This year is truly the year of progress in advertising, from Nivea’s “white is purity” deodorant advert, Kendall Jenner’s inspiring Pepsi advert where she becomes the unifying force for the Black Lives Matter movement, and now Dove following suit with this advert of a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman after using their body lotion. This leaves many wondering what Dove is trying to hint at…
One racist ad makes you suspect.
Two racist ads makes you kinda guilty.”—Keith Boykin
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. This is not the first time Dove has created a racist advert. In a 2011 advert, three progressively paler-skinned women stand side by side, forming some sort of colour spectrum, under two panels labelled “before” and “after”. The caption below the photo emphasized on “Visibly more beautiful skin”. Did Dove just equate lighter skin with more “beautiful” skin? Worry not, Dove responded that all three women represented the “after” image. There was definitely, absolutely, 110% no subconscious prejudice nor malice involved! Sadly, Dove isn’t industry pioneer in racist adverts…
Next jump to the Grandfather of all racist adverts, the original Pears’ soap advert based on the fable of: Washing The Blackmoor White, published in a Graphic for Christmas of 1884. The story goes like this, a young white boy fulfills his role as “white savior”, as it his duty as a colonialist to expunge the perceived “filth” of people of colour from the face of Earth by simply scrubbing the melanin away. Good ol’ blatant racism! Pears’ soap did a “before” and “after” contrast of the effect of the soap, exactly the same as what Dove did in 2011 and 2017. In the comparison drawings one can just see the bewilderment that scatters across the face of the black child as his dark skin is nowhere to be seen. Skin colour is something you are born with, it represents one’s identity and roots, and when it is “removed” like so, a part of one’s identity will vanish simultaneously. This advert embodies the concepts of cultural imperialism where there is an unequal relationship between civilizations, favoring the more powerful colonial civilizations and letting their standards of beauty rule supreme.
It is truly impressive that Dove buys into the same appalling and racist history of seeing white skin as clean and black unhygienic. That a similar brand from not only decades but centuries prior did.
Black is beautiful?
Dove has given an official statement on what they call an “honest mistake”:
Dove has been the industry pioneer in creating campaigns like “Real Beauty”. It proclaims itself “an agent of change to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty and to make them feel more confident about themselves”. However, this “simple” case of “missing the mark” has unraveled the effort of Dove and their campaigns for inclusivity. Including the black model to show the “inclusivity” of their body lotion on different skin tones has only backfired into a widely perceived racist advert and a tokenistic effort of “diversity” fueled by some poorly adjusted white guilt of their tone-deaf marketing team.
This advert is a prime example of Colourism— the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of colour over their dark-skinned counterparts (Hunter 2005). This advert is only reinforcing and exacerbating the sustained message of “White is the real beauty”. Where white is almost a status symbol that represents cleanliness and Godliness. It has reached a point where your skin tone will determine your windows of opportunities. A 2011 study by Villanova University has shown that Women with light skin received 12% less time behind bars than their darker skinned peers. All of which stems from the aforementioned cultural imperialism, that has been deeply ingrained in countless cultures around the world. Another study has shown that employers preferred lighter skinned Blacks and Hispanics over their darker skinned counterparts, despite having the same exact qualifications. A world that still operates on archaic concepts and standards like colourism, doesn’t sound like the 2017 we all wished to live in.
Companies like Dove are the driving forces and beneficiaries of the trebling skin whitening cosmetics industries. With a projected market value of $30 billion in 2024, as more and more women slapping on products produced by Nivea and Dove containing hydroquinone (a substance is highly toxic and is present in rubber tires and hair dyes) in an effort to fall into the highly homogenized beauty standards promoted by Dove.
The Civil Rights movement sought to counter these ideals with messages like “Black is beautiful” but that message hasn’t undone the damage wrought by centuries of deep seated Colourism. With products like this self tanner produced by dove suggesting “dark skin” does not count as “normal skin”. How would one expect the coming generations of people of colour to learn to embrace the skin that they are born with?
Self-hate is a big business. If industry giants like Dove make dark-skinned people believe that they are unattractive and NEED to lighten their skin to conform to beauty standards promoted through advertisements that bombard them on a daily basis, these twisted and archaic beauty ideals will continue for centuries to come, where darker skinned individuals will continue to change themselves in order to justify themselves.