“She has a thing about her eyebrows,” one teenager said of her mother’s physical insecurities.
“I still am not 100 percent accepting of my body,” said another teen’s mother.
Both were interviewed by Dove as part of its ongoing “campaign for real beauty,” which attempts to empower women to love the bodies they have — though it’s not always successful.
The recent project, “Selfies,” premiered at Sundance and hinges on Dove’s assertion that “often times, mothers pass on their insecurities to their children.” Mothers of students at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Mass., were asked to take selfies — photographs they take of themselves on smartphones — and display them at a gallery.
The selfie, a social media phenomenon that was first dismissed and ridiculed as millennial vanity, can also be empowering if girls share them to celebrate themselves, rather than to seek approval from others.
When photographer Michael Crook suggested the selfie could be a way to “redefine” beauty, the girls giggled. But the mothers and daughters of Monument Mountain Regional High School embraced the former point of view; instead of orchestrating the perfect, well-angled selfie, they set out to “actually incorporate the things about us that we don’t like.”
Intimidated by the prospect of focusing so boldly on themselves, the girls gathered in a room to reveal their insecurities. “I want to say that I hate my whole face,” said one girl. “I look like a boy … and I’ve gotten that before. Just, why would people say that? It just really hurts.”
Many of the girls already had selfie-taking rituals, however — hiding their arms, strategically pinning back their hair, sucking in their cheeks — all to conform to the mainstream ideal of beauty.
But when forced to turn the selfie from an act of disguise to an act of exposure, the women and teens gained confidence.
At the gallery showing, they took notes on photos describing aspects of their peers’ photos that they liked: “Lovely” and “Confident smile!” Many marveled that they were far more critical of themselves than their peers were of them, giving real meaning to the cliché that “we’re our own toughest critics.”
“Since we have had this experience together,” said one mother of her daughter, “I’ve realized that she’s fine just the way she is.”
One mother concluded, “Social media is widening the definition of what beauty is.”
But the film — which is, of course, backed by a corporate sponsor — is a little too simple and sugary to be totally believable. It may be easy to feel empowered in the artificial environment constructed by Dove, but the Internet is a much harsher place for women.
Given the general awkwardness of teenage years, now compounded by cyberbullying, it’s doubtful that Dove’s experiment will completely eliminate the insecurities of these teens. But the film’s message is still a positive one that holds some truth. “Did the world combust into a million little pieces because I put a selfie out there?” asked the teenager who had hated her face. She shrugged, saying, “I’m still here, so it’s all good.”