Dove Is "Deeply Sorry" For Its Insensitive Ad — But There's Still Work To Do

Update: The Black model from Dove’s controversial body wash ad is telling her side of the story now. Lola Ogunyemi, a Nigerian dancer based in London, says she initially jumped at the chance to be part of a campaign for a global beauty brand. But, in an essay published by The Guardian, she wrote, "If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior, or as the ‘before’... I would have been the first to say an emphatic 'no.' The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion."
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Still, Ogunyemi stands by her part in the 13-second video — which is only part of a larger 30-second commercial — even after the screengrabs hit the internet, and thinks that the conversation sparked by the ad sparked is a necessary one for the beauty industry to be having.
"There is definitely something to be said here about how advertisers need to look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have, specifically when it comes to marginalized groups of women," she wrote. "It is important to examine whether your content shows that your consumer’s voice is not only heard, but also valued."
It's a lesson major brands like Nivea, Pepsi, and Gap have recently learned the hard way, too... and one we hope won't need repeating. After all, Fenty Beauty and Covergirl have proved that representing all skin tones can only spell success for a company's bottom line.
Despite the criticism, Ogunyemi stands by the decision that she made — and will continue to do so. "I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign," she concluded. "I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased."
This story was originally published on October 9, 2017.
Three seconds. That's the length of the ad that Dove posted on Friday, October 6, depicting three models removing their flesh-toned T-shirts in succession. But the backlash that has come from that clip — which Dove pulled over the weekend — has lasted much, much longer. And it's a discussion the beauty industry desperately needs to be having.
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According to the parent company Unilever, the body wash ad was intended to "celebrate diversity," but landed them in hot water as people quickly pointed out how racially insensitive it actually was. Makeup artist Naomi Blake posted a screen grab of the gif on Facebook, which now has over 10,000 shares — showing the problematic implications of the ad: a Black woman "turning" white, presumably after using the advertised soap to "clean" herself.
It's especially troubling considering that soap and beauty advertisements dating centuries back have included similar themes, which are rooted in racism and colorism.
Dove quickly pulled the ad, and released an apology. "An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused." But actress Gabrielle Union and writer and producer Ava Duvernay were among many who felt that wasn't enough. "I really would like to know who exactly had a seat at the table making this decision," Union tweeted. Duvernay wrote, "You can do better than 'missed the mark.' Flip + diminishing. Deepens your offense. You do good work. Have been for years. Do better here."
Unilever, Dove's parent company, released an additional statement to Refinery29, saying, "As part of a campaign for Dove body wash, a 3-second video clip was posted to our US Facebook page. It featured three women of different ethnicities, each removing a t-shirt in matching skin tones to reveal the next woman. The visual was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and as a result offended many people. We are deeply sorry. We have removed the post and have not published any related content. We do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience. We are reevaluating our internal processes for creating and reviewing content."
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Unilever is taking steps to be more inclusive, including its #Unstereotype Alliance and Real Beauty Productions digital studio headed up by Shonda Rhimes, which invites women to share their desires regarding the media's perception of beauty. But these steps don't excuse the stumbles... and this one isn't their first or the first of any beauty brand this year for that matter (who can forget Nivea's White is Purity deodorant campaign from a few months back).
As Union pointed out, it takes having people of color involved in the vetting processes to keep these ideas from making it past the whiteboard. And it takes educating ourselves to make sure these ideas don't even make it to the whiteboard. We asked Unilever for the steps it will be taking to re-revaluate its internal approval processes, and will update this post when we hear back. In the meantime, here's hoping that those Fenty Skin Care rumors are true. Rihanna, who's already changed the industry one month deep into the beauty game, can give a pretty damn good primer on inclusivity for those who desperately need it.
A previous version of this post identified the makeup artist by her Facebook username. It has been updated to include her real name.
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