More than one out of four girls feel that media images pressure them to have perfect bodies, according to research conducted by Dove soap in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Etcoff of the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard University, and Dr. Susie Orbach of the London School of Economics.
Findings like that may have spurred Dove to launch the most recent phase of its "Campaign for Real Beauty" during the 2006 Super Bowl. The TV spot showed female tweens and teens staring silently into the camera, with captions like "wishes she were blonde" and "afraid she's fat." Dove's director of marketing for the U.S., Philippe Harousseau, says the goal of the spot was to reach "society -- including mothers, fathers, and daughters." But why did Dove pay top dollar to run the ad during the Super Bowl? Believe it or not, 40 million of the Super Bowl's 90 million viewers are women, according to Harousseau.
One person likely to identify with the Dove ads is Atoosa Rubenstein, Seventeen magazine's editor-in-chief. Rubenstein, 34, admits that as a teen, she disliked the publication. "I didn't fit the American media's definition of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty," she says. "I couldn't follow [the magazine's beauty] advice because I had dark, curly hair. On a business level, I knew that if our fashion and beauty advice wasn't helpful, [teenage girls wouldn't] buy my product." So she asked herself, "How can I use Seventeen's power to make it more inclusive?"
The answer: use "real" girls as models in the magazine. "The media have a responsibility to have an honest dialogue," says Rubenstein. "Teens focus on parts of the bodies that attract boys, and girls are their own worst critics." In response to the negative "inner voices" of her readers, Rubenstein's team conducted mall tours, held casting calls at schools, and listened to readers who took the time to write to her.
Now 80 percent of Seventeen's models are readers of different races, body types, heights, and weights. Chelsea Grider, 16, and a size 12, recently won Seventeen's reader model contest, which was cosponsored by Ford Models. The shift may have helped boost Seventeen's subscriptions, which have jumped 22 percent since January 2004, when Rubenstein joined the magazine.
Other magazines have followed suit. Teen People, credited by Wells as being the first publication to "never hire a commercial model," ran a story last August about Brittany Harper, a 20-year-old size 16, who overcame her self-consciousness by entering beauty pageants -- and beating size 6 girls. Jeannette Porrazzo, editor of the magazine Form and Style, for curvaceous women ages 18 to 35 and sizes 10 to 20, says she felt empathetic watching Dove's new ad. "I have been you; I know how you feel," she recalls thinking.
Knowing how they feel may be the key to knowing how they spend. Dove reports that 56 percent of female viewers say their perception of the brand improved after watching the Super Bowl spot.