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With Its New #MyBeautyMySay Ad, Dove Has Come A Long Way In 60 Years

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Lately, a lot of companies have done some splendid turnabouts in the way they portray notions of beauty. This January, notoriously sexist Axe advertising took an unexpected turn by expanding the definition of masculinity. More recently Indian e-retailers Jabong pushed the boundaries of gender too. And now personal care brand Dove has launched its #MyBeautyMySay ad campaign.

The MyBeautyMySay campaign is perhaps the most mature of Dove’s many attempts at confronting gender identities, because it features so many binary-shattering people, who are owning their bodies or professions or age. The spots feature women who rolled with the punches that gender stereotypes threw at them. The boxer with the pigtails that made her look out of place in the ring; the blogger who knows that fashion is plus-size too; the model who rocks both menswear and womenswear; these and others share their stories of being put down by the rules society has drawn up for them. The message Dove wants to put across is “don’t let anyone define your beauty for you,” and it comes at the end of the company’s own long relationship with the beauty myth.

The first Dove soap ad, released in 1957, had actual doves, a gimmicky voice over, and thin-white-blonde woman, but let’s be real, it isn’t half as shaming or subliminally insulting as many personal care ads we see today. The ad limits itself to the ‘skin-test,’ and never once cuts to a scene showing how the soap boosted the woman’s self-esteem, or confidence, or sex appeal – all of which is a staple of many ads today. From deodorant, to hair removal cream, to lip balms, products have been marketed as a solution for sweat, body hair and rough lips, all of which we are expected to be ashamed of. Surprisingly, Dove’s first ad fares better, because it makes zero qualifying statements about the kind of beauty you should aspire to. Not bad for the ’50s.

Now, fast-forward to 1991, when Dove’s trademark ‘litmus test’ ad had begun using women who didn’t look like models. Even till this point, advertising was all about competing with other products (you’ll notice they even use rival company’s names).

But pretty soon something in the world of advertising changed. The simple product-pushing templates were modified until they began hitting out at women’s (and men’s) insecurities. One might even go as far as saying ads were now producing those insecurities in order to sell products.

So when Dove intimated its ‘Real beauty’ campaign in 2004, it was like a breath of fresh air. The first images of this new campaign featured a number of women of different races and body types all lined up in their underwear. Thick around the middle? Chubby thighs? Darker skin? Not double-lidded? Great! But it was still within a capitalist framework, and was still all about femme-presenting cisgender women. And as well-intentioned as the copy was for the little check-box cards released under this campaign were, there was also something deeply troubling about the choices Dove was asking women to make.


As if trying to pacify both the consumers and the makers of the ad. But do the negative associations with some characteristics simply disappear if you call them by another name?

The one time Dove rally succeeded at spinning terminology on its head was when it went up against ‘ageing,’ which we get told is a woman’s worst nightmare – or some drivel. Almost as a rejoinder to their own 1970s print ad– purporting the anti-aging benefits of their skin care products – Dove, in 2007, released an all new ‘Pro-Age’ line of skin care featuring older women. And it really does get you thinking, because ageing is so terrifying to women, that they won’t even put an older face on a skincare ad, unless it’s for medical usage.

Following this, Dove tried a new six-minute ad-campaign with American forensic artist Gil Zamora back in 2013. Having become the most-watched ad ever, it revealed how self-critical women are, and that self-perception is an area mired with patriarchal notions of how you should look. After that, they launched the #ChooseBeautiful campaign, which you might remember involved confronting a bunch of women with doorways marked “average” and “beautiful.” Both of these experiments were filmed and circulated as real tearjerker films, but at the same time both ad campaigns were using an ugly-beauty binary that just isn’t real (beauty it subjective, remember? Can’t believe we had to spell that out). A lot like the earlier Real Beauty campaign, these ads intended to empower women to see themselves through a set of terms bequeathed to them by these well-meaning, concerned companies (Yo, Dove is super invested in research on women and beauty). It’s all about ways of seeing, as John Berger discovered. But it isn’t about reclaiming or de-stabilizing. It isn’t about taking the labels “average” and “beautiful” and throwing them in the trash as you blaze down the street in your buggy, a beer bottle dangling from your lip, because gender expectations is hella outdated. It’s about putting those labels on doors and keeping the binary.

So with its latest ad campaign, Dove appears to be testing its own love of binaries, and once more, we’re paying attention. Because it gives us a tough boxer in pigtails, an androgynous model, a gap-toothed administrator, and other women who have dared to love themselves in a world that wants to profit from self-hate.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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