Dove’s Big Business


So, we’re walking down the Bowery a week or so ago and we see that Dove poster everyone is talking about, the one with a indisputably voluptuous “real” woman posing in her underwear and before we can censor ourselves we murmur practically out loud, “Wow! She’s fat!” and then we’re instantly ashamed because of course we’re too politically correct to ever think that for real except—we did.

In fact, this beaming, frankly fleshy model, big as she is, is a lot younger than we are and let’s face it, in truth she is no fatter than we are—and she looks to be in far better shape.

Though we like to think of ourselves as the most progressive person on earth, it turns out we are a lot more similar to most people than we care to admit: We, like everyone else, are so accustomed to looking at skinny, skinny women in magazines, on television, in movies, and virtually every place else that when we’re confronted with someone of a normal weight she seems completely freakish. So insidious, so poisonous is the tyranny of the super-thin that we recoil, if only for a second, at the sight of an average woman on a billboard.

Who could have predicted that when people in highly developed countries had more than enough to eat, the result would be a bizarre combination of widespread obesity and rampant self-starvation?

If you doubt how sick and crazy everything is now, take a look at a beach party movie from the 1960s or an old Marilyn Monroe film. Those women, considered so delicious at the time, look just plain chubby now. It’s like that famous Twilight Zone episode where the doctors make a lovely woman look like a monster because that’s what her planet considers beautiful.

Dove is counting on the fact that after we work through our initial shock, we’ll think “Right on,” find the ads empowering, and buy what they are ultimately advertising, which is, of course, not merely the right to feel okay about your body but a bunch of firming products they’re pushing. In any case, according to the company, the campaign has been a smash hit: Philippe Harousseau, Dove’s Marketing Director, says, “The call center and our web site, have lit up with words of encouragement and hope that we can change society’s narrow definition of beauty and show that real beauty comes in many different shapes, sizes, ages and colors.”

We’re convinced that nothing short of divine intervention or an insanely rigorous exercise regime could make us any firmer, and we certainly doubt anything that comes in a tube could do the trick, but at least Dove’s stuff only costs around $7, in contrast to the eye-popping merchandise we came across in a major fashion magazine this month. This particular article detailed the grooming habits of a group of women-about-town, including one soul whose regimen consists of, among other things, La Prairie Cellular Eye Cream ($250), something called Cle de Peau Beaute La Creame ($475), and this juicy threesome: Kanebe Sensai EX La Lotion ($200), La Emulsion ($280), and La Crème (a whopping $500).

Instead of shelling out all that dough for magic potions, here’s what we think this person might consider: Spend the money on a fabulous coat, a superbly chic handbag, and a pair of really excellent shoes. Then top it off with a slash of scarlet lipstick, tell yourself your wrinkles make you look like a glorious Katherine Hepburn or—even bolder—a cackling Lillian Hellman, and face the world with joy.