A Dove ad was pulled from circulation Sunday after a viral post drew attention to its racist subtext—or text, depending on how you read it. Model Lola Ogunyemi, who was featured, has been weathering the storm of her face becoming representative of corporate racism, but she also has a voice.
In an essay for The Guardian, Ogunyemi explained that she was raised in London, but her family is Nigerian. Growing up, she wrote that she was frequently told how pretty she was “for a dark-skinned girl,” and is well aware of colorism, particularly within the beauty industry. That was part of why she was initially excited to be included in Dove’s campaign:
Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued.
Then one morning, I woke up to a message from a friend asking if the woman in a post he’d seen was really me. I went online and discovered I had become the unwitting poster child for racist advertising. No lie.
If you Google “racist ad” right now, a picture of my face is the first result. I had been excited to be a part of the commercial and promote the strength and beauty of my race, so for it to be met with widespread outrage was upsetting.
Ogunyemi wrote that had she known her skin color in the ad “would be portrayed as inferior” in any way, she would have refused to participate in the campaign, but her experience on-set was supportive and exciting. Her initial reading of the ad was also positive, and she thinks that the ad has been misconstrued to some degree. However, Ogunyemi acknowledged that it’s not Dove’s first offense:
I can see how the snapshots that are circulating the web have been misinterpreted, considering the fact that Dove has faced a backlash in the past for the exact same issue. There is a lack of trust here, and I feel the public was justified in their initial outrage. Having said that, I can also see that a lot has been left out. The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.
While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologise for any offense caused, they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign. I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.
You can read her full perspective here.