Salivation Saturday: The Supper Club and Dove

May 4, 2013

I was waiting for the train with my brother J when he asked, “Have you seen the new Dove commercial?” I hadn’t, and so he proceeded to explain that, well, he just felt uneasy about it, although he couldn’t place exactly how or why.

“I think it was equating a woman’s value with her beauty or something,” he said, “but I really think we should talk more about it once you’ve seen it.”

I agreed to watch it.

Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

The stupendous salad. Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

Then my friend shared this Tumblr post on Facebook: Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry. She said some of the same things my brother had, and I asked myself, oh my, what is this commercial about!?

And then my friend M wrote this blog post: Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches – Analyzing the Bad, Taking the Good, and basically disagreed entirely with the previous two commentators.

And then my friend A came over, and we made salad and enchiladas.

The meal was stupendous.

And I asked her about the Dove commercial, but she hadn’t seen it, either.

And we said, what if we cook together all the time? And what if we invite more friends, and discuss things like gender representation in media and polyamory and religion and literature while dining on delicious homemade concoctions?

And so I texted my brother and I texted another friend, and A did too, and then someone created a Facebook group, and someone else said oh! it’ll be like Gertrude Stein in 1920s Paris, and we shall call it The Supper Club.

And so we did, and then we met, and we made the most incredible creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast, and gnocchi, and chocolate ganache bread pudding, and we drank pinot grigio, and sat on the living room floor, and talked about Dove.

Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

The stupendous enchiladas. Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

Dove summarizes its commercial like this:

“Women are their own worst beauty critics. Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. At Dove, we are committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. So, we decided to conduct a compelling social experiment that explores how women view their own beauty in contrast to what others see. And don’t forget: YOU are more beautiful than you think! Join the conversation at: #wearebeautiful” (italics mine)

M has a very artsy side. She has done professional theatre and has memorized sections of almost every literature classic you can think of. One could say she is, in fact, my personal book consultant. When I urgently need a conversation partner after reading a revolutionary book, she is there for me within the hour.

She believes in simply enjoying the good parts of a work and then eyeing the rest with a critical eye.

Long story short (and it was a long story), M made a very practical point. Dove, you see, is a company that makes beauty products. Why would they tell people that beauty doesn’t matter?

Creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast.

Creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast.

And then J asked: well, what if change were incremental? What if Dove first made some women realize that others view their beauty more positively than many women viewed their own, but then, some day later, a woman president or CEO or poet or blogger or mother or, really, anyone, made women realize that they can still achieve things they’d like to achieve without being preoccupied with their beauty at all?

(Or, a more desirable outcome to me: men started becoming as concerned with their beauty as women are with theirs.)

And we talked about why a commercial depicting near-naked women draped over “sexy” cars is, in my opinion, entirely an objectification of women (main message about women: sexy car=sexy woman), whereas an Axe commercial depicting a man attracting near-naked women is not offensive to women at all (main message about women: many men want them. Um, duh).

And I said, well yes, Dove needs to make money, but I certainly support movements like Miss Representation, which tries to “shift people’s consciousness,” change the cultural norms that keep the objectification and commercialization of women’s bodies something mainstream. (You can participate, by the way, simply by tweeting the link to unfortunate misrepresentations along with the hashtag #notbuyingit).

But ultimately, I came to a new sort of understanding about myself at this Supper Club meeting. I can enjoy things such as Gone with the Wind or The Handmaid’s Tale as long as they don’t depict women as a kind of backdrop to a man’s thing of interest or as a generic “kind of thing” of interest themselves.

And I also realized something else about myself. I am not practical when it comes to such things.


Gnocchi, buried.

I don’t want to wait for incremental change, and I especially don’t want to forgive a company for taking advantage of the way our society emphasizes women’s beauty and neediness, even if it makes sense that doing so will help them sell beauty products.

I don’t feel represented by the women in that commercial, and I resent Dove for preying on the vast majority of American women who will buy into that need for affirmation with scarce a critical eye, in order to make sales.

Indeed, isn’t the commercial also reinforcing to men that women are, after all, things of beauty, and indeed can have strong emotional reactions (implicit message: are manipulable) when people tell them they are more beautiful than they think?

Shouldn’t a company be more concerned with bettering society than making money?

Oh silly me. Is that actually what I was implicitly saying? How very impractical of me.

The gnocchi came out perfectly.


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