Forensic Sketch Artist Proves You're Your Own Worst Critic


“Sketches,” a new project from Dove, is an interesting look at self-esteem and ingrained standards of beauty. As seen in the clip above, the experiment involves women sitting down in a room with forensic artist Gil Zamora. They are separated by a curtain: He doesn’t see them; they can’t see what he’s doing. Zamora asks the women to describe their faces, feature by feature.

“Tell me about your chin,” he prompts.

“It kind of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile,” one woman says.

After Zamora is finished drawing each woman, a stranger who has just met each of the women who have been drawn comes in and Zamora starts a new sketch, based on the stranger’s description. The end result? When the women described themselves, the sketches showed faces full of “flaws”; when a stranger described them, the sketches were more accurate and more flattering. In the video, one woman tears up as she realizes her self-description resulted in a “fatter, sadder” version of herself, while a stranger saw her as “open, friendly and happy.”

Dove explains:

Women are their own worst beauty critics. Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. At Dove, we are committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. So, we decided to conduct a compelling social experiment that explores how women view their own beauty in contrast to what others see.

We know this. We know this! We know that we’re inundated with zillions of cultural cues, thanks to advertising, magazines, movies and TV shows. Skin should be clear, wrinkle-free and poreless, faces symmetrical, noses straight and pert, teeth Chiclet-white, hair shiny, cheekbones prominent, eyes big and framed by long lashes. We know this. We know a woman’s self-esteem plummets after looking at a woman’s magazine or Facebook — and even plus-size models make women feel like crap. Brands and magazines release lists of the most beautiful or the sexiest women and they are always thin, with symmetrical faces, narrow noses and wide eyes. Our culture breeds an atmosphere in which it feels like makeup is not a choice. A woman can always be improved, is never good enough the way she is. The number one go-to insult for a woman is always “fat and ugly,” since our society rewards, praises and exalts the thin and pretty. The entire system is set up to have us believe they are the only ones “worth” something.

Dove has been committed to the social mission of building positive self-esteem for years; in 2004 the brand launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty; in 2006 the Dove Self-Esteem Fund was started. The company actually conducted a similar experiment in 2009 and 2011. All well and good, but let’s not forget: Dove is owned by Unilever. Unilever sells the infamous skin-lightening cream Fair and Lovely in India. Unilever also shills Axe, the bodyspray for men that often employs sexist advertising. (And yes, Unilever also owns Ben & Jerry’s, yum.)

That said, the experiment does reinforce some truths, both sad and interesting. Women are conditioned to play down our looks; as discussed, most of us seldom utter the words “I’m pretty.” On the other hand, women aim to please and are conditioned to be polite, so of course the strangers described the women using flattering terms and didn’t say, “she had deep wrinkles in her forehead,” or “her eyes were small,” even if they noticed. Or maybe they did notice, but didn’t feel it was important. The underlying lesson — that we’re hard on ourselves and stuff like a protruding chin or large forehead isn’t a big deal unless you make it a big deal — is one worth learning and holding on to. The experiment definitely leaves you wondering how you would describe yourself, and how it might vary from the way others would describe you. It’s unclear whether or not this sells Dove soap/lotion/bodywash, but it certainly raises brand awareness, and you might just look at the shelf and think, you know what, Dove cares about my feelings, I’ll try this deodorant that’s supposed to make my armpits better.

Oh, and as a YouTube commenter points out:

This experiment probably has the opposite results for men.

Dove ‘Sketches’ Examines Women’s Perception of Themselves [AdRants]

Dove Real Beauty Sketches [Dove]

Earlier: Why Don’t Women Say ‘I’m Pretty?’ Here Are Ten Reasons

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