For nearly 15 years Dove has been committed to improving women’s self-esteem. Showcasing a diverse range of bodies and ethnicities it is a brand that has been on a journey to improve the way women are marketed to.
However, its journey has not been without its criticisms – notably body shaped bottles and accusations of racism (after a social image showed a black woman turning into a white one) – and for many the brand has not always succeeded in representing women.
Sophie Galvani, Dove’s global vice president, believes these issues are part of being in the diversity “game”.
She explains: “We are going to find ourselves sometimes making mistakes or falling prey to things. That’s just the nature of being out there and trying to make a difference. We’re not going to lose the game because there is so much to be done. We may get criticised for it but we pick ourselves up and move forward.”
Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, launched in 2004, is the brand’s promise to deliver body confidence and self-esteem education around the world. It pledged to help 40 million young people globally by 2020 and in its latest initiative, launched last month, the beauty brand is pledging to stop retouching its photos.
The images of ‘real women’ will be tagged with a ‘No Digital Distortion’ mark that will feature on all its ads and photography, with the goal of having all ads marked by January 2019. It doesn’t mean no touch-ups will be done – Dove will for example still get rid of stray hairs, food particles in teeth or “temporary” blemishes such as rashes. But it has listed 12 things it won’t do, including whitening teeth, misrepresenting skin and hair colour, and removing natural wrinkles.
The move comes after research by the brand in 2016 found that 77% of women think all images they see in media are distorted. And yet 69% say the pressure to look like women they see in media makes them feel anxious.
The question is, for a brand in the diversity game for so long. Why did it take so long to get rid of Photoshop? That’s not a question Galvani gives a particularly straight answer to, although she suggests that it’s because it’s “the right time”.
Galvani says: “A big part of our strategy moving forward is taking action on a scale we’ve never seen before. People are ready for this and it’s the right time to be coming out and taking an even bigger stand and just making [real women] even more visible than we have in the past.”
We are going to find ourselves sometimes making mistakes or falling prey to things. That’s just the nature of being out there and trying to make a difference.
Sophie Galvani, Dove
The reason for needing to take this bigger stand is clear from the brand’s own research. It found that 70% of women don’t feel represented in advertising, whether in the type of women they see or how they are portrayed.
“That’s a shocking statistic because that is going to affect [women] emotionally and how they grow up,” she exclaims. “It also clearly means that the way we talk about women is not connecting with a lot of them around the world.”
But that is not an easy problem to fix. The role of women and beauty ideals vary from region to region, something Galvani says Dove is sensitive to. And there are a number of issues, not just body shape but ethnicity, age and disability as well.
“We find that beauty standards are a global issue. Age is a big thing in the West, skin tone is a big thing in Asia. Different markets have different ideals so while there are global insights we do flex by local market,” she says.
“We need to broaden the kind of women we see across so many different sections, which includes ethnicity and body shape and hair types. We need to see women with skin disorders and disability. We want to see not only different women but also in environments where we haven’t traditionally seen them before.”
Going beyond advertising
Dove’s Self Esteem project is also going beyond advertising and into entertainment, collaborating with the Cartoon Network on popular children’s TV series Steven Universe.
The two-year partnership, launched in April, has led to the production of six digital shorts featuring Steven Universe characters discussing issues such as body confidence and bullying. The aim is to help educate and boost young girls’ confidence.
Galvani explains: “One of our big purposes is to help the next generation with themselves and body confidence. We are working hard to educate girls and young people in self-esteem and we want to do this by going direct to girls through entertainment and media.
“We know that girls are dropping out of life activities because they’ve got low self-esteem. I don’t want to see our daughters and our girls dropping out of life and being preoccupied with looks when they should be embracing life to the full. We want them to watch positive content that helps their self-esteem and is not detrimental.”
Dove has been at the forefront of this movement, but Galvani believes it is time more beauty brands took action, and not just through their advertising.
She concludes: “We’re moving into a stage where we’re saying it’s not enough. We need to be doing more as brands and take action. We need to be changing the media landscape ourselves through entertainment properties. We need to be collaborating and going ahead and doing things, not just talking about it.”