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Women's Outreach and Resource Collective | A collaborative community for advocates of gender equity and social justice


I Don’t Need to be Beautiful

By: Erica Michelle Lee


But it’s so important to accept your own beauty as a woman!

Really? Let’s talk.

Many people have internalized society’s strict standards of female beauty, and it takes a long time to shake them off, if they ever do. These internalized standards dictate harmful day-to-day actions, from slut-shaming a woman with a short skirt or creating global advertisements objectifying women.

On the other end of the spectrum, many companies and even bands have come out with body-positive merchandise and ad campaigns. This is good, to a point.

It’s important to have inoculations against society’s harmful ideal of women. Everyone has a responsibility to break down these stereotypes, especially those who care for children or create media they’ll see.

This led to Dove’s creation of the Campaign for Real Beauty, which turned ten years old this year. Dove has famously led this charge for “celebrating real women,” releasing the famous picture of “real” women in white underwear in 2005.


In 2006, they launched the Dove Evolution commercial, showing a model’s transformation from human to billboard siren.

In 2013, Dove released their famous Real Beauty Sketches ad.

A band called The Mrs. created a “magic mirror” where people could be reassured by the band, family, and friends that they were beautiful and loved.

So what’s the harm in it?

It is important to recognize that beauty is only one facet of a person that they may or may not choose to identify with. Have you heard the expression “you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else?” This constant stream of, “You’re beautiful! I would know!” erases all other qualities and makes physical beauty a necessary foundation for any other positive characteristic. It displaces the agency on another person to first recognize that someone is beautiful and to change them from their backwards ways.

These advertisements distill a woman to the acceptance of her outer appearance, which sounds a lot like what they’re trying to get away from. Not only is that harmful, they often don’t acknowledge where these harmful thoughts originate. In the description of their Sketches video, Dove wrote, “Women are their own worst beauty critics. Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.” Dove acts as if these insecurities just popped up like daisies out of the ground. These ads do nothing to critique the society that perpetuates these thoughts. All you have to do is recognize that strangers still find you attractive. That’s it. The patriarchy will be gone, so will the wage gap, and I won’t have to walk with my keys in my hand on my way to my car.

When society says that you have to feel beautiful, this creates yet another obstacle for women to overcome to feel like we have obtained personhood.

So why do we do it?

Because it’s easy. It’s easy to hire a sketch artist or plop a talking mirror in the mall.

It’s exactly like handing out physical compliments: “Your shirt is so cute!” “I would literally kill for your shoes. Seriously.” Because it’s easy to comment on someone’s physical appearance in a short time in the same way that a commercial for a pretty white soap bar needs to be short. Frankly, it takes too long to introduce a person and celebrate the fact that they are a neuroscientist with a passion for non-mainstream holistic parenting education, and then say, “Oh, please buy our product!”

A commercial lasts 30 seconds, and a YouTube video lasts five minutes maximum. It’s just easier to say, “Love yourself!” than to construct a narrative that showcases multiple facets of a person in such a short time. But it can be done. That diversity in advertising is what we need.

And what if you looked in the mirror and would rather describe yourself as “handsome” than “beautiful?”

Although I am not a trans woman, I could see that these commercials could be incredibly ostracizing to trans women as well as other marginalized groups. Many of these body-positive commercials still celebrate a very narrow, incredibly feminine ideal of women, curves and all. Yes, many women are curvy, but others are stick-straight, androgynous, or were assigned male at birth. That doesn’t make them any less a woman than those in these advertisements, and ads claiming to celebrate women should celebrate all women. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel not to identify with my assigned gender and have Olay telling me to “Love the skin you’re in!” all day long.

Sometimes I don’t love the skin I’m in, and that’s okay. I am a multifaceted human being with a kind heart and warm hugs who owns too many cats and is not defined by how attractive I seem to myself or others. My love means no less because I don’t always love myself. Thanks, beauty companies, but no thanks.

Let’s find another tagline.

beautydoveerica lee

worcuga • December 15, 2014

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  1. July Coley December 15, 2014 - 7:42 pm Reply

    “We think you’ll find that every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil Beauty. That’s what makes a woman come alive.”
    ― John Eldredge, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul
    I think this is a book you’d love- I’d like to comment on how “Beauty” with a capital B and “beauty” with a lowercase b hold different meanings for me. I think this book (Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul) is integral in recognizing the type of Beauty and desires that matter to the basic essential heart of a woman. I think this is the type of gender recognition that is the most healing rather than the most harmful, it illuminates shared desires of hundreds of different women and their struggles while the author relates her own similar struggles- it does not stereotype into any certain role but it keeps the essential glory of what the word “woman” means in regard to the deep spirit of a woman. Just as a side note: it’s written by christian authors, I don’t know if you agree with that sort of thing but it’s still a very good book. You’re welcome to borrow it from me any time this next semester!

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