Friday, April 19, 2013

Are Dove critics missing the point?

Recently Dove, in their ongoing campaign to celebrate 'real beauty,' conducted an experiment where women were asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist. He was to compose a sketch based on nothing more than their descriptions of how they believe they look. This was then compared to sketches composed asking strangers to describe these same women. These composites were then put side-by-side with the original in an attempt to prove that we are often our own worst critics who regularly fail to see how truly beautiful we are to others because we're so worried about all these glaring faults and flaws we think we have.

The results were fairly drastic, especially to the women who had judged themselves so harshly. It was an eye-opening moment as these women realized that the world around them saw them much more gently than they had been judging themselves. It's a rather bothersome fact about women in that they tend to dwell on those things they feel make them unworthy or lesser than. These usually have nothing to do with what others think when they see them, especially those of the opposite sex. I've made this assertion before, when defending the Rubenesque romance genre, in saying that men are often way less critical of us than we are ourselves. We're so wrapped up in what dress size we wear, when the men we date usually have no such concerns. They know what they like, and it's in no way so limited.

Sex appeal, much like beauty, is a very subjective thing. Everyone gets to decide the standards for themselves, which... I think... was the point of the ad. You're allowed to give up all that time you spend fretting about your crow's feet, the bags under your eyes, the size of your nose, the shape of you face and just accept - unquestionably and bravely - that you are beautiful even with your litany of perceived flaws.

The message of us being overly critical to the point of distorting our own image is in no way groundbreaking. As women we are conditioned by the world around us to pinpoint what is wrong with us, as if it invalidates all that is right. An entire culture has decided for us what the standards of beauty are, and we all have collectively agreed that they are right. It has nothing to do with reality, not really, as seen by the experiment above. But we buy into it, hook, line and sinker as if it's the gospel truth.

Where did we get such ideas of beauty? I'll tell you where. From people whose bottom line depend on us feeling like shit about ourselves ALL THE TIME. It all boils down to what makes good business. There are several industries, cosmetics included, that make a pretty penny by convincing us how unpretty we are and how desperately we need their help. Whether we buy a magazine or a pill, potion, gadget or gizmo, we are constantly bombarded that if we just do our part to change these flaws, we'll be happier, more successful, easier to love. Rarely are we encouraged to see ourselves as beautifully flawed, especially when it comes from those with a trunk full of snake oil to sell. Millions of dollars are spent to undermine our self-confidence, making us reliant on products to somehow "earn" the right to even leave our houses.

So what if you're ugly? If you have a few bucks, you can buy admission into societal acceptance.

It's a great time to be a woman. We've come a long way, baby.

As much as we want to believe we've made all this progress past the objectification of our superficial value in society, we haven't come nearly as far as we want to think we have. That was why, when I saw this Dove "ad" for the first time, I was encouraged by the message. As an overweight woman especially, I get tired of the propaganda that despite everything that we are or do to make us unique, beautiful individuals, our minor flaws define us. And I say minor because if you're successful in every area of your life but one (in my case, weight) and you judge yourself by your failure RATHER than your successes, then there's a definite perception problem. Never is this more pervasive than when it comes to women and weight.

Case in point, there is a Jenny Craig ad where the lady tearfully admits she never took any pictures of herself because of how she looked at a heavier size. She was willing to take herself out of the history of her life and the lives of her children because of nothing more than her appearance. It wasn't her health that made her shy away from the camera, it was her perception of her overwhelming failure as a fat person. She was conditioned very early on that this one failure invalidated everything else. Was she smart? Was she funny? Was she talented? Was she good at her job? Was she a good mom? Was she a compassionate wife or generous neighbor? We'll never know... because the one thing that defined her to the point of altering her happiness was her weight. She had no value in her mind because she didn't fit this image in her mind of how she should look. Only now that she could fit into a smaller dress size is she allowing herself to - haltingly - call herself beautiful.

Let me put this in perspective for you. In the photo on the left, she didn't find herself beautiful. She fixated on those thirty pounds as the dealbreaker between her and society, much the way these girls in the Dove experiment regarded their crow's feet. I have to wonder how the Dove forensic experiment would have affected how she saw herself... versus how strangers saw her... without losing a pound. She felt like a lesser person, someone who wasn't worth the moniker "beautiful" ... how might a kinder, gentler stranger description helped her own all the OTHER things about her that made her beautiful?

Someone else set the standard of beauty and she wasn't happy until she fit into it. This is a scathing indictment of how we see, treat and accept women on some superficial gradation of merit. A commenter on my blog said it bluntly when he said, “Men really don’t care about your intelligence, your wit, your charm, your job, etc. All men are genetically programmed to seek the conventionally attractive women.”

And it's because of that this poor woman had a distorted view of her own appearance. My guess if they had asked her to describe herself she would have added twenty pounds and made her eyes sad, her face drawn, her countenance unfulfilled. That's not what I see when I look at the lovely woman on the left, whose eyes light up when she smiles. But that was her mental picture of her very identity, which - for any woman trying to navigate our superficial world - begins with our outer appearance. A flawed appearance = an inferior person. It's a woman who cannot love herself, much less be loved by anyone else, until she changes these flaws to make her a closer version of that physical perfection expect.

This weight loss ad ever so subtly reinforced that misogynistic viewpoint, yet oddly, it did not draw and has not drawn the same criticism or ire as this Dove ad, that dared to challenge our own skewed perception of our outer appearance without changing one damn thing about it.

Instead we're told, "It's not feminist," to tell women to celebrate their own unique beauty in this way, because it's still focusing on a woman's appearance. It's a convenient critique, as if it was the only ad to do such a thing. Instead the very heart of that ad counters the normal browbeating we get from these advertisers, and what we're really criticizing is the change itself. Worse, it is still putting our value up for grabs to any stranger to decide whether or not we're beautiful, as if we're still incapable of making this call for ourselves.

I respectfully - or maybe not so respectfully - call bullshit on the brouhaha.

The society we live in, the society you condone with your silent acceptance of each and every OTHER ad that reinforces a skewed mentality of self-worth prior TO the Dove ad, (which is oh... ALL OF THEM) has already told these women that strangers decide their worth based on appearance - but in a bad way. We're taught that society will shun us or ignore us if we don't do our part to fit in. In fact we're invisible unless we do so. It is reinforced in the media and subtly accepted in society. It's so pervasive, in fact, that pompously taking issue with this one ad campaign is a bit like spitting into the wind. Every day, in ways both subtle and overt, women are continually riddled with the idea that we are not good enough. This is what pumps billions of dollars into all kinds of industries, Dove included.

Criticizing an ad that tries to walk back this harsh criticism of ourselves is both backward and self-defeating. I'll go one further. If you're staying silent on all these other ads that blatantly tell women their value is in their appearance, that their appearance SUCKS and they need to change it, while criticizing the other, more tolerant, less critical message, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

No one will say boo to the woman who sheds weight, because she has fulfilled her social contract. She has given in to the pressure of our culture to "fit in" and now she does. Yay for her. She's joined the club. No one would dare dream to criticize her "hard work" in her journey to "health", or question how she now qualifies herself as 'beautiful.' And the health argument is a load of horse shit anyway, because no one cares how you get from your "Before" pic to your "After" pic, just so long as you get there. It's the results that matter. Not the means. See the male comment to my blog above. No one gives a shit what you got right before you lost those last ten pounds, twenty pounds or thirty pounds ... just so long as you do. There has to be a transformation in order to even hit the national radar.

These women in the Dove ad had no such conversion, except for the mental realization that what they judged so harshly about themselves didn't even register on the radar of someone else. This is a far more empowering message, but more importantly it's a necessary message. The entire reason these women need to see they've been too hard on themselves is because they've been too hard on themselves. How is your flogging the messenger telling them that it's okay to own what makes them beautiful - flaws included - supposed to help them?

You are the reason women need a stranger to be gentle on them, because the society that surrounds them day after day is anything but. We're still trying to define beauty of others, particularly whether it's important or not, by our own standard. How in the world is that feminist? Shouldn't we do our best to empower women WHERE THEY ARE NOW and show them how beautiful they are for *all* that they are, rather than silently sit by while a male-dominated culture browbeats our sisters into feeling like they aren't worthy to be happy because of some crow's feet?

In essence you're getting the message backward, and what is that telling the women this ad is targeted to empower? Essentially you're reiterating that value still comes in the form of a stranger, just by your standards now rather than the ones in the ad.

I find your criticism of their lack of criticism disturbing.

One thing is certain. It's time for a new standard. Maybe it's time we buck the system and demand that women of all shapes, sizes, colors, complexions, races and age groups be defended whenever they reach every so haltingly for the permission to consider themselves "beautiful" in whatever way that is defined. Beauty is not a state of value for women - it is a completely human condition that celebrates something within us that is uniquely individual. We are the shining light in an often ugly world. We are the givers, the creators, the lovers and the peacemakers. These are the things that connect us one and all and give us inherent value to the planet. Once we accept that, it can't be anything BUT beautiful.

You see, that is the true value of self-esteem, which is something we should be striving to teach our girls with or without Dove's help.

Maybe, just maybe, if we were doing a better job at empowering our women and our girls, we wouldn't need a cosmetics company to fill the void in the first place.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

GROUPIE NEW LOW PRICE, Updates on Fierce

April can be a tough month on the pocketbook, it's true. So we've dropped the price of the popular first book of the Groupie trilogy - GROUPIE - to $0.99!

Just one dollar and you can see what so many people are raving about, and with enough time to read all three books before the next book releases this summer.

For those of you patiently waiting for FIERCE, the spinoff book from the Groupie Trilogy, I'm happy to report that I'm right on schedule to finish this week. I've been working like a maniac, though it has not been an easy book to write. For those of you who love an angsty emotional roller coaster, I can tell you from my own scrapes and bruises this book has everything I gave you in GROUPIE, turned up to "eleven." You'll hate the antagonists more, but I think you're going to love the hero more, too.

And Jordi, my beautiful, broken, brave, tenacious, Jordi... well, I hope you love her most of all.

There are some exciting things coming up including a BIG giveaway, a cover reveal and teasers for Fierce, as well as a book blog tour for the summer release date. Follow the incomparable Brandee of Brandee's Book Endings for all the latest. If you have a book blog and you'd like to be a part of the release party or get an advance review copy, just let me or Brandee know.