author – activist – faculty – mom
So I’m watching TV today as I’m cooking dinner, and several of the commercials are for Dove products. Other writers have effectively pointed out how Dove has these faux feminist ads, which are problematic for a few reasons: 1.the ads ultimately suggest that the problem with sexist beauty standards can be solved by buying beauty products. 2. They reinforce appearance and grooming as central preoccupations for women. 3. They don’t reflect a real corporate commitment to eliminating sexism in our culture, because Dove is owned by Unilever, the same corporation that owns Axe body spray, which has notoriously sexist advertising. Their advertising gives give faux feminist messages to women and misogynist messages to men.
But today I still managed to be outraged by their curly hair commercial. It opens with a lightskinned African heritage mom attempting to pull the hair of her lightskinned African heritage daughter into a puff on top of her head. The voice over says: when you try to tame my curls, it’s like you’re trying to tame ME. The girl “escapes,” from the mom, her perfectly coiffed ringlets bouncing down around her head as she runs away. Dove then goes on to offer their curly hair product to curly haired females as an act of liberation. The ad shows a mix of white women and lightskinned and/or multiracial women of African heritage. There are decidedly NO women with what might be called “kinky” hair. To be specific, all the curl patterns in the hair of the women in the ad are about the size of a quarter or larger. No nickels, no dimes, and certainly nothing like the size of macaroni. In other words, it’s fine for your curls to be liberated, as long as they’re not too African looking.
During the same show, Dove had another ad for an antiperspirant. In that ad, Dove had no problem showing another lightskinned African heritage woman with a tightly kinky afro, but women with her hair texture, like women with dark skin, were conspicuously absent from the hair commercial. Dove’s message is clear, they are coopting Afrocentric notions of self-acceptance, offering a “love your curls” message to women whose curls obey gravity, and aren’t too far outside white beauty standards. To be clear, I am in no way saying that these lightskinned African heritage women aren’t black enough or don’t deserve to have their beauty affirmed. Instead, I am saying that—as usual—corporate America offers a divide-and-conquer vision of beauty, which appropriates the language of liberation in an attempt to sell us their products.
In an attempt to study the commercial more closely, I went onto YouTube to try to watch it again. Unfortunately, on Dove’s YouTube channel, there was this awful video that showed very young curly haired girls (ages 5-10) in interviews expressing their disgust for their hair. They were a mix of white girls and girls of color who were all decidedly on the light end of the spectrum. But the ad completely erased the context of racism. In particular, the struggles for self-acceptance among girls of color and white girls were presented as interchangeable.
And Dove’s remedy? The girls’ mothers should buy Dove products to celebrate their own curls. This–not an end to racism–would solve the girls’ problems with self-hate. Then they all have a dance party with a band of curly-haired musicians where they all celebrate their hair. There were a few browner moms and girls in the big crowd scenes, but the overall image was of lightskinned and white women.
In the climactic dance party scene, the blonde girl flipping her barely curly hair and expressing her love for it was particularly absurd. Dove uses the “statistic” that girls are seven times more likely to love their curly hair if women around them do. This is beyond laughable when you consider the following: consider the above photo. In it, one of the darker African American moms in this commercial is seen dancing with her daughter. She wears an obvious weave or press and curl. Really? Are you kidding me? Dove says celebrate your curls, but can’t even show the most African-looking actresses with their natural hair?
The hypocrisy in #LoveYourCurls hashtag is unbelievable. It’s not about loving my curls. I don’t have curls. My hair is nappy. My daughter’s hair is nappy. It doesn’t hang down and bounce. We wear afros. Dove’s campaign co-opts the history of Black is Beautiful ideology and limits who among us gets to be beautiful in our natural state.
Dove’s message promises liberation, but delivers racism. Epic fail.