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?