On Dove’s “Racist” Bodywash Ad

photo of dove ad racist pictures photos

There has been plenty of chatter over the above ad the past couple of weeks, with many blogs and news outlets questioning whether the positioning of the three women in front of the “Before” and “After” images is racist. Why? Well Jezebel, along with a number of other sources, believes that the not-so-subtle implication is that the bodywash isn’t just promising to give you smoother, silkier skin, but also that by putting the black woman squarely in front of the “Before,” the latina woman somewhere in the middle and the white woman in front of the “After,” that they’re also implying that the palest skin tone is the most desirable. The tagline “Visibly more beautiful skin” doesn’t help much, either, nor does the fact that all they promise …

… is to “improve the look of your skin,” which is obviously rather vague about the specific effects of the cream. But here is my problem: Yes, the positioning is bad and no, the tagline doesn’t help. But is this ad intentionally racist? I’m not so sure.

I mean, companies like L’Oreal and have no problem at all airing skin whitening ads in countries like India or Korea with promos that actually imply your boyfriend will move to Hollywood, become a big celebrity and  leave you for a whiter-looking woman unless you buy their dangerous skin bleach. With that said, Dove does provide its own skin lightening cream, but it — along with just about every other skincare retailer in North America — also provides a tanning cream. Obviously tanning creams are less harmful, but the overall effect — trying to make your skin a color it’s not — is the same. Why aren’t we applying the same lens to the near-obsessive desire on the part of many young women to be ultra-tan? Light skin and tan skin are both beauty ideals that are harmful to overall health if obtained through bleaching or sitting in the sun.

Then there’s the fact that the actual before and after pictures seem to be exactly the same skin tone, just drier and flakier. As one commenter on Jezebel said: “I think the ad would work better if it was just featuring one woman, rather than three with clearly different skin tones. I don’t know whose skin the magnified pictures are supposed to be of, but it doesn’t really make sense as is.” Precisely. Again, if the before picture showed the black woman’s skin, and the after picture was of the white woman’s, I think they would have a point.

Perhaps I’m being naive here, but I do think that this is simply a case of a confusing advertisement due to some unfortunate model placement.

What’s your take? Is the ad subliminally promoting a racist ideal that white is right? Is this just a bad ad?



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12 thoughts on “On Dove’s “Racist” Bodywash Ad

  1. I think Dove was trying to make a multiracial ad. If they had only one women, she probably would’ve been white. So they put in a variety of women, different skin tones and body shapes and think “Yeah! Lots of women are going to look at the ad and relate to it and buy our products” *gives self pat on the back* Then they release the ad and get called racist, look back at the ad, and think “Wow, I guess I can see where they’re coming from, but that wasn’t our intention at all… damned if we do, damned if we don’t”

    • I was going to say the same thing. On first glance, I didn’t even notice the racist undertones. I did notice, however, that the African American woman appears to be the heaviest which could also lend to racist connotations.

    • I agree! All of a sudden EVERYONE is playing the race card. It was a fucking ad! Not a “use this body wash and become the beautiful white woman”

      Augh! I wish the world would fucking grow up.

  2. The before and after pictures of skin would make more sense as an inset in this ad, where they make almost no sense as background pictures.

    Yeah, my first reaction on seeing this ad was, “WTF?”, and I don’t see myself as rabidly PC. It’s probably not intentional, but it needs to be changed.

  3. I would say it’s a coincidence, but multimillion dollar ad campaigns involve countless hours spent analyzing images in ads before they’re released. So either it was intentional, or the people doing said analyzing lost their jobs or were severely reprimanded over this.

    • Maybe… maybe not… if an unintentional controversy (if that is what it is) leads to more publicity… and more sales… then I don’t think anyone would get reprimanded over this. Unless they choose a scapegoat for image reasons. But then again, I really don’t know. I work at a small company and have little idea as to how larger corps run.

  4. I don’t think it was intentional, but I do think it should have been caught. I think the idea of three women with great skin in different colours was good, but placing them in front of the background just didn’t work. At first glance, I didn’t notice the backdrops at all, and thought I was looking at ‘before’ black, and ‘after’ white, and it took me a while to figure out what was intended.
    Whoever made the ad knew what (s)he intended, and thus was blind to what anyone else might take it as. I am surprised though that they don’t do any testing (show the ad to a couple people who don’t work for dove and get responses), or that the testing didn’t catch this.
    While it might not have been intended, the fact that no-one noticed before it was released speaks poorly of them.

  5. It might make me sound a little dense, but I didn’t even understand the controversy after reading about the hoopla. I just thought of dry flaky skin before Dove and smoother skin after for all types of skin. I never saw anything racist in this ad at all.

  6. …along with a number of other sources, believes that the not-so-subtle implication is that the bodywash isn’t just promising to give you smoother, silkier skin, but also that by putting the black woman squarely in front of the “Before,” the latina woman somewhere in the middle and the white woman in front of the “After,” that they’re also implying that the palest skin tone is the most desirable. The tagline “Visibly more beautiful skin” doesn’t help much, either, nor does the fact that all they promise …

    The ad’s message ‘hinthint’ looks like plain to me. I dont see how people can give the ad creator the benefit of the doubt

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