Dove Campaign For Real Beauty


When Sara was in 7th grade, about to celebrate her 12th birthday, she and her friends decided to steal one of their older sisters Teen Vogue. After flipping through the various articles and advertisements Sara looked in the mirror and for the first time, did not see herself clearly. She was confused, why when she looked in the magazine did all the girls have long legs, blonde hair and flat stomachs? When she looked in the mirror what she saw was a short, brunette 12-year-old who did not look anything like those beautiful girls she had just seen.

When Sara got home that day she ran up to see her mom, and when she asked her mom about the girls in the magazine her mom could not believe that she was already having to have this talk with her, at such a young age. What is the best way to answer this question without causing irreparable damage to her fragile mental state?

This question is one that is the basis of the issue that I will approach in this essay. It brings about the idea that young girls are being exposed to unrealistic images in the media at such young ages that they are developing body issues at that young age.

Media has a profound effect on the mind of young girls. According to a study done by Dove, “81% of women in the United States strongly agree that ‘ media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve” ( Therefore, when girls see models on the Internet and in magazines that are extremely thin it puts the idea into their mind that they should look like these women, but that is an unrealistic goal. This can cause serious mental and physical issues. Girls can develop an eating disorder (most commonly anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) or develop a life-long battle with self-esteem issues. In a study done in a Boston public school district, from 6th to 12th grade, they found that “69% of girls reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of the perfect body shape, and 47 percent reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures” (“Media”, 1999).

According to an article written by Jessica Lind-Diamond, a teenage girl, published in New Moon-The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, media is having an influence on girls her age (13-17 years old). She goes on to say that, “When I read magazines with a lot of advertisements, I find myself wanting more things and wishing my body looked different. The ads make me feel like I'm not skinny enough, that maybe I should shave my legs, and that I don't wear enough make-up” (Lind-Diamond, 1999). She believes that even though she knows that advertisements are, just that, advertisements, she cannot help but feel as though she wants to change herself to be more similar to the glamorous girls she sees in her magazines. That is why Dove, a personal care brand, launched their “Campaign for Real Beauty.”

Explanation of Dove’s Campaign

In order to discuss the idea of beauty, there needs to be a common understanding what beauty is. For this paper, beauty will be not only the physical attributes of a female, but also how she feels about herself. While looking at this it important to remember that different people will always judge beauty different, there is no definite definition of what makes someone beautiful and what doesn’t.

In 2004 Dove Launched their Campaign for Real Beauty. This was in response to a global survey called “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report.” The results of this report where surprising. Only 2% of women around the world considered themselves to be beautiful ( As a result of this low percentage Dove decided that the narrow definition of beauty currently in place was having a profound negative effect on women around the world, not just in the United States (

The campaign for Real Beauty is a worldwide campaign that is based around the hope that they can act as a catalyst for the expansion of the definition of beauty. Dove hopes to “make more women feel beautiful everyday by widening stereotypical views of beauty” (

The campaign began when Dove began to use “real” women in their ads. These women were of various shapes, sizes, and
ethnicities, the use of these “real” women is in hope that the discussion of beauty will be re-opened and that people will start to consider a wider definition of beauty as a whole. They implemented not only these ads, but a website, billboards, events, workshops, and the Self-Esteem Fund. These various outlets for discussion on beauty is an effort to get women talking about beauty, and to get women talking to their young daughters about it as well.

Dove hopes to, “be an agent of change to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty and to make them feel more confident about themselves.” They launched their 2004 campaign when they released the short video, “Onslaught.” This video begins with a young girl looking directly into the camera, she had red hair and freckles and seems to epitomize to essence of innocence. After a few seconds, she walks away with a group of young girls and then an “onslaught” of images that are examples of some of the advertisements that they will be subjected to in their youth. The clip ends with a quote saying “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.” This is meant to demonstrate that there are a lot of advertisements that promote an unrealistic expectation for their bodies. Dove hopes to encourage confidence in each young girl. They have made it their mission to “to rebrand itself, rebuild women’s self-esteem, and redefine beauty standards” (Millard, 2009).

Throughout this study I will attempt to understand how the Dove campaign is working to combat the current perception that young girls have developed about themselves based on modern day advertising. In order to do this I will map the symbolic interaction theory onto Dove’s campaign to try and explain why parts of Dove’s campaign should be effective. Dove is the first major company to launch this type of campaign and therefore will be an interesting site to study to see how a campaign like theirs works, and whether or not it has the potential to be successful. This analysis should bring to light the idea that media influences on young girls is an issue and that Dove is using new strategies to try and alleviate this issue.

To learn more about Dove's Campaign click here.

Literature Review

I will be using the symbolic interaction theory in order to analyze this campaign. This theory discusses “the use of language to create symbols, common meanings, for thinking and communicating with others” (Hall, 2007).

Symbolic interaction theory comes from the American philosophical tradition of pragmatism. This was a theory that was developed in the late 19th century by Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey (Sandstrom, 2008). These men did not see reality as static, but as ever changing and pluralistic. Using the insights and theory of these men, George Herbert Mead developed the idea that “human consciousness, selfhood, and behavior are grounded in and emerge out of processes of symbolic interaction, or communication.” (Sandstrom, 2008). He argued that humans are different from other species because they have the ability to think and therefore reason and communicate our ideas and actions with others. While using these abilities they create a community amongst themselves, thus creating a reality. He also argued that humans are set apart from other animals because they have the ability to “create social worlds separate from the demands of nature” (Sandstrom, 2008). He proceeded to develop this theory into his most famous book Mind, Self, and Society, which was published in 1934. This new theory changed how people perceived community and society. That is why he is most often credited as being the founder of symbolic interactionism.

However, one of his students, Herbert Blumer was extremely intrigued by this idea and eventually would coin the term “symbolic interactionism” in a paper published in 1937. Then in the 1960’s Blumer did even more research into this idea and developed three premises that serve as the bases for symbolic interactionism. The first is that people act towards things based on the meanings that they apply to that thing. The second is that the meaning of such actions come from people’s interaction with others. And finally, the third is that the meanings are “managed and transformed through the processes of interpretation and self-reflection that people use to make sense of and handle the things they encounter” (Sandstrom, 2008).

Using these three premises, this study will attempt to understand how the Dove campaign works.

Method of Analyzing
Example of an ad

The current world that we live in has been socially constructed (Hall, 2007). Each human is born into a society in which they adapt the constructions of that community or society. For example, when a young girl is born into the American society, she must learn what the norms are and adapt to the constructions of those before her. She will fall subject to how the people
before her perceived the world and created meanings from it. However, the social constructions already in place do not determine her behavior, but are heavy influencers to her and she can not break the social construction without consequences. In order to evaluate and analyze how the Dove campaign works this study will map onto the campaign the symbolic interaction theory. This will help to explain why Dove would choose to launch this type of campaign and to also try and deduce how successful it might be.


In order to analyze the Dove Campaign, as it is currently structured, it is important to remember what the campaign does. Its goal is to surround young girls with images of women with different body types to support them developing a healthy sense of self and teaching them to embrace whatever kind of body she may have. It also hopes to re-open the discussion of how beauty is defined on a global scale. This is in an effort to combat women’s low self-esteem issues that they discovered in their global survey that was the main reason to launch the campaign.

According to the symbolic interaction theory, it is clear that people learn what is the norm in society by making sense of the language around us, what has already been socially constructed. We encounter different symbols that have been given meaning by the members of society that came before us, so we have to learn to understand what they mean and how they are important to us.

Common ads that can be seen in magazines around the country are the same group of “real” looking women. In this case “real” women are women who have healthy body types and who are not all the same size. The women are always smiling and proud to show off their figures. Often the words that go along with the ads are ones that convey the idea that these women are beautiful and that just because they do not look like the models seen in many ads, does not mean that they are not perfectly healthy and beautiful. The idea here is to show people that people come in different shapes and sizes and that beauty is not only skin deep, that there are all different types of beauty. In these ads Dove is trying to show girls (and women) that having a healthy figure is normal and that the models that they see in many ads are not what is real. Using symbolic interaction theory we can assume that Dove hopes to surround girls with these images in an effort to change what they have constructed as the social reality of this country. This should be an effective way of reaching girls because if they continually see women who the girls can more readily relate to in ads, they will be more likely to believe that they are beautiful.

A common thread that you see through all of their magazine ads is that all of their models look happy. They all look as though they are proud to have the body that they have. Also, the language that the ads use, such as “Fat or Fit?” demonstrate the idea that there are more than one way to look at people. Just because main-stream media may see the model being used as fat, does not mean that it is true. It just means that according to them she is fat. In reality, the woman is a health fit model that loves the body she is in.

Another common type of ad that Dove is using in their campaign are ads targeted for adults and parents of children in their lives. They show images of young girls who have negative perceptions of themselves and then go on to explain the importance of educating them on what it means to be beautiful, and that there is not one standard for beauty. For example, in the True Colors ad that they launched there is a montage of young, innocent girls, and after they show the girl, one sentence drifts across the screen that describes what she wishes were different about her body. It then switches to a montage of photos of happy girls with inspirational quotes that inspire the audience to talk with young girls and tell them that they are wrong about their body.
It goes on to send the message that communication with young girls is the key to changing their perception of themselves and of what beauty is. In the symbolic interaction theory is it evident that it is not only what they see that forms their perception of reality, but what they learn from others around them as well. In this case the ad is appealing to the adults to be that person who tells them that they do not need to change what they look like to fit into a cookie cutter perception of beauty. If they can successfully complete that mission, it should be an effective way of reaching these girls and changing how they think.

A third element of their campaign is what they call the self-esteem fund. This fund is part of Dove’s plan to help girls discover that their bodies are fine the way they are and to help them build up healthy self-esteem. The fund helps to provide money to support the different self-esteem building initiatives they promote. For example, Dove has partnered with the Butterfly foundation which is a foundation that supports Australians who suffer from eating disorders and their carers. It provides information to people who have eating disorders as well as help them get past their disorder. Dove believes that campaigns like this are what can make the difference. Educating girls about the importance of having good self-esteem and teaching them that not everyone looks the same is how they can change how women, and girls, see themselves.

To take a step back and look at the campaign as a whole once again, it becomes evident that there are several main ideas that Dove is using in this campaign. It is clear that they first of all want to surround girls with healthy images of real women who love their bodies. This is a way for girls to see that all women look different, and that they should not look at themselves using a mirror such as fashion magazines. If using the symbolic interaction theory it is also clear that by surrounding girls with these images, Dove is beginning to alter the socially constructed reality that has been built over time.

The second goal of the Dove campaign, it seems, is to educate girls on the importance of having a happy, healthy body. They promote this through supporting foundations that educate girls, as well as providing resources online for self-esteem building activities. This part of the campaign uses similar strategies in that it exposes young girls to women who are happy with their bodies and know the importance of accepting how they look. This is another way that the Dove campaign attempts the reconstruct the social reality that has been built. By using language that supports a healthy perception of the body, they are surrounding the girls with positivity.


With both of those ideas in mind, it would seem that the way Dove is approaching this issue should over time, be an effective way to influence girls perceptions of what a healthy body is. If they are putting out ads that support that goal, they are starting to surround young girls with these images. As girls grow up in a community where they can see these images and start to associate them with themselves, they will begin to understand that women are all shaped differently, and that she should not try to fit into one category (such as the thinness displayed in many beauty ads).

Considering this, the question becomes can Dove be successful if they are the only ones doing this. Are there still too many of the former type of ads out there to outweigh the effects of their campaign? In order to begin to answer this question, we have to look at studies that have been done on how women feel about the ads.

Based on a study done by Jennifer Millard the overall census at the end of the study was that women liked the use of “real” women in advertising, however 40% did not like seeing images of “plus-sized” women in their underwear (Millard, 2009).
This is an interesting point to stop for a moment and analyze. Why is it that women are uncomfortable looking at heavier set models in their underwear, but ok with seeing excessively thin models in them. We could argue that because they grew up in a world that was socially constructed to believe that thinness is beautiful and that full-figured women need to lose weight, they have this opinion. At the end of the study it was clear that women like seeing women in ads who have realistic bodies, that don’t add to the unattainable standard that most ads hold them to. The ads made them feel better about their own physical appearance, and although realize that Dove is still trying to sell a product, felt that it was a good way to go about doing it.

Based on this knowledge, it would appear that these types of ads will be successful in the long run, that women are responding in a positive way to these ads. However, using the symbolic interaction theory, we must conclude that in order to truly change the way women see themselves, Dove cannot be the only company implementing these strategies. It has to become a socially constructed reality, which means that it needs to be everywhere in a society, no just one ad in a sea of hundreds of others with a conflicting message. If symbolic interactionism is based on symbols created by language over time, we must assume that in order to create a new symbol it must become the norm of society. However, Dove is on the right track to reaching that goal.


Performing Beauty: Dove's "Real Beauty" Campaign Author(s): Jennifer Millard Source: Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring 2009), pp. 146-168.

Sandstrom, Kent. "Symbolic Interaction." The International Encyclopedia of Communication. Donsbach, Wolfgang (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Blackwell Reference Online. 30 April 2011 <>

Hall, Peter M. "Symbolic Interaction." Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online. 12 April 2011

Media Has Major Impact on Girls' Body Image. (1999). Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 15(5), 4. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Lind-Diamond, Jessica. Media Madness. (1999). New Moon-The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, 6(3): 40-41.