The Ugly Side of Beauty
The Fashion eZine - Beauty in Media

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`Our objective," says the marketing exec at Dove Canada, "is to take your breath away."

Well, they've done that, all right.

In its latest viral assault on the cultural distortions around what constitutes "beauty," the soap company has just launched a rapid-fire Internet video that, says Dove's Alison Leung, packs a lifetime's worth of societal pressure emanating from the gazillion-dollar beauty industry into a mere minute (and 14 seconds).

It's called, appropriately, Onslaught, and with the force of rifle fire rains down the nipped, tucked, botoxed, firmer, thinner, softer, tighter imagery that bombards young women from pre-adolescence through their whole darned lives.

It's political, it's edgy, and you want to watch it.

You also want your daughters to watch it. And they are, on YouTube, which tallied 70,000 hits in its first day.

Created by ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in Toronto, Onslaught follows the success of Evolution, Ogilvy's first viral video for Dove, which featured the manic retouching of a naturally beautiful woman until she became the high- eyebrowed, swan-necked, artificially altered "norm" of the beauty trade.

Evolution proved so successful that Dove began airing the spot on The Hills, a reality TV show about vacuous, uncommonly attractive women in Laguna Beach.

"It's a great juxtaposition with the content on the show," Leung says dryly.

Both videos, and a third heartbreakingly simple spot entitled Amy, were directed by Ogilvy's Tim Piper.

"We wanted to skew the messaging toward mothers," he says of Onslaught. "Maybe this generation needs to talk to the next generation about the messaging they're getting from a very early time."

Onslaught tells a simple story. One day a freckled strawberry blonde with a clip in her hair is walking to school with her chums; the next she's a candidate for yo-yo dieting; eventually she's pressured to alter her physical self by any fat-sucking, nip and tucking means.

"We tried to lay it out in a way that was quick and fast and interesting to watch," says Piper of the path set by our so-called beauty culture, which he terms our "low self-esteem industry."

The film is scored to Simian's La Breeze "You cannot hide, there's no place to hide" before the tag line: "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does."

Dove is a participant in that. The beauty industry that is. It's owned by Unilever, which includes Slim-Fast among its many brands. On its website, Unilever promotes its hair products thusly: "Want hair like Paris Hilton, Nicole Kidman or Posh Spice? It's easier than you think with the right products and a bit of practice."

Is there not a contradiction here? Dove," responds Leung, "exists on its own."

It has certainly carved an effective niche with its Campaign for Real Beauty. Launched in 2004, the campaign refreshingly featured unskinny women in their smalls and lovingly photographed the facial lines of true aging.

The campaign is more than mere advertising. The Dove Self-Esteem Fund has launched numerous initiatives aimed at awareness- raising, including mentoring programs, one of which was launched this year at the Henry Street High School in Whitby.

"We want them to embrace who they are," says Leung of the young women who meet weekly. "To see a broader definition of beauty."

A Dove survey conducted with Seventeen magazine found 93 per cent of girls and young women feel stressed about their appearance as they get ready in the morning.

In the sweet, filmic Amy, a tousle-haired teen rides up to Amy's house on his bike. He calls. And calls. And calls her name.

Words silently appear in Amy's absence: "Amy can name 12 things wrong with her appearance."

And then: "He can't name one."


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