As I was walking this morning, eyes to the sky watching the wonderful and expansive clouds drifting by, I was struck by how incredibly beautiful each of the wide variety of cloud formations was. The big, voluptuous cumulus clouds were as beautiful as the thin, wispy cirrus clouds. It occurred to me that there was no definition of what beauty is, when it comes to clouds.
Watching the Dove video that offered women a choice of two doors to walk through—”Average” or “Beautiful”—was a fascinating observation, as no matter how beautiful the women or girls were, they were more inclined to walk through the average door than the beautiful door. With over six million views, the researcher in me thought it would be interesting to post it on Facebook, asking the question, “Be honest. Which door would you walk through?” Everyone in my posse of fabulous women, replied, “Beautiful, of course!” And that’s the way it should be. It leaves me with the question: So why isn’t it?
Dove Is a Pioneer in the Beauty Arena
Dove has been a pioneer in the “beauty” arena, working to shift perceptions of how women see themselves. Their Campaign for Real Beauty, and their Real Beauty Sketches: You’re More Beautiful Than You Think” campaigns, started new conversations in the world; conversations about what beauty is and how we perceive beauty in relationship to others and ourselves.
Perhaps to some, comparing clouds to women doesn’t make sense. It does to me. It points out how selective we are in not only what we see, but how we see it. When we truly “see” someone, they are beautiful for everything they are and for everything they are not.
It got me thinking that when beauty is viewed as a ‘soul’ quality, not just merely a ‘physical’ quality, the way you look at and see another person changes. The person’s smile, or their eyes, or the sound of their voice or the way they toss their hair, becomes more present. That way it is less about an ideal and more about who that person is at their core.
Beauty is Subjective
We’ve all heard the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is very true. Beauty is subjective. What I see as beautiful, you might not. And vice versa. Beauty to me comes from the inside out, so it truly comes from the soul of the person. To quote American sociologist and therapist Martha Beck: “the feeling of being beautiful exists solely in the mind of the beheld.” A new definition of beauty to aspire to, with beauty coming from the inside out. The sad part is we have been well-conditioned (up to now) by advertisers to look at ourselves (and this applies to both women and men), as not enough. We are led to believe that we lack something and that a product will fill the void of what’s missing. Of course, we all know this just isn’t true or even possible.
Curious to find out more, I returned to talk with Bruno Gralpois, author of Magnifique Inside and Out, (whom I first talked with for my piece “Real Beauty Comes From the Inside Out“), wanting to hear more about what he had uncovered when exploring and researching the topic of beauty.
Cosmetic Procedure Statistics are Staggering
After all, the statistics are staggering, confirming that in 2014, over 12 billion dollars was spent on cosmetic procedures, all in the name of looking young and beautiful. And this isn’t reserved only for women, as there is a 43 per cent increase over five years in men’s procedures as well. These figures also confirm what Gralpois discovered: that over 90 per cent of both women and men are hyper critical, wanting to change something about themselves, which often stems from societal peer pressure.
Are We Beautiful and We Just Don’t Know It?
The title of the first chapter in his book “Are We Beautiful and We Just Don’t Know It?” brought me back to the Dove video, curious why women have such a difficult time seeing their own beauty. Then I re-watched some of the Real Beauty Sketches, which confirmed for me, that how we see ourselves is generally much less realistic or accurate than others do. We simply are blind to our own beauty.
Back to the most recent Dove study. Their Choose Beautiful campaign surveyed 6,400 women ages 18 to 64 from five cities around the world (San Francisco, Shanghai, Delhi, London, and São Paolo) on how they feel about beauty. Results are quite revealing and a bit sad, confirming we still have a long way to go to shift both how we see ourselves and how we talk to ourselves about what we do see.
While 80 per cent of the women surveyed said that all women have something beautiful about them, an overwhelming 96 per cent said they wouldn’t use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves. And, 78 per cent of women said they don’t feel completely confident in their own beauty. This is very evident in the accompanying video where most women chose to walk through the “average”, not the “beautiful” door.
Women Agree—Beauty Isn’t Only about the Physical
Perhaps more interesting data from the survey was that 32 per cent of women say their biggest beauty pressure is the one they put on themselves, and seven out of ten women agree that beauty is more than physical appearance. Which is my point exactly. Beauty isn’t only about the physical. And this is something Bruno confirmed; women have unrealistic expectations of themselves, as they are often perfectionists.
Strong online criticism for the Dove campaign has surfaced. Why only “average” or “beautiful”, as there are lots of options in between? True. The video’s two-doors were a result of the 2004 Dove study, “The Truth About Beauty,” (updated in 2011), that found that only 4 per cent of women around the world consider themselves “beautiful,” with most saying they’re “average.” When I thought about it, it was easy to say I’d walk through the “beautiful” door, just like all the women on Facebook answered when I asked. Faced with the choice in real life, I wonder what I would have done.
Empowering Women Through “Mindful Me”
To help inspire and empower women to see themselves as beautiful, Dove has also teamed up with psychologist Nancy Etcoff and self-esteem expert Tara Cousineau to create a “Mindful Me” tool kit as part of its newest campaign. You can visit Dove’s Tumblr page to find out more. I added myself to the “beautiful” side after landing on the page and see this initiative as a positive step in a forward direction. For women of all ages.
If we can instill self-confidence and self-love in girls at a young age, perhaps we can turn this distorted view we have of what beauty is around, so that “beautiful,” will be the norm for everyone, rather than the exception reserved for the few.
We’ll begin to truly “see” others for who they are. Not only as physical beings, but in a more holistic way where beauty emanates from the inside-out, and is not merely an unattainable and elusive (and often shallow) goal relating to how one looks only on the outside. Curious to hear if you would walk through the “beautiful” door and what beauty is to you?