04/23/2013 08:05 EDT | Updated 06/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Ladies: Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" Are More Condescending Than You Think


Like the other 18-billion women who have watched Dove's viral video/emo-tisement, "Real Beauty Sketches," I was moved to tears by its message: ladies, you are not quite as unattractive as you think.

If you haven't seen it, then welcome to our fair planet and let me tell you about it. A forensic artist introduces himself to us; some nice-looking ladies that he cannot see describe themselves to him in what they perceive to be a negative light ("My chin protrudes!"; "I have a fat face!"; "I've got too many freckles!"). Some other people who have met the hard-on-themselves ladies describe them to the forensic guy and say positive things ("She's got nice blue eyes!"; "She has a thin chin!" "She has a cute nose!"); the ladies come back in the room and see two sketches, one of a witch from Macbeth and one of themselves. They start to cry and realize they are too self-critical. Then one of them insists on using the word "impact" as a verb -- twice in about 10 seconds -- making me want to reach into the screen and throttle her more-attractive-than-she-knows neck.

What can we learn from this?

First, the reason there is so much crime in America is that forensic artists are working for Dove instead of helping catch rapists and killers; second, people should not describe themselves to the police if ever they witness themselves committing a crime, since apparently they have no idea how they look; third, though "impact" is a both a noun and a verb, most of the time when you want to use it as a verb what you really should say is "affect."

What we are supposed to learn, I gather, is that women need to stop trying to meet impossible standards of beauty set by the money-grubbing supermodel-industrial complex. Also, women need to buy Dove products which are not part of that complex, oh no, not at all.

It is true that if asked to describe myself I likely would lean to the negative. I would say I had a freakishly large forehead, a bulbous nose that gets red when I even think about alcohol, skin that gets all blotchy when I experience any emotion other than...actually, it gets all blotchy when I experience any emotion, a big jaw and thin lips. In other words, I would be describing a cross between Tweety Bird, Tim Russert, Carol Burnett and Heinrich Himmler. And I probably don't look exactly like that (I mean, I hate to think I look like Himmler).

Dove has been down this road before. Previously, they ran some ads with chubby ladies in underwear talking about how much they loved their bodies. I found those ads powerfully patronizing, as I find the "Beauty Sketches."

LOOK: Some Of Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches"

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Photo galleryDove "Real Beauty Sketches" Campaign See Gallery

It is as though women need to have their emotions managed and protected all the time; as though we were the Laura Wingfield of genders, limping, insecure and in need of guidance. "Careful, she might not feel good about herself today!" Well no, she might not, but she can probably handle that without being the recipient of your smarmy condescension and without your incessant fussing about her self-esteem.

I experience the same frustration when men say, "Women are smarter than men." It seems insincere and primarily devised to make the speaker look good. It also assumes we are so gullible we will fall for the Dale Carnegie approach. "Ladies, tell me all about you. Have I mentioned that you look lovely today and that you are very smart? Also, I love your collection of glass animals."

Which should not come as a surprise -- Dove wants to make money. There's nothing wrong with that. If they can get you to buy their products, more power to them. I believe in free-ish markets. But the fact that the Beauty Sketches should be praised so roundly and accepted so enthusiastically has me worried. Is the fact that we can be hard on ourselves really so problematic? Or is it what we, on Twitter, call a "first world pain?" If we have reached the point where this can be indulged, surely that means women in the western world are doing well.

The only criticism I have seen of the "Beauty Sketches" targets a matter that strikes me as yet another first world pain, and a dated first world pain at that: the "narrow cultural perception of beauty" reflected in the video. That we can waste our time nattering on about cultural perceptions of this, that and the other thing, would indicate that we have reached an enviable and emancipated state in our corner of the world.

If Dove really wants a challenge they should fly their advertising team to Iran or Saudi Arabia and have them carry out the same experiment. Of course, they would have to hire a female forensic artist, or a male artist who happened to be married to all of the participants -- not sure which would be easier to find.