In the three days since Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video went online, it’s received over 3 million views and prompted discussion about inner beauty and self-esteem issues for women. Many viewers have called it “beautiful” and “eye-opening.”
“You are more beautiful than you think,” the video attests.
But if Dove’s entire point seems borrowed from One Direction; the viral video, in which a forensic artist illustrates the way women downplay their own appearances, is cloaking something more serious than the idea that women don’t know-oh-oh what makes them beautiful.
In the video, the forensic artist, who can’t see the women he’s drawing, asks them to describe their physical appearances. The adjectives the women use to describe themselves are pejorative: big, freckled. When they describe each other, however, the words change from negatives to positives: “protruding chin” becomes “nice thin chin.” Bystanders comment on how “nice” and “pretty” the women’s eyes are. One woman, looking at the two portraits of herself, comments that the self-described portrait is “closed off and fatter…sadder, too.” The other one is “more open, friendly, happy.”
After they see the two photos, the women stop describing themselves in purely physical terms. One of them states that her “natural beauty” impacts everything else in her life, from her profession to how she treats her children. “It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
Some viewers, however, aren’t convinced that what Dove is offering up as “natural beauty” in this instance is what they should be buying. On Tumblr, jazzylittledrops has eloquently argued for a different reading of the video, as less a deconstruction of healthy self-esteem and more an insidious reminder that even when being told they are beautiful, women are still being valued by their physical attributes above all else—and that those attributes have alarmingly racist connotations.