In an age dominated by social media, everyone is held accountable for the content that they release on any platform or network. And with the eyes of 3.5 billion people scrolling through the internet at any given time, all of this content is essentially vetted by the public.
In Dove’s latest advertisement, a black woman removes her brown shirt to reveal a white woman wearing a white shirt. The media’s interpretation of this was that the black woman was using Dove soap to clean herself in order to become white, as initially highlighted by makeup artist Naythemua who expressed her disappointment in the ad on Facebook.
But the original intention of Dove was completely twisted. In this controversy, the company’s objective was lost—that is, all women deserve the gentleness of Dove soap. With this in mind, the advertisement was not racist. But it is important to note that the idea of racism is one that is completely based on perception. While the idea of a black woman cleaning herself to whiten her skin is racist, the idea of including all types of women in an advertisement is not.
In response to the social media posts, the actress in the Dove commercial herself stated that she was “not a victim.” When the 13-second ad was released, she was excited to see black women represented.
“People congratulated me for being the first to appear, for looking fabulous, and for representing Black Girl Magic,” she told The Guardian. “I was proud.”
In a society where racism has been entrenched in people’s views from the inception of the country, it is inevitable that people will notice racism through subtle details. The intentions of any group or individual are obscured when the method of portrayal can be spun to tell a racist story. The content of a public campaign or clip must demonstrate inclusion and equality, or public outcry will ensue.
This attention to detail due to the public’s desire for creative material that is also fair and diverse is one that holds influencers in our country accountable. The public’s desire for creative material compounded by with their desire for fair content is one that keeps our society in check, and this is imperative to uphold the ideal of equality that we hold so dear to our hearts.
Ultimately, Dove apologized for any offense they might have caused, saying they “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.” Dove’s acknowledgment of the potential offense that they may have caused helps repair their torn image in the public’s eye.
Especially in light of past accusations of racism in their publicity, Dove absolutely needed to respond to the reactions. Considering the traditional idea of beauty standards in modern America and the backlash that Dove has faced in the past, it was a logical decision for the company to apologize.
Time and time again, women of color are told that they aren’t as beautiful as the white women around them. In response, cosmetic companies are trying to implement campaigns where women of all ethnicities and races are incorporated into the advertisements.
As a young Indian girl, I contended with that sentiment myself when I thought that being beautiful meant that I needed to have light skin with blonde hair and blue eyes. After all, that’s what the world was telling me through depictions of women in magazines and TV shows, so it had to be correct, right?
It was not until I was older that I realized that beauty comes in all colors. The social media outcry surrounding the Dove ad was in response to this overarching idea that women of color are not as beautiful as women that are white. The outcry demonstrates that our society is becoming more and more accepting of all women and is also starting scrutinizing old values that have no place in a progressive society.