Dear Dove. What Has My Daughter Done Wrong?

Dove has come out with another visually compelling campaign directed to women about their obsession with appearance. This one, while breathtaking, made me feel defenseless as the mother of a daughter. Parents KNOW there’s a problem. Where are the solutions in this ad?

Where is the support?

I’ve spent the past 17 years trying to manage the sheer onslaught of merchandise nonsense choices my daughter has had since her birth. In the new Dove ad, we’re subjected to a constant stream of images of women physically torturing their bodies to achieve “beauty”. They starve it. They cut it. They dye it. They shave it. They cover it up with makeup and show it off with clothing that some men claim says women “deserve” to be raped.

Why do clothing designers continually create merchandise that supports this view that women and girls are nothing more than sex objects, slaves and prisoners? Why have you given us shirts that only go to the middle of the chest on five year olds? Why are dresses and skirts so short that girls can’t run and play and tumble like the boys can?

To lure young girls into wearing thongs and into their stores, which were traditionally for adult women, Victoria’s Secret launched their “Pink” line of sweat pants and barely-there tops. Who in the heck did they were kidding with this trap?

The Dove ad ends with this statement:

“Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”

While we’re at it, let’s dump Barbie, the perfect blond chick with tiny waist and breasts that for all eternity will never sag or stretch. My daughter was faced with Britney Spears lunch boxes and school bags and songs about sex targeted to 11 year olds. This wasn’t the “beauty industry”. This was the entertainment business.

This was MTV and years and years of barely clothed women and topless men singing about “big butts” and describing how to conduct every possible sexual act by creating a new language that needed de-coding to understand what they were referring to.

My daughter, from toddler age on, has been subjected to the theory that she is for viewing pleasure only. Nothing else about her could possibly matter.

And nothing I, her father, or her step-parents, grandparents, neighbors, girl scout leaders, teachers and church members said ever made a dent against the constant weight of marketing influence in stores, TV, music, movies, magazines, and peer pressure at school.

We had attended one church specifically that held separate classes for the girls from the boys, so that the teachers could work with the girls’ self esteem. This church took the problem facing girls seriously. And even at that, my daughter found little help. I think in some ways she felt worse, despite being given tools intended to empower her.

It confused her that she HAD to do that. She was a kid! Why was the world mad at her? What had she done wrong?

I watched my Honor Roll daughter fall into the fathom of hell in her 9th grade year because she felt “ugly”. She insisted on shaving her entire body, including her eyebrows and arms. She could find no logical reason for body hair because she didn’t see it on models anywhere. It took everything I had to keep her alive during this time because she felt so bad in her own skin.

What was I supposed to say and do? What hadn’t I tried? We can throw out the TV, monitor the computer and I went ballistic over most Rap music. But, as a working mom, I am not with her every minute of the day. When I was a single working mom, I needed daycare. When she was with her Dad, he had different rules.

There are so many things we can’t do and because we can’t, we feel we’re failures. The tortured souls of our daughters are our fault.

I HAVE been talking to her!

I’ve been told she’s so beautiful that I shouldn’t put pictures of her on the Internet because it’s not safe.

It’s not safe to be beautiful.

And yet this is what marketers have convinced women to be at all costs.

Don’t tell me to talk to my daughter, Dove, unless you first stop making any products intended on making my daughter anything other than the incredibly vibrant human being I pushed into this world.

Please direct your campaign to your industry.

They created this mess in the first place.

(View Dove Ad here.)

11 thoughts on “Dear Dove. What Has My Daughter Done Wrong?”

  1. With girls-only as kids I can relate to what you’re talking about.

    Of course Dove’s ad, although well made and receiving a heartfelt sympathic response of recognition and validation of opinion, is basically Oliviero Toscani material.

    The good: using consumers and their patterns to raise and question social issues.

    The bad: they wouldn’t be issues if they weren’t social (that is: wide-spread) ones.

    Then again (warning: generalisation coming up), I think women are their own worst enemey.

    Here’s why: women are the most hard-core believers in what The Media tells them. As a man you can point out that men marry women who don’t look anything like what The Media tells them. Someone will come right back at you with a “yes but XYS is thin” or “oh, so that is why all the model in ABC are big breasted!”.

    I’ve seen and heard more pressure from female-to-female than from man-to-female or media-to-female.

    The base problem remains the same as the one I try to address with Good News Blog: perception.

    Maybe we should all be taught at school about the differences between books/movies/stories/etc. and real day-to-day life?

  2. Thank God I have three beautiful boys! I always thought that raising girls would be more difficult than raising boys. I’ve rationalized that this was true, knowing that there would be no girls in my family, but your post really underscores a HUGE difference between raising girls and boys and the perception seems hard to overcome.

  3. Ruud wrote:

    “Maybe we should all be taught at school about the differences between books/movies/stories/etc. and real day-to-day life?”

    And parents, of course, can teach it too. I’m the parent who keeps reminding my boys that the video games where they’re killing people and blowing up buildings aren’t real and they insist they totally get that, and I’m the crazy person for thinking otherwise.

    The Dove ad is another piece of compelling genius. But, it put the responsibility on me, the parent, and showed what would happen if *I* didn’t do something. As if all those women going under the knife were there because their *parents* failed them.

    That infuriated me and still does.

  4. I’m with you Kim!
    My daughter is 10 going on 16 and is so obsessed with her clothes and hair it drives me nuts. When I was her age my mom had to fight to get me to COMB my hair, let along want highlights, cut, salon “product” etc. She wants to be a mini-Hillary Duff – it kills me.

    Great writeup and I hadnt seen the ad yet but I’ll look for it during my fave show tonight :)

    ~Carrie

  5. Living in Europe I suppose I have a different perspective.. things aren’t that bad here (or maybe my daughter is just too young). When I look at the Dove video it just looks “constructed” – made like cheap link-bait, taking different elements and combining them into an anti-ad for their company (huh? I don’t get that part).

    Even in Europe we have the “I want to be like / have the same as XYZ” that kids always have. Isn’t that where all of this starts? Teaching kids that everyone is different and that everyone is special in their own way (without having to be/have the same as “everyone else”) is important from day one. Damn jealousy :). Kids learn so much by watching other people, they just need to learn how much they have to actually repeat and where they can improvise. Growing up is complicated :-).

  6. Kim,
    I suspect this is a major reason for people joining renunciate groups like the Amish. They don’t want their children exposed to this type of debasement of character. The repression and abuse of the female sex is, unfortunately, one of the driving forces in the history of mankind. Marketers who target youth in the ways you are mentioning have lost even the ethical basics of realizing their targets are children, despite the lip service given to societal taboos about harming children. There are few things worse to be in the US than a female child.

    Perhaps if you had it to do all over again, you would have homeschooled your girl, thrown out your TV, and restricted Internet use to educational matters. I think most parents have to experience the outcomes of their daughters being targeted in this way before realizing just how serious this is. I am so sad to read of her extreme hurt and extreme reaction to the imagery she’s been exposed to. But, what can you do now? I have found that the strongest amulet against accepting the dictates of society regarding our sex is to learn to care much more about something outside the physical self more than one cares about the physical self.

    For example, a girl who finds her driving passion is for social justice, animal protection, environmental concerns, religious concerns, 13th century languages, astronomy, etc., now gains a focus to combat the hyper focus she has been trained to believe she must have on her external appearance. Most of what is put in front of teenagers encourages shallowness, in order to sell them things, rather than engaging the brilliant potentials of their minds. When a female feels good about herself because her pursuits make her happy, she is no longer a likely candidate to spend thousands of dollars on shallow merchandise. She may be saving for a telescope. She sees past the trick.

    If this is your daughter, Kim, my guess is that she is both smart and creative! Perhaps the very best thing you can do for her is to help her find her work in the world…the very best use of her mind. The thing that makes her heart sing.
    Miriam

  7. Miriam wrote: “I have found that the strongest amulet against accepting the dictates of society regarding our sex is to learn to care much more about something outside the physical self more than one cares about the physical self.”

    I did use this with her. It was my strongest hope and tool. But, she was so deeply entrenched I couldn’t reach her. We did seriously consider homeschooling but by the time she was school age, I was a single mom with no child support, so I had to work to care for her and her brother.

    Oddly enough, all the talking and direction may have registered. She’s wearing far less makeup, has a boyfriend she’s comfortable with because he accepts her “as is”, and she’s thinking about things outside herself. In fact, she wants to work with children and combine it with her passion for organic nutrition (a big thing here at home.)

    I have hope :)

  8. Well said Kim…

    There are way too many companies out there that just care about the almighty dollar and don’t think about the damage they’re doing to our children.

    Ironically, though, I think Dove is one of the few brands that is trying to change the status quo for the better, and had the guts to go pour millions into a marketing campaign that stands up against the conventional notions of beauty.

    Perhaps it was their implying that mothers are not talking to their daughters enough that ticked you off, and, yes, maybe they should have been more careful with their choice of words, but I think they deserve some credit for what they’re trying to do. The problem are the other companies that don’t do anything.

    Great to hear that your kid is now living life on her own terms. Good for her, and good for you too!

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