What Dove's wildly successful ad campaign has to teach us about our perception of ourselves.
Sure, it’s marketing, it’s a commercial for a brand, but nevertheless, both these videos find ways to highlight real and often unspoken insecurities among women. And that is worth talking about.
In the video (take a few minutes to watch it for yourself), a retired forensic artist sketches women’s faces, one after another, as they describe themselves to him. While they wait for their turn, they speak with other women also about to be sketched. Then, the tables turn. The sketch artist asks the same women now not to describe their own features, but the features of another woman they just talked with. The end of the video shows each woman coming face to face with two sketches of her: one in which she described herself, and a second in which another described her. The difference between the two is staggering.
The point of the video short is clear: we tend to fixate on our imperfections. We look in the mirror, and exaggerate our negative qualities, imagining ourselves as ugly.
To correct our perception, we often go to great lengths to stay beautiful in the United States. There are more products and procedures than can be named. Unfortunately, not all of these products are safe, and some are even fatal. And though we associate many products with the pursuit of thin figures, not everyone is after “skinny.”
Take, for example, the butt injections administered underground by uncertified “shot girls.” These injections of silicone are intended to reshape a woman’s backside for those hoping for a curvy, fuller figure. But such “enhancement” comes at more than just a financial cost. In 2012, ABC News reported on this trend and the potential fatal risks involved. One woman described her daughter’s fight for her life due to injection complications which caused her kidneys to collapse. Another woman’s injections resulted in not only into a botched procedure, but a lifestyle of chronic pain.
The extreme pursuit of beauty and questionable trends isn’t isolated to America, either. Nigerian men are tattooing their lips pink. Men and women alike in Japan are injecting their foreheads with saline. All of this is motivated by one thing: the desire for beauty.
As the haunting conclusion of one of Dove’s previous videos communicates, “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.”
I’m not immune to this. I can sense this distortion every time I try on clothes at the mall. The mirrors are long, the mannequins petite, and seem to say: you aren’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. It can be a real fight, and I know I’m not the only woman who has a love/hate relationship with the mirror.
We see the effects of this distortion, but what is the cause? It can be easy to turn to place blame on society. We see the images like those at the end of the Dove commercial—the faux perfection of billboards and magazines. Or, some weird and wacky trend hits mainstream, and perhaps we want to emulate them. But we don’t need much outside influence to be discontent with how we are made. We look in the mirror and the reflection shows a big nose, large hips, crooked teeth, tall and lanky body, whatever it is, we don’t like it.
But I wonder if Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches has the right idea. I wonder if seeing ourselves through the eyes of others will show that we are too hard on ourselves, that the real source discrediting our beauty is found in ourselves. And then I wonder what we would see if we chose to see ourselves through the eyes, not only of charitable strangers, but of Christ.
I know this—if I look at my reflection through my own eyes, I will almost always find something to be discontent about. But I want to think about what I look like through the eyes of God.
You are beautiful in the sight of God because you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Philippians 3:9). You are beautiful in the sight of God because He has chosen to cast your sins from His sight as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). You are beautiful in the sight of God because you are His image-bearing daughter who He fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Jesus makes you beautiful and you can look to Him, the Author and Perfecter of your faith for confidence and security in your beauty.
We’ve heard Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” We need to be reminded of it. But perhaps we forget something just as important. Rather than merely resigning our physical beauty to no matter at all, God’s Word reminds us we are already made beautiful. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-16).
Those words punch so much power—you, daughter, are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet we not only forget them, they are completely disregarded during those sessions in front of the mirror.
The Psalms tell us we are knit in our mother’s womb and the Psalmist proclaims of God, “Wonderful are your works … ” (Psalm 139:13-14). God, the Creator of the universe, made us the way we are. He thought of every intricate detail—even numbering the hair on our head (Matthew 10:30).
This isn’t about self-esteem. I’m not writing this to make you feel better about yourself. I’m not writing this to make you buy a product, either. Rather, we need to choose to fix our eyes on something greater. We need to fix our eyes on Christ, and in doing so, we will begin to see ourselves the way He sees us.
The mirror looks back at us and tells us we need to worship a different god. We don’t have to bow down to its lies, the lies in our head, that tell us we are not enough. We can fight to hear this better Word from God. His Word reminding us that we are created for a purpose; a purpose greater than these vain pursuits–to bring Him glory. His Word tells us that to fear Him is to gain wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). We begin with a reverence of God and then turn our gaze from the mirror and to His Word.
If we are looking for perfection in the mirror, we won’t find it. And if we limit our vision and goal to what is reflected back at us, we will always be disappointed. But if we fix our eyes on Jesus we will always find perfection. So let’s widen our vision. Let’s choose to fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
In His eyes, we are daughters. In His eyes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. No wonder our perception of beauty can be restored.