Dove is apologizing for an ad it deleted from its Facebook page that “missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color” as part of an advertisement for body lotion. That is most certainly an understatement. The ad that had many people accusing the company of racism showed a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman underneath.
Although the ad didn’t last long online, makeup artist Naomi Blake shared screen grabs on Facebook that quickly spread through social media. Biba Kang at the Independent explains exactly why the ad is so offensive, regardless of what the company intended:
The reason that the transformation of a black woman into a white woman stuck such an unpleasant chord was that it seemed to make blatant a process that the beauty industry often more subtly alludes to.
Many beauty products are hinged upon the ideal of whiteness. This can be anything from the obvious—things like skin-bleaching products, the preference for hair that hangs down and the prevalence of products to support that—to the less obvious beauty norms such as red lipstick and rouge, both of which promote the pink tones common in white skin but not in black or brown complexions.
That is why many have been quick to say that Dove’s apology is too little, too late. “You can do better than ‘missed the mark’. Flip + diminishing,” wrote Selma director Ava DuVernay. “Deepens your offense. You do good work. Have been for years. Do better here.” Across social media many wondered how it was possible that, as Jezebel put it, “at least an art director, a marketing director, a photographer, and a social media manager passed this around and thought, ‘okay’?”
This is not the first time Dove, which is owned by multinational Unilever, has been in hot water over an apparently racist ad. In 2011, Dove released an ad that showed women with a range of skin tones that appeared to suggest the “before” picture was that of a woman with darker skin, while “after” was above the woman with the lightest skin. Dove denied the interpretation of the ad at the time, insisting that the “three women are intended to demonstrate the ‘after’ product benefit.”