The first battle we need to win is one that is about not fearing words. Even big difficult ones. For this one, the task is to understand it, so you can stand against it.
Yet most men do not use the word “patriarchy” in everyday life. Most men never think about patriarchy—what it means, how it is created and sustained. Many men in our nation would not be able to spell the word or pronounce it correctly. The word “patriarchy” just is not a part of their normal everyday thought or speech. Men who have heard and know the word usually associate it with women’s liberation, with feminism, and therefore dismiss it as irrelevant to their own experiences. I have been standing at podiums talking about patriarchy for more than thirty years. It is a word I use daily, and men who hear me use it often ask me what I mean by it. — bell hooks.
long ago when Dove did their real beauty campaign and showed us regular women with different body types and distinct skin colors, it became easy to celebrate this brand.
but research proved soon enough that the real beauty campaign — that one with different bodies and skin colors — proved to be a tad bit retouched to “remove dust and colour correction.”
this new campaign has gotten many-a-positive review, where there’s a forensics expert who sketches two images of one woman, the first based on the woman’s description of her looks, the other how a stranger describes her. the woman is then shown these two images and the stark differences between the two sketches become the premise of the conclusion that women are more beautiful than they think.
the issue with this ad is this: what if we just don’t have the words to describe ourselves with? what if we do not know to call our chin or jaw prominent? what if we have no words for describing our nose? our eyes?
it’s a horrible truth that in the end this will push women to stare far longer in the mirror than they should. that it will push little girls to better describe themselves, when in fact what we want, in fact what we must insist on, for this whole natural beauty campaign is this: there is more to you than your looks.
there is more than the words that describe you physically.
yet there is of course power in being able to describe ourselves differently, in owning words and demanding that we not be judged by the stereotyping of what’s ugly. this old Dove campaign in fact, worked quite well with that. mostly.
where the things that advertising and the beauty industry want to hide about women’s looks — our flaws, our aging, our weight — is paralleled with a more positive way of viewing things, i.e., of calling us, of describing us.
but even this campaign failed, in terms of what it is that it focuses on, how it also ends up looking at a woman, and judging her for what she doesn’t have. or have too much of.
its failings aside, the Dove campaign for natural beauty could only really be put into question not just by Dove’s own “cleaning up” of photos, but even more so by the fact that Dove does also sell whitening products.
it is in having willingly fallen into the whitening trap, into the kind of industry that whitening has become, that Dove in fact reveals its real goals: that is to profit from women, and to profit from women all over the world regardless of race and color and creed.
because on the one hand it will celebrate skin color diversity and natural body sizes for women in America. on the other hand it will sell whitening products to Asia.
which brings me back to the current advertisement that tells us all that we are more beautiful than we think. in America, where a forensics artist like that man do exist, and women might have more precise words for describing their looks, this might mean a tear or two. in the Philippines, where forensics experts are not part of everyday cultural discourse, and women still describe their looks by words that are already prejudged as ugly — mataba, kulot, kinky, pango, tulis baba, etc. — what effect would an ad like this have?
nothing. in fact it becomes a million steps back in the discourse on women’s beauty, as it ends up insisting that we are more beautiful than we think, we just need to have better words for what we see in the mirror.
but the goal has to be this: stop looking so much in that mirror, because that isn’t really all of you. no vocabulary for your physicality will mean truly describing who you are. in fact, the more time you spend finding words to describe how you look, the less time you have finding out about yourself, and describing what and who you are beyond what you look like, beyond your beauty.
THAT is the natural beauty campaign we would love to see showing on TV, and trending on social media. anything less than that is not worth celebrating.