results in terrible life choices and pointless suffering. Meanwhile the cafes and underground galleries in the bohemian neighborhoods where I hang out are full of mentally fit women with happy relationships and healthy self images, who’s appearance is so vastly different from the images being sold by the fashion industry that they might as well be from a different planet. (Piercings, tattoos, crooked facial features, extra pounds, no makeup, dreadlocks, fairy wings, plastic tiaras, torn stockings, etc.)

    I have come to the conclusion that the fascist corporate dictatorship that is brainwashing society in this way is no different from the popular kids and bullies in schools who make fun of other kids who don’t wear the correct brand of tennis shoes or jeans or come from the right part of town. When it comes down to it, its all about exclusion, with the party in control withholding belonging from the party being marginalized.

    It starts with Disney princesses and Barbie Dolls, then teen idols, size 0 models and designer clothes created for stick figures. However there is a major part of this that results from gender inequality. A man can be famous, respected, emulated and made into an icon for his talents and hard work like Bill Gates or Donald Trump, but an equally talented and accomplished woman is still judged according to her physical beauty. (How many people care what Donald Trump looks like in a speedo?)

  2. Joan-461057 June 6, 2013 Reply

    To say that physical beauty is irrelevent on a site that uses peoples pictures to promote the main agenda seems like the height of irony! Of course pleasing looks matter! Each of us on this site chooses which profile to read after looking at pictures of other people. If looks were not a, if not the, major part of locating a mate all of the profiles should be without pictures. Yes internal and moral beauty matter eventually. And when we are in the presence of others for a sufficient time, we can come to appreciate the true beauty that we give ourselves by how earnestly we adhere to God’s will. To a small degree, we can discern some of that real beauty, or lack of it, in these blogs and fora.
    But physical beauty is the first step in deciding who to connect with and those for whom God has blessed with symetrical features will be given the first opportunity for interactions. What is fortunate is that each of us has a different idea of exactly what is attractive. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
    Dove stumbled on some scientific research that served them to promote their product. Good for them, they are doing their job. And strictly by accident, what sold product did some public good. Sometimes advertising does perform a useful purpose and other times not. It is not the purpose of advertising to serve the public good and expecting it to is illogical. We each vote for what works with us at the check out counter.

  3. Cara-868560 June 6, 2013 Reply

    Our society tends to blame the media a lot for our problems (I do it too), but the media wouldn’t put out the junk that it does if people didn’t buy into it. The media (especially advertising groups) spend a lot of time and money researching their audiences so that they can tailor their ads to them. If people didn’t pay any attention to or stormed up against degrading messages they wouldn’t be sold. If we want the junk off tv, out of magazines and billboards the majority of society–or more importantly their target audience–need to stop watching/reading it.

    Ann- I agree that other people are often able to see our beauty better than we do. That seems to be the point of the ad- we’re too critical on ourselves.

  4. John-917143 June 6, 2013 Reply

    Its sad how media negatively impacts people in this day and age. Not only does it cause some to lose confidence in themselves or concentrate on the superficial qualities of a person, it also causes people to compromise on their own moral beliefs as well. When we have advertisements that sexually objectify men and women and shows that portray teen pregnancies as okay or morally questionable behavior as the norm, it creates such a negative impact on children and teens alike. The Dove ad is certainly a good wake-up call but I do agree that the parent company, Unilever, is the same company that markets Axe, a product whose ads run a very different and opposite message – often objectifying women.

  5. Ann-119096 June 5, 2013 Reply

    I think there is something cool, though, that is happening in this ad. The sketches described by the others show the light of Christ shining through these people. I agree, it is sad that the focus is on the external beauty, because they are selling soap etc. for beauty products, but they have touched on something deeper here.

    I don’t think they realize it or intended it, but they are showing the light that others see through us. It’s something to think about. I’m going to make sure that I look for Christ shining through me when I look in the mirror. : )

  6. Pedyne-248823 June 5, 2013 Reply

    I totally agree with Kate 756604 🙂 However, I’m not surprise that the same people are running ads with conflicting messages…and yes, it is a “downer”

  7. Cara-868560 June 5, 2013 Reply

    Great post!

    There’s also a bit of a downer to the Dove campaign in that the same people running it are running the Axe cologne ads that are degrading to women. Two completely opposite messages from the same source. Boo!

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