The Dove Video

If you read this blog for any time, you’ll eventually come to the conclusion that I’m interested in a few things–writing (of course), fitness, and how people think and react.

In light of the third element, I’ve seen some recent churn on the viral video from Dove wherein a forensic artist is asked to sketch women as they describe themselves, and then do a different one where other people describe them. The result is a more “traditionally beautiful” image when someone other than the subject describes the subject rather than when the subject describes herself.

The churn is a slow-burn that questions why women feel the need to be “traditionally” beautiful in the first place. I think that’s a fair enough question, but misses the point of the exercise.

For the 10 people in the world who haven’t seen it, here’s the video:

The detractors I’ve seen generally argue that women shouldn’t feel the need to meet some standard of beauty at all. Why should they want to look a particular way? Why should they want to be “pretty” as defined by a societal norm? While I agree with that basic sentiment, I don’t find those questions to be particularly interesting or valuable. The answer is fairly obvious, and I don’t think that it’s ever going away. (The other point that’s relevant is that Dove, by running the event, is accentuating the societal norm, which again is fair … but not particularly interesting or surprising to me for the same reasons as above).

But I have to admit that I think the actual point of the video is far more interesting, and, since it has roots in individual perception rather than in societal norm, is far more addressable. I am always interested in how people think versus what is “reality.” I think it’s far more interesting to ask why a person misjudges themselves relative to what others think than ask why the baseline of human nature is what it is. And in this case, the fact that women grade themselves down relative to how other people see them (whether it’s physically, intellectually, or in areas of achievement) is important.

I mean, I think it’s fair to say that given the choice, a majority of men would pretty much all prefer to be 6’4″ and cut like a diamond with a set of washboard abs, too. So it’s not like women hold the market on being interested in looking good as defined by the majority of human existence. At its root, though, this exercise (which could well have lots of scientific issues, of course) still stands as a banner for situations where people (in this case, of course, women) misread what is real about themselves.

For example, some years ago, Lisa and I were talking about performance of kids at school. Lisa felt girls were held back in the classroom. Which is true in many ways … a mixed classroom has been often proven to be male dominated. But I said that, while this should be addressed, classroom behavior may not be the actual measure that matters. I said it was always known that the girls in my high school were the smart ones. That 4.0s and honor society kids were very often girls. I don’t know about your city, but our local paper prints the lists of the top 10 students at each high school each spring, so I told her she should look in the paper every time they are printed, really look, and she would find these lists are heavily dominated by girls–despite the male domination of the classroom environment. Those conversations were at least ten, maybe fifteen years ago. And I’m fairly certain that every list since that time has been at least 60% female–most of them 70%. This past spring one of our three or four schools top 10 list was nine female and one male. I knew I could make this highly unscientific statement because I’ve been actually watching.

I think it’s fascinating that populations of people who are different react and perceive things differently. I think it’s important to understand these differences, and it’s important to ensure these differences are not being used to the detriment of the people involved in them merely for the fact that they exist. But I think it’s also important to understand that these differences are a normal part of human behavior.

In both of these cases, you can ask: Is the problem the norm, or is the problem the perception of self? In both the quest for physical beauty and the quest to feel comfortable in the classroom, a female can be made to feel uncomfortable–and that’s a problem of itself. But in both cases, one can also ask if we’re actually looking at the subject “correctly.” The top females apparently learn quite well in the classroom (at least relative to males in Columbus, anyway), despite any angst they feel. And females are often not as happy with how they look relative to others reality. Or let’s run the counter experiment with males and see what we come up with. As I said, male humans have their own hierarchical needs of self-fulfillment.

I don’t have any grand answers here. I don’t have any chest-beating philosophy of the “right” way to look at things. I agree with the naysayers regarding the video and its reliance upon the societal norm. But I don’t want to discount the fundamental aspect of human nature behind the experiment itself. I mean, just look at the expressions on the women’s faces as they are exposed to the way they see themselves. Those expressions are, to me, the point of the story. We are not going to get rid of perception, of people slanting the meanings of various events and situations. But the expressions on these women’s faces define the gap between their perceptions and the “reality” of the world with regard to this one very individually charged issue.

They are the things that are most interesting to me.


Since I’ve “finished” episode six, I’ve decided to spend the next day or two reading through the raw material that will complete the next section. I’m doing this to plant the whole of the story back into my head so that I know where everything is going when I begin to write it anger.

Of course, having started this, I’ve already hit upon a couple small pieces that I think belong better in the last episode–which means I’m not actually done with episode six.


This is, of course, why I’m working on the entire suite before I decide to release it again. In terms of raw work, it doesn’t matter whether the stuff fits in six or seven episodes, of course. But I’m finding it psychologically difficult to keep going back to something I had earlier felt was done up just fine and dandy.

Still, back I go.

I’ve created two place holders in episode six, and half-filled one. Will finish up once again tomorrow, or perhaps tonight.

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