Sketches Show How We See Ourselves Vs. How Strangers Do Mary Traina

Dove has been carefully building their brand by poking holes in society’s standards of beauty for years. Now they’re calling us out again, this time for our warped self-image. The new ad features an experienced criminal sketch artist drawing women as they describe themselves. It then partners those sketches with sketches of the same women as described by a complete stranger. It’s no surprise that these women think of themselves as haggard Tim Burton characters while strangers see them as dewy roses.

We are our own worst critics. I don’t think that critical eye is necessarily specific to women, nor do I think all men are weak oafs who crumble in terror at the site of babies or assembly instructions. That’s just advertising. Welcome to Don Draper’s America.

What really stands out for me is the message behind this Dove project; it reaches beyond physical beauty. Most of us have a warped sense of not just the way we look, but also of who we are. It’s what’s inside that counts and I think it’s been a while since any of us took an accurate inventory. We’re constantly underselling ourselves. When it comes to the way you look, whoever you’re underselling yourself to can physically see the truth and hopefully help you to see past your perceived flaws. But when it comes to who you are as a person, everyone is taking your word for it until you prove otherwise.

Those side-by-side sketches are now burned into my brain. They visually sum up a problem I previously had trouble putting my finger on. Verbally, I’ve painted that haggard sketch of myself many times; in job interviews, over coffee, first dates, that time I repeatedly told a cashier, “I know, I’m the worst” because I wanted him to wait 15 extra seconds for me to pay with exact change. I’m reasonably certain I’m not the worst, so why am I trying to convince someone otherwise?

There are two thought processes behind verbally talking yourself down to others. First, there is the idea that you’re beating them to the punch. If you call out your flaw before they notice it, it gives you control. That’s a fine instinct, I suppose. For example, if everyone is talking about the situation in Syria and you are woefully behind on your current events, it’s probably best to just come clean. You’ve been watching nothing but Fraiser on Netflix for the past year, but you’re looking forward to learning more about Syria through this conversation. However, there’s a line. You should fight the urge to also tell the group you are a boring, lame dumby whose unfamiliarity with current events has left you unworthy of love. Give yourself a break and they will too!

The second reason people verbally talk themselves down is to appear humble and ingratiate themselves with others. This is another fine line, my friends. Sure, it’s nice when we can find common ground based on our faults and insecurities. That’s my absolute favorite thing to do next to singing Karaoke and eating bacon. I’m not even joking. I love trading insecurities. I am a walking “Traumarauma” column from Seventeen Magazine. But there is a time and a place. My embarrassing story about slipping on a banana in front of my crush probably won’t play well in a job interview. It’s important to consider: are you talking yourself down to relate and have some laughs or are you doing it because you sense this person needs the power trip over you? Be careful out there!

My favorite part of this Dove video is when one of the strangers describes a woman to the sketch artist as having eyes that “lit up as she spoke.” No amount of over or underselling ever got anyone a compliment like that. It comes from presenting who you are without actually talking about who you are at all. We must show, not tell. Most of us instinctively know not to brag but how many of us know better than to deprecate? Don’t call out those insecurities or fuss over a physical imperfection so quickly. Focus on confidence, mind and body, because I believe it’s human nature for people to want to see the best in you, anyways. Let’s stop drawing that weird, haunting sketch of ourselves – inside or out – and have faith that maybe, just maybe, the people around us can see clearly on their own.

Image via adweek.com

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  1. It’s capitalist marketing bullshit……….but I still love it. Mostly because this is something that I’m been trying to verbalize for years, too. I read somewhere a long time ago that most people, when asked to ‘rate’ their looks on a scale from 1-10, would rate themselves an average of 2 or 3 points lower than when others were asked to rate their looks.

    I read and write a lot about our culture of misogyny and of capitalization on low self-esteem, especially in women (since so many men’s ads are all like “YO JUST USE THIS TO SHAVE BUT SERIOUSLY BRO YOU’RE PERFECT”). So I do understand the flaws in this ad.

    But I can’t help but separate the ad from its cultural and societal implications. Simply, taken for what it is……I loved it.

  2. Maybe read this review… it takes on the video at another angle and addresses the issues.

    http://jazzylittledrops.tumblr.com/post/48118645174/why-doves-real-beauty-sketches-video-makes-me

    • Yes to everything in that response! Plus, everyone please remember that this is a marketing campaign. It’s not a psychological study or an awareness campaign, it’s an ad.

  3. I love this ad, but I can’t help but feel cynical about it. Dove is owned by the same parent company as Axe products which tend to run ads that are significantly less positive towards women. It’s all well and good to tell women to feel better about themselves, but it’s worth considering why we have those feelings and how the certain things need to change in order to address why so many women (and guys too of course) see themselves through a distorted lens.

    The whole “feel better about yourself” campaign always struck me as a wee bit victim-blamey. Yes, it would be nice for us to start thinking positively about ourselves, but it would be a lot easier to do so if we weren’t bombarded with the messages from places such as Axe commercials.

    While I really like the Dove commercials, a part of me has always wondered if they’re just capitalizing on our shared insecurities in order to sell us products that promise to make us more beautiful.