Do you ever like to imagine stories about people you see on the street? Dove asked female strangers to share first impressions of one another on video, and the results are strangely uplifting.
The video, which was funded by Dove and directed by Pinny Grylls, uses a split screen to juxtapose the women offering their imagined conclusions about these individuals' lives, and the reaction shots of those being commented on. It makes for uneasy viewing, at times — one woman looks at another and says simply "Divorced" and when the roles are reversed, the second woman says back " 'I'd like to do what you would like me to do,' that's what that face says" — but there are sweet moments, too. When a middle-aged woman with close-cropped hair says a twenty-something blonde "Loves her mum," the younger woman actually tears up. "She's got very nice moles," says one woman, "I like moles on faces, and freckles." When an older white woman says a young black woman with dreadlocks is "the face of a very modern youth," I almost cringed, expecting some sort of borderline patronizing 'Gosh society has gotten SO multicultural!' remark. But all she meant was that women in their twenties no longer have to go out with pancake foundation to face the world. It's all very cute and meaningful, and the point is clearly to remind us that we are all individuals, since at the end the various women tell us who they are, really, and it's sometimes surprising (and wonderful) in the way that it's surprising (and wonderful) to find out the dowdy downstairs neighbor is actually a slam poet, or whatever, and when was the last time you could say an ad by a beauty company was 'meaningful', anyway? This feels kind of like consciousness-raising, or affirmation, only without the taint of granola earnestness, and it will make you smile.
Of course, we all know Dove is owned by Unilever, a corporation whose sheaf of brands includes a fleet of skin-lightening creams marketed in India and Africa, and the execrable Axe body spray. It is in a certain measure hypocritical to promote women's self-esteem and "real beauty" in advertising for one brand, while feeding women's insecurities and underlining the offensive idea that only white skin can be beautiful for another. (Not to mention that it also requires a somewhat elastic understanding of women's natures to simultaneously put together a fake girl band that dances in lingerie while singing about the aphrodisiac properties of men's deodorant.) But it is still nice to see women talking about each other and themselves in surprising ways. Even if it is only an ad.
It also serves as a reminder of the effect that our comments to and about each other have on our self-esteem. Seeing the looks on the women's faces, sometimes anxious, sometimes stoic, as they awaited evaluation by a perfect stranger, made me wince at times. Dove's research — necessary caveats here for "research" completed by a cosmetics company, grain of salt, etc — shows that 15% of women report never being complimented, and 19% say they are complimented only rarely. With that in mind, why not try complimenting three people today? It'll make you and them feel good. (Dove's research did not investigate the self-esteem effects of being complimented and then not knowing how or whether to respond and feeling awkward about it. Next time, I guess.)