Why do all white people think we want to be like them? Dove’s at it again. The company is arguably becoming better known for their faux-feminism fuck ups than their beauty products. This time, they have produced an advert which shows a black woman literally turning into a white woman to promote one of their showering products.
Imagine sitting in on that meeting, coming up with the concept. “I know,” says the inevitably white director, “why don’t we have a really VISUAL representation of what we want the product to achieve. We get this BEAUTIFUL CURVACEOUS black woman to undress and reveal ANOTHER woman, a skinny white woman, and to make sure no-one calls us racist, SHE can undress to reveal a light-skinned ASIAN WOMAN!”
I jest, but conversations like that can basically only happen when people of colour aren’t involved in them. I don’t think our only role in the creative industries is to school white people, but it does naturally mean that ridiculous and insensitive ideas such as this can be challenged. Following the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville (the most recent of which happened just yesterday), racial tensions in the US are particularly fraught. Brands should be on high alert when it comes to presenting women of colour in the context of our literal skin tones.
Their apologies (Dove wrote on Twitter: “An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused”) ring hollow when you realise it was just in 2011 that their advert that positioned a black woman as the “before” to a white woman’s “after” (as pictured below) was revealed.
“Companies all over the world seem to love pushing the idea that all dark-skinned people want to turn into white people”
As Naythemua, the makeup artist who first brought the advert to light, commented on Facebook under a question asking if she would have felt the same about the advert if it had gone from a white woman to a black woman: “What does America tell black people? That we are judged by the colour of our skin, and that includes what is considered beautiful in this country. They believe lighter representations should be at the forefront and that the darker you are, the less beautiful. To know that colorism is a problem in the world – that includes bleaching the skin – they would put this ad out without a thought. The tone deafness of these companies makes no sense.”
This is beyond Dove. Companies all over the world seem to love pushing the idea that all dark-skinned people want to turn into white people; or as close to them as we can achieve. Remember the Qiaobi advert from last year? A black man has his head shoved into the washing machine by a dutiful Chinese housewife. When he emerges, head-first, he has changed into a pale-skinned man.
Another Asian advert, from Thailand, saw a woman in blackface before being “purified” by a skin lightening cream – the strapline being “white makes you win”. Further back, Sony’s “White is coming” adverts showed a pale woman with white hair grabbing a black woman aggressively by the face – her stronger, more beautiful replacement.
“Black women especially are fighting against Eurocentric beauty standards with all their collective might”
We already know that white beauty standards are prevalent and real. There’s a reason why all those irritating “most beautiful people in the world” articles always show white faces. But black women especially are fighting against Eurocentric beauty standards with all their collective might, and, as we actually hold the purse strings of the beauty industry – we spend an estimated $7.5 billion annually on beauty products in the US alone – companies should be fighting to keep our coin.
With moves like this, much like with Munroe Bergdorf’s dropping from L’Oréal, all Dove is likely to achieve is another corporation boycott. Instead of dousing ourselves in sickly sweet Dove shower gel, we’ll return to our unrefined black soap and actually start actively seeking out black-owned beauty companies. This is a warning for all beauty companies: stop trying to turn us white, we don’t like it.