The Dove marketing team has come up with a great concept: “You are more beautiful than you think.”
Dove took a group of women and led them, one-by-one into a large empty loft. For reasons that escape me they were not told why they were there. Walking across the loft they saw a man with his back turned to them, sitting in front of an easel.
After they sat down, out of the man’s line of sight, he started asking them questions about their appearance. Within a few minutes most of the participants understood what was happening.
It is not clear that they understood that the artist was an FBI-trained sketch artist whose drawings are most often used to apprehend miscreants.
Next, the Dove marketers introduced each of these subjects to a stranger. They told the stranger to attempt to make a positive connection with the subject. Then, it brought the strangers into the same empty loft and had them describe the appearance of the subjects they had just met.
The result was somewhat surprising. The pictures based on the descriptions offered by the strangers looked more like the subjects than did the pictures that were drawn to descriptions offered by the subjects themselves.
This suggests that a stranger who barely knows you can conjure your image more accurately than can you yourself.
More than that, the video went viral because the portraits drawn according to the stranger’s recollection made the women look much more beautiful.
One might conclude that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but Dove wants us to think that women do not know how beautiful they are.
Apparently, this will cause them to buy more Dove skin care products.
For your edification, here's the long version of the video:
There are so many problems with this experiment that one does not know where to start.
The first, most obvious and most overlooked is this simple fact: you NEVER see your face directly. Other people can look at your face directly; you can’t.
You can see your face in a mirror and you can see your photographic image. Thus, the image the subjects were describing was, at best, a reflection.
You will think that it doesn’t matter. You will think that it’s a distinction without a difference. It’s more likely that it does matter.
Second, it is vain and narcissistic to extol the beauty of your mirror image. It is worse to do so to a stranger.
The situation contains a number of subjective and ethical components. It is neither neutral nor objective.
If the subjects understood that they were being drawn by a police sketch artist, they might unconsciously have thought that it would be better if they had not been easily recognizable.
Fourth, the strangers who described each woman had only met the women briefly and were instructed to develop a warm rapport with the woman. Thus, the strangers were being instructed to provide a flattering portrait. They did their jobs.
The strangers were not all women. There was at least one man in the group. Obviously, the way a man sees a woman’s beauty is not at all the same as the way a woman sees a woman’s beauty.
If a man loves a woman he will be more likely to appreciate her beauty. If he does not love her, he will see her differently.
Similarly, if you are describing someone you like or have been told to like you will paint a more flattering picture.
Those are just the most obvious problems. They do not concern these women’s true feelings about their looks, but how likely they are to describe themselves in flattering terms to a police sketch artist with cameras running.
Less obvious is the fact that some segments of the population have been warring against society’s conception of female beauty for decades now. Remember Naomi Wolf’s book, The Beauty Myth?
In some circles there is a slight stigma against women attaching too much value to physical beauty. If men are not judged by their beauty, then why should women?
Do these cultural factors influence the way women describe their appearance?
The study, unscientific as it is, shows women indulging in some serious self-criticism. As a rule people who are highly self-critical are depressive.
Why are people so self-critical? Perhaps because they learn it in school. Colleges and universities place a special premium on critical thinking.
If you are taught to find the flaws and faults in everything you see, then you are probably going to apply your skill to yourself.
Also, describing your appearance is likely to make you self-conscious. When you feel self-conscious you will feel mildly embarrassed. This, in itself, will cause you to want to hide or to disguise your appearance.
Finally, why do we naturally assume that the women in question are telling us their real feelings? Why do we assume that they really think poorly of their own appearance? We do better to assume that cultural attitudes and expectations, whether they pertain to the specific situation or to the culture in general exercise a strong influence on how they will admit to seeing themselves.