Culture Jamming : The Racialized Beauty & Self-care industry


Unfortunately, Dove is no stranger to creating and publishing Ads that are offensive, particularly to women of colour (WOC) and especially to black women. The mission of this ad was probably to create awareness and ultimately sell their new “VisibleCare” body wash line. However, it missed the mark completely, enforcing harmful beauty standards. The problem I will be addressing is: the continued perpetuation that white women are the standard of beauty and that WOC, particularly black women, have to “achieve” that. Below is a breakdown of the elements in this Ad that contribute to this racist stereotype:

  • “Before and after” – Looking at this ad a second time, one can see that the boxes behind the women represent skin, which is the same skin tone, just “rough” and then “smooth” after presumed use of the product. This is not an issue – the problem comes below, in the placement of the women. Due to ignorance of the larger social context, the black woman is placed under “before” and the white woman under “After”. This and the clear transition from dark skin tone to light skin tone represented by the three women in that order, can be clearly taken as “lighter is better, and you can get this with our body wash!”
  • Caption – The caption at the bottom doesn’t help Dove’s case; it states “[…] our new revolutionary line of body washes that actually improve the look of your skin. […] you’ll see visibly more beautiful skin in just one week!” Coupled with the obvious transition of skin tone by the placement of the women, this just reiterates the consumer’s initial thought of “Are they trying to say the lighter the better?”

People may argue that this was not the intention, and that as seen by the skin “boxes” being the same skin tone, it was never about skin colour. But even so, the issue is that no one on the Dove marketing team was able to understand the racist stereotypes that this ad perpetuated, or use an inter-sectional lense and sensitivity. This was also a clear signal of possible under-representation within the company itself.

 Jamming Philosophy:

My jamming was inspired by altering the text on the advertisement to better represent what I feel the advertisement is already insinuating. Instead of using the previous “Before” and “After”, I settled on “White is the beauty standard” and “We perpetuate racist stereotypes” to explicitly explain what the advertisement really looks like to many audience members consuming it. In line with that, I altered the caption at the bottom of the advertisement to read “Visibly whiter skin”, as a call to action of what the careless placement of characters in the ad actually translates to, whether intentional or not.

With this jamming, I inspire to invoke not only more sensitivity and cultural awareness for the sake of advertising, but to encourage that corporations and the individuals that make up these corporations truly understand the racialized history and present of the beauty and self care industry (and society in general). Women of colour, and particularly black women, face so much additional scrutiny and pressure, especially in academic settings and the workplace, to look different i.e. to wear “straighter” hairstyles, wigs, etc. to better meet a standard based on the looks of Caucasian women. While this is unacceptable, these are still things that many black women have changed under pressure; but this product is speaking to their skin colour/tone – something one cannot change. Beauty standards have affected minority women in more ways than one can imagine, often sowing seeds of low self-esteem and self hatred very, very deep.

It is very much up to corporations to take the time to learn, hire a diverse workforce and empower minority and marginalised communities to get a say in products, marketing and overall business. A global brand should think intersectionally.


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