Dove's Forensic Sketch Campaign Illustrates Women's Beauty Blindness

Cristen Conger

After watching the video for Dove's Real Beauty Sketches campaign, I wondered how I might describe my face to an artist who couldn't see me. Dark eyes, thin lips, stubby nose, I might toss out. And I have a feeling the results of that blind sketch wouldn't be terribly flattering, as with the portraits commissioned by Dove for its newest and admittedly powerful addition to the Real Beauty campaign.

Started more than eight years ago, Real Beauty revolutionized female-targeted advertising by using non-model models and promoting messages of female empowerment and body confidence, rather than aspirational messages for women to change the skin they're in. For Real Beauty Sketches, Dove recruited women have their portrait drawn by a forensic artist based solely on self-descriptions. Then, a second portrait was drawn of them based on facial descriptions from a stranger who had only met them briefly. Side by side, the differences in the portraits are glaring; the self-described faces look older, sadder and more withdrawn, compared to the ones composed from strangers' descriptions.

Although the Dove doesn't offer a source for this statistic, the project supports the campaign's claim that only 4 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. A 2012 Dove Body Confidence Census found that one in eight, or roughly 13 percent, of women call themselves "attractive." Whatever the statistic and despite the fact that the end goal is to sell personal care products, the sketch project is a compelling concept that gave me pause about how I might instruct that forensic artist. And it made me wonder: What do the facial features we zero in on when we picture ourselves say about how we see our whole selves?