Dove's latest deodorant ad campaign starring the unloved and mostly loathed armpit has many up in arms (Groan. How could I resist?) The ad features Dove's signature "real women" models reading a sympathetic letter to the beleaguered armpit, ticking off a litany of infractions perpetrated by this poor, misunderstood collection of sweat glands. "You can be a softer, smoother, more beautiful little armpit. You deserve our best care ever, and don't you ever forget that," coos one woman, brandishing Dove's New Advanced Care deodorant to save the day. In conjunction, Dove announced plans to erect a billboard in New Jersey in July featuring a smiling blonde model, arm raised, with the tag "Dear New Jersey, when people call you the Armpit of America, take it as a compliment. Sincerely, Dove." Dove has already scrapped the billboard idea due to a swift and angry backlash.
Oh boy. It's like Peggy Olson decided to trip out with the rest of the overgrown "Mad Men" man-children and this was the result.
I support most of Dove's body positive campaigns, not because they are perfect -- at the end of the day, they are still shilling creams, lotions and beauty products -- but because they encourage dialogue about our beauty industry its outrageous and mercurial standards.
I work with an organization called I AM THAT GIRL. More than an organization, we're a movement empowering girls and young women to actualize authentic self-worth and self-esteem. We help girls change the conversations they're having with themselves and with others about a number of issues, not the least of which is body image and body shaming. Much of what Dove attempts to do resonates with our community. If I had an organization like I AM THAT GIRL and a company like Dove encouraging more body acceptance, my teen years would have turned out quite differently. I would not have begged my mother for bendy hot rollers that made my hair look like we lived too close to the power plant. I would have embraced my quirky much sooner and not tried so hard to cram my curvy, adolescent body into trendy clothes or wreck my skin with makeup. I definitely would not have wasted an entire summer storing bits of useless knowledge about the band AC/DC simply to get a boy to notice me: "Chris, did you know, like that Angus Young, like runs, something like, like three or four miles on stage a night? Did you know that? Also, I love your new Swatch watch."
The groans, the eye-rolling, the billboard backlash are about more than an ad sporting a higher than usual cheese factor. It's about feeling slightly betrayed. It's about feeling Dove traded on its reputation as a company that encourages body love by giving women one more way to police and fix a "problem area." More disappointing is the message made cutesy and slipped to the public using the visual and rhetorical devices of Dove's well-known body positivity rubric.
My armpit does its job just fine and my appreciation for what it does is not contingent upon how it looks, how it looks to others or even how lovely it smells. My armpit is, happily, the last place on my body that gets my attention. It is not having a moment. I don't feel sorry for it, I don't want to make it feel loved or cherished or worshipped. There will never be an Armpit Monologues, "My armpit is a canyon of secrets." Nope. Shut it down, Dove. Shut it down.