Written by Ashley Davies

In The News

“#Speakbeautiful” just sounds like “shut up and smile”

Dove’s Self-Esteem Project may be well-meaning, but it’s ruined by one infuriating element, says Ashley Davies.

smiling lips
Dove has for many years won plaudits for attempting to represent beauty as something other than physical, model-like perfection – something that doesn’t require Barbie bodies, expensively painted faces, blown-up lips and high-maintenance eyebrows. It was one of the first mainstream personal care brands to encourage consumers to appreciate individuality, bare, freckled faces, rounded or bony bodies and healthy self-confidence.

Obviously, that’s all marketing; Dove is part of Unilever, which owns hundreds of other brands from Lynx (no stranger to objectification of women) to Magnum (“Hey, let’s sell this ice-cream by encouraging people to think about blow jobs and make teenage girls feel embarrassed to eat lollies in public”) as well as Hellmann’s, Surf, Knorr, Flora and everything in between.

Unilever’s top brass are experts in market segmentation, creating stories and messages that speak to painstakingly researched groups. If we, as the target market, are well-disposed to a particular message, we will inevitably form warm feelings towards the brands involved. It works. It’s an art and a science, and an inescapable part of life.

“If a 13-year-old girl posts something nasty about somebody else, how do you think she will respond if told to post two positive tweets with a manufactured hashtag?”

This is all a long-winded way of me saying that of course I don’t begrudge Dove’s efforts to present itself as a brand that supports women and doesn’t put pressure on them to look a certain way – even if it’s all just an exercise in shifting units. It’s definitely better than making women feel inadequate. But it has screwed up badly in its latest attempt to encourage girls and young women to think about the impact of online bullying.

As part of its Self-Esteem Project, it’s been encouraging people on social media to “speak beautiful” – which at best sounds like something you might read in a 1950s book teaching newly married women how to prevent their husbands from straying, and at worst a piece of advice shared between women who want to marry Donald Trump.

A series of tweets from Dove reads as follows: “If you know a girl who has been negative online – about herself or others – try this fun activity to spread positivity. #speakbeautiful.”

“For every negative tweet she’s posted encourage her to post 2 positive tweets with #speakbeautiful.”

dove screenshot
It’s all in the wording. They could have used countless other phrases to encourage women and girls not to be bastards to each other online, but instead it looks as if they’re trying to discourage women from challenging bullshit views, opting instead to populate social media with insipid inspirational crap about positivity that’s devoid of any wit or bravery. Where would women be today if our forebears only “spoke beautiful”?

I’m not for a moment suggesting that online bullying isn’t a problem; we should of course do everything we can to help the perpetrators and victims, and to make people think about the impact of their words. But realistically, if a 13-year-old girl posts something nasty about somebody else, how do you think she will respond if told to post two positive tweets with a manufactured hashtag? There are other ways to tackle this issue.

Dove needs to have another think about the #speakbeautiful hashtag. I’d rather put my money behind a brand that encourages girls to value and be valued for making an effort, for being smart, for being kind, for being funny and for laughing loudly and sarcastically in the face of marketers who have spent millions of pounds trying to get them to do their work for them by spreading dull inspirational quotes.


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Written by Ashley Davies

Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.