Remember those "campaign for real beauty" ads that Dove was pushing a few months ago? They didn't impress me much. The women were (a) uniformly clean-faced and preppy-looking, (b) uniformly laughing and smiling at some joke that probably started with "knock knock," and (c) uniformly dressed in bland white undies. They couldn't say anything about their personalities through their clothes or makeup. We were left to infer personality from their hairstyles: Ooh, she's got ringlets, she must be the kooky one! It was brave of the women to expose their imperfect bodies in their undies, but the ads weren't about "real beauty" at all. Yes, there are evo-psych principles that suggest beauty is often symmetrical, even-toned, inoffensive "“ and that's undoubtedly true for things like mathematical equations "“ but in judging an individual person's beauty, there's also something to be said for novelty, strangeness, edge. Bereft of the opportunity to express themselves, most of these women didn't have those.
What's ironic about the Dove campaign is that it wasn't that groundbreaking "“ there were already unofficial campaigns for real beauty out there that proved the power of the eye of the beholder. American Apparel ads, for instance. As recently detailed in the NYT, the models are "young ethnic and mixed-race men and women with asymmetrical features, imperfect bodies, blemished skin and visible sweat stains on the clothes they are modeling" "“ basically, they're your friends from college who were really hot but never quite realized it and so remained blessedly down to earth. The ads may be incredibly suggestive, but they're also progressive in a weird way. I also like Face Hunter (where I found the fanciful mustachioed man above) and The Sartorialist, blogs that feature photos of random people on the street and at parties. Some of them are self-conscious types who make funny faces; some of them are equally self-conscious types who dress up in costume, a la Misshapes. But most are slightly disheveled, off-kilter, flawed but happy-looking people "“ in a word, beautiful.