by Christopher Mudiappahpillai

In which Chris discusses things he would be better off not: supermodels, Dove Firming Lotion and the idea of beauty in general.

I’ve found that more often than not, I’m attracted to the kinds of things most people don’t like or even consider. My taste in books and music and the like is at best, eclectic. And as a result, I’m more than used to regularly having people disagree with or even deride me for my taste.

So you can imagine my surprise when, as I was watching the first episode in a new BBC series, the girl I had singled out as the most attractive turned out to be the lynchpin of the show, as opposed to her ‘drop dead gorgeous’ sister.

Drop Dead Gorgeous, as the show is titled, is, according to the series’ website:

…the story of 15-year-old geeky goddess Ashley, whose life is turned upside-down when she is approached by a spotter from a local modelling agency. Events move at lightning speed and the whole family, including beautiful [fraternal] twin sister Jade, are affected.

Now as it turns out, Sinead Moynihan, who plays Ashley, is actually twenty-four. And even to my uninformed eye, a lot of the goings-on of the series appear to be quite hyperbolic. But even with all this, from the one episode I’ve seen, a lot of good questions are raised about what really counts as beauty and the price that comes from being labeled as such.

And of course, it’s got that wonderful indie quality that so many of the BBC’s better show’s have.

Coming back, however, to the topic at hand – what is beauty? Or perhaps it would be better to ask, “What is physical beauty?” Because, from what I’ve observed, the aspects of inner beauty or what makes up a ‘good’ person are far more easier to pin down. Physical beauty remains elusive.

And it’s for this reason that I think statements and titles like “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” are silly at best, and quite damaging to those who feel they’ll never qualify in the worst of circumstances. The definition is never constant: from place to place and time to time, the ideal changes too much to even be considered so.

Of course, this also means that I can’t help but be appreciative of a recent slate of ads that have been running all over Toronto for Dove’s new Firming Lotion, featuring ‘real curves’.1 But from what I’ve read on them so far, they’re stirring up quite a bit of controversy as well.

The two most interesting reactions that I came across were comments from Bill Zwecker and Richard Roeper:

In this day and age, when we are facing a huge obesity problem in this country, we don’t need to encourage anyone — women OR men — to think it’s okay to be out of shape.


But the raw truth is, I find these Dove ads a little unsettling. If I want to see plump gals baring too much skin, I’ll go to Taste of Chicago, OK? I’ll walk down Michigan Avenue or go to Navy Pier. When we’re talking women in their underwear on billboards outside my living room windows, give me the fantasy babes, please.

If that makes me sound superficial, shallow and sexist — well yes, I’m a man.

Now that in itself is quite disturbing. But even more so is the way in which the adverts seem to be undercutting their message.

The above image is, I believe, from the British or European version of the campaign. The images that are being run in Toronto are very different, featuring women of East Asian, Caucasian and African origin. And while representing different, more relevant, ethnicities is in itself not wrong, it’s the how and where that’s been bothering me.

Because I regularly travel to different parts of the city, I’ve seen the ads in many places, and I can say with some certainty that only particular versions of the ads appear in particular places. In other words, to put it bluntly, the whitest ads appear in the whitest places. The more multicultural ones, in such areas.

Of course, I don’t have any empirical evidence to prove this. And perhaps I’m being paranoid.

But I still can’t shake the voice in the back of my mind that says that these ads, while claiming to champion ‘real beauty’, are reinforcing – if only subtly – the ideas and stereotypes that they claim to be fighting.

  • 1To which the cynic in me says, “Yes, but look at what they’re selling.”

And we’ll close with a little Inara George. Because it happened to be playing when I started mulling this over. And because she’s got such a lovely voice. And name.

Pull Things Up
Inara George
From the album All Rise

I’ll let you sleep
Sleep all day it’s fine
A little time, a little time
Something to save
And save this room
Remember this time, this room
You want it to change
Don’t want it to change
It always will

I want to pull things up
And throw them in the air
I want to see you born
I wanted to be there
Now everyone is here
Fill up their cups, they’re here
Make someone play
Don’t know what to say
I’ll leave it to you

And oh my dear
Say it again, my dear
You speak like you sing
So say it again
I’ll leave it to you

I’ve begun to realise that summer school isn’t exactly a great idea. But a meaningless seasonal job is much worse.



  1. June 14, 2006

    as a marketing campaign i think it’s brilliant – i would buy it, just because it looks so real.

    and those women aren’t terribly out of shape or anything – they’re still pleasant to look at.

  2. June 14, 2006

    Oh, I agree – the campaign is definitely well done.

    So much so that it almost makes you forget they’re trying to sell you something to make you look ‘better’.

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