Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty first launched in 2004. The aim was to “start a global conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty.” The first few spots, which quickly went viral, indeed started multiple conversations, not all of them beneficial to Dove. Many saw the ads as hypocritical. To quote Ann Friedman (of the Cut): “The initial ads featured women of various sizes in white underwear frolicking across billboards and magazine spreads under headlines like, ‘Fat or fab?’ A follow-up video a few years later showed an already-gorgeous model being made up and photographed and Photoshopped into commercially viable perfection. The campaign succeeded in sparking a debate about what a ‘normal’ woman’s body looks like, but critics charged that it barely widened the definition of beauty.” This was back in 2013.
Four years and much trial-and-error later, Dove has honed its marketing strategies. The soap brand has learned that authenticity is built from the ground up. To that end, Dove hired Shonda Rhimes (spinner of primetime gold) to head up Dove Real Beauty Productions, the newly-created video arm of the aforementioned body-positive marketing campaign. For her first project, titled “Meet Cathleen,” the creative director hired award-winning documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus and an all-female production crew, because girl power.
The film has all the hallmarks of your typical Dove ad — soft, tinkling piano music, an echo-y voiceover, a body-positive moral — and yet doesn’t feel forced. Cathleen Meredith, subject of the three-minute video, is largely to thank for its “realness.” Her observations are insightful (and don’t seem scripted, but you never know). Her charisma is undeniable. Cathleen, a skilled dancer, tells of how she founded body-positive modern dance movement Fat Girls Dance in order to help larger women connect with their bodies and celebrate their passions. “It’s incredible to watch these ladies go from scared fat girls to completely amazing, warrior…fat girls,” states Cathleen in the video. She’s not only reclaiming the word “fat,” she’s reclaiming the word “beauty.” Cathleen continues, “I think the entire model of what beauty is needs to be thrown completely out and we need to start defining beauty for ourselves. I think beauty should be fearlessness. I think beauty should be resilience. I think beauty should be creativity.” Amen to that.
Watch the full clip above.