Self Esteem, Body Image, and The Real Cost of Beauty
The Real Cost of Beauty

First, this is not an ad. I’m a big fan of giving credit where credit is due. As much as brands draw criticism for launching marketing & PR stunts disguised as caring, the folks at Unilever’s Dove have consistently gone above and beyond to jolt people awake and spark conversations, encouraging significant social change. The long-standing Dove Self-Esteem Project has made a commitment to help ¼ billion people build better body image by the year 2030.

From its original campaign for #RealBeauty, which sent shockwaves through the beauty industry for exposing advertising’s photoshopping tactics, to #DetoxifyYourFeed, which put a mom’s twist on toxic messages bombarding their daughter’s social feeds, to its newest campaign called #TheRealCostofBeauty, Dove once again kicks us right in the gut with this short film imploring mental health advocacy for teenagers. The 3-minute film produced by Ogilvy follows the life of a young girl named Mary as she prances through childhood, comes of age, is gifted a phone, then starting at the age of 12 becomes near-fatally obsessed with her appearance. The video comes with a warning of sensitive content — at the end, real-life survivors of mental health issues are shown with their parents.

Real Cost of Beauty

Picture Credit: Dove

The Real Cost of Beauty

The Dove Self-Esteem Project commissioned “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals” report, which provides compelling evidence that body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination are a multi-billion-dollar public health crisis that costs women and girls their health, happiness, and sometimes their lives. Harmful beauty ideals cost the U.S. economy $305B due to body dissatisfaction and $501B due to appearance-based discrimination annually. The report was researched in consultation with researchers from Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders: A Public Health Incubator (STRIPED) at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the data was generated by a diverse team of economists at Deloitte Access Economics.

Dove is also partnering with Common Sense Media, Parents Together Action, and Lizzo to advance the forthcoming 2023 revision of the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). The proposed legislation seeks greater transparency from social media apps and algorithms, as well as a duty for social media platforms to prevent and mitigate several harms to minors.

Lizzo for the Dove Self Esteem Project

Picture Credit: Dove


Resources for Parents, Teachers, and Youth Leaders

I love that Dove has created readily accessible, practical teaching tools that can help parents, teachers, and youth leaders combat the negative effects of social media and improve body confidence of the children they mentor.

Here are some highlights of the advice offered (I’ve included he/his/him adjectives to be inclusive. The original content is focused on girls):

  1. Real vs. Online: Remind your child that social media is often like a showreel of life’s best bits – attention-grabbing, carefully edited, and inflated. Real life isn’t like that and it’s important to encourage your child to acknowledge this, value what’s real and what really matters, especially in relation to friendships at this critical age.
  2. True friendship: Encourage your child to recognize that social media ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ aren’t necessarily true friends or even acquaintances, and therefore s/he should think carefully about sharing content in the public domain.
  3. Be a role model: Prioritize good friendships in your own life, too: be positive about the place your friends have in your life and make sure your child knows how much you value your own two or three closest friends – and how a wider network is great, but not quite the same as a dependable inner circle.
  4. Online = forever: Discuss the long-term nature of the internet. Help your child realize that online means forever – s/he can’t change something once it has been shared. And ensure your child recognizes the importance of understanding and setting up privacy settings for all accounts.
  5. Understand your child’s world – including her/his social media world: Pay discreet attention to her/his social media profiles but use them to understand what makes her/him tick rather than check up on her/his updates. For example, who does s/he follow on Twitter? These things could be key to how your child is thinking and feeling.
  6. Learn from your child: Staying on top of the latest technology and social media sites can be overwhelming, but who better to teach you than your child? Talk to her/him about what s/he is posting to social media and who s/he is sharing it with, and most importantly – how it makes her/him feel.

Turn Your Back On Bold Glamour Dove Campaign

Picture Credit: Dove

Body Confidence

I took a gander at The Confidence Toolkit Dove offers and found it to be very straightforward and digestible. From social media and detoxing your feed to bullying and body functionality, there are practical tips and suggestions that may be awkward but nonetheless important for parents to try with their kids. One of the most helpful reminders for parents is that their own actions speak far louder than words – modeling self-love and healthy behavior will go a long way for your child. Here’s an excerpt:

If you want your child to grow up with high self-esteem and body confidence, there’s a simple thing you can do:

Accept and appreciate yourself and your body. Appreciate your body to help your child.

Self-criticism is common among children – how often have you urged your child not to put themselves down? But sometimes adults have low self-esteem too, and it’s possible that you could be inadvertently teaching your child bad habits through the example you set by criticizing yourself. Have you ever found yourself looking in the mirror and frowning, or complaining about how you look? You may not even realize you’re doing it.

Body confidence starts with loving who you are. Worryingly, research shows that parents, caregivers, family members and mentors who are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to have children that also experience low body confidence. What’s more, you’re missing out on the benefits of increased body confidence, including better physical and mental health and well-being, happier relationships and more confidence at work and home. It’s not easy to change the way you feel about your body, but the good news is that we’re going to share some tips on how you can foster greater appreciation and acceptance of your body. In turn, your child will pick up on your positivity.


Reverse Selfie

Picture Credit: Dove

Fun & Gaming

Expanding on its initiative to infiltrate stock photography with more representative models, Dove also set out to bring realistic diversity to the virtual world. The global games community includes around 1.3 million girls and women, 60% of whom indulge in video games before turning 10. Traditionally, video games are still marked by narrow beauty standards that can demean and negatively affect the self-esteem of female players.

First, Dove rolled out Real Beauty in Games Training – a course in collaboration with industry leaders and Centre for Appearance Research to support the depiction of everyday diversity and steer away from bias and stereotyping females in game design. Then, it partnered with Toya, a female led UGC game studio, to release SuperU Story, a free experience on Roblox made exclusively to support young girls in building body confidence.

Dove takes beauty into the metaverse via Real Virtual Beauty campaign

Picture Credit: Dove


Doing The Work

From an early age, we absorb messages about the rewards we believe we’ll get if we have the perfect body. Undoubtedly, society feeds us with the belief of a better life if we’re thin, sexy and beautiful. In my recent podcast interview with plus-size-model-turned-modeling-agency-founder Katie Willcox, she spelled it out for us: “What do we get if we have all these things? What are we promised by the pursuit of these things? It’s happiness, love, attention, money, guys will like you, you’ll be popular, you’ll have followers, your life is easier, you’re in control, that’s all the messaging that’s programmed through those images that the core desire of what women and girls really want especially living in a patriarchal society. That’s why we all did horrible things to our bodies, in pursuit of this stuff because really, we were lacking so much internally of our own happiness, our own fulfillment, our own safety, our own self-control…this has been the work that I feel like our generation has done to be the women we are right now.”

The Human Beauty Movement Podcast, Episode 53 with Katie Willcox

For those who grew up lacking self-confidence and with low self-esteem, the road to healthy body image is fraught with traps and setbacks. Media exposure is inevitable, and negative social influences will always arise. But ultimately, finding a way to be okay with yourself despite external pressure is truly worth it. The peace of mind afforded frees up so much space to receive love, and to in turn give love, without reservation. It is the first step to truly living a life that is all your own.


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