Selling (out) girls' self-esteem

There's a dirty secret behind Dove's True Beauty campaign.

Published October 15, 2007 9:30PM (EDT)

Just a couple of weeks ago, we wrote about Dove's latest attempt at selling self-esteem. In the TV spot, an impressionable young girl is bombarded with images of half-naked models, a girl bingeing and purging and women being nipped and tucked. The spot concludes with this warning: "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does."

It's a powerful plea to parents and important enough that it's possible to overlook the fact that Dove is, of course, part of the beauty industry. But here comes a pesky little detail that is not so easily reconciled: Unilever, the multinational corporation in charge of the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, is also responsible for Axe and its line of "turns nice girls naughty" body sprays and deodorants. Holy hypocrisy!

In other words, the same company publicly decrying the way advertisers corrupt and degrade girls' self-esteem is trumpeting the ability to turn girls into sluts with a spray of Axe. The same company that offers girls lessons on the Dove Web site about how to be media savvy and reject harmful advertising is also in charge of a Web site for Axe's fictional girl band, the "Bom Chicka Wah Wahs" -- which quotes one band member as saying, "I'm a classically trained ballerina but I've discovered that tutus and pirouettes are no match for lingerie and pole dancing."

Unilever's all about boosting young girls' self-esteem, but only until they reach ripe readiness for showering with strangers, pole dancing and jumping men in supermarkets! The good news is that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has started a letter-writing campaign asking that Unilever "ax the Axe campaign," reports the New York Times. The campaign has resulted in more than 1,800 complaints sent to Unilever's chief executive, Patrick Cescau.

The lesson here: Parents, take serious note of the latest Dove TV spot and tell your daughters (and, good God, your sons) that, as with taking candy from strangers, when it comes to trusting advertisers, just don't do it! As for the surely sleepless and mirrorless people at Unilever: How did y'all score on the Campaign for Real Beauty's quiz revealing one's impact on others' self-esteem?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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