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Soft Soaped

Amid debates over too-skinny models and over-styled celebrities, Dove soap's ad "Campaign for Real Beauty" attempts to differentiate itself by appealing to everyday beauties -- i.e. the rest of us.

First there were the ordinary size and shape models on billboards.  Now, Dove is pulling back the curtain on the artifice of the beauty industry with a short video that shows an average woman transformed into an ad via makeup artists, hair stylists, and Photoshop.  (In other words, this is the type of preparation and retouching that Counterfeit Chic discussed in March come to life.)  Here are before and after shots from the Dove video (HT:  BoingBoing):

Dove's ultimate goal, of course, is to sell more soap.  But is the objective of its "self-esteem fund" to make women and girls appreciate themselves more without excessive dieting and primping -- or simply to lower expectations for soap, which won't work any great transformations?  Perhaps both.

Realistically, though, when have humans ever settled for mere "natural" beauty?  Think back to Cleopatra's kohl-lined eyes, or even earlier to the 100,000-year-old shell beads that some scientists have hailed as the earliest evidence of symbolic thought.  Traces of ochre, an iron oxide pigment, are still evident on some prehistoric beads -- possibly makeup rubbed off of the skin of the person who wore them.  In the words of Professor Clive Gamble, "It's all about identity -- about changing the way you look.  I'm sure that clothing came along in a big way at the same time.  And then there's all that ochre.  These people were interested in changing their colour." 

A little self-esteem, and a simple soap-and-water toilette, are a relaxed corrective to the Photoshoped fakery of glossy magazines.  But if we've been primping for 100,000 years, we're not likely to stop on Dove's video say-so.  Indeed, our elaborate visual tricks may be as authentically human as our own skin.