Yesterday I blogged about my first day with Dove in New York city, checking out the 60 year retrospective, chatting with scientists and learning more about a few upcoming key launches. Today, I’m super excited to share with you my experiences of day two. The first part of the day was spent listening to inspiring talks in the most beautiful townhouse in Sutton Place, Manhattan. The garden, with its view of the Hudson river was just breathtaking.
Now, before I get into the uplifting and inspiring talks I listened to about real beauty, I want to share the following statistic with you:
Only 2% of women globally describe themselves as beautiful.
Only 2% – Why is this? I believe the media and advertising – with it’s stereotypical images of perfect models – is in part to blame. As an ex model (who in part helped perpetuate this thinking) this is something I’ve been grappling with a lot.
That was why I was so encouraged to see the Dove Real Beauty Pledge – three vows the brand promises to uphold for women everywhere:
The Dove Real Beauty Pledge
1.We always feature real women, never models.
Models reflect a narrow view of beauty. Dove believes that beauty is for everyone and therefore features real women of different ages, sizes, ethnicities, hair colour, type or style.
Zero models in our campaigns.
Real women introduced by their names
Our campaigns reflect the population’s diversity
2. We Portray women as they are in real life.
We never present the unachievable, manipulated, flawless image of “perfect” beauty which the use of retouching tools can promote.
Zero digital distortion of women.
Image approved by the women we feature.
3. We help girls build body confidence and self esteem.
Globally 8 out of 10 girls opt out of key life activities when they don’t feel good about the way they look. Dove has a mission to ensure the next generation grows up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look – helping young people raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential. For over 10 years the Dove Self-Esteem Project has educated over 20 million young people in body confidence and self-esteem and has become the biggest provider of self-esteem education of its kind. We work with world renowned body image experts and leading universities to develop evidence based and academically validated educational tools.
Pretty powerful stuff hey? And, this pledge couldn’t resonate more with me – being the mom of a young, impressionable teen who’s starting to show signs of being insecure about her looks. I think more multi national brands need to be more introspective about the way they communicate with women and girls.
This got me thinking, What does #RealBeauty mean to me? First and foremost, it means being comfortable in your own skin. Comfortable and confidant enough to say what you feel, express your emotions and not be too concerned with other peoples opinions of you. Real beauty is also treating people the way you would like to be treated – with respect and compassion. As I get older, I realize that real beauty has very little to do with looks, it’s all about attitude and grace.
I’m so inspired by strong, independent thinking women who smash conventional barriers. So I was THRILLED to meet and listen to these four, trailblazing women chat about real beauty, and what it means to them.
First up is Rebekah Marine, also know as “The Bionic Model”
Rebekah is a motivational speaker, humanitarian and model. She was born without a right forearm, and wears an i-limb quantum advanced prosthetic arm by Touch Bionics. She is one of the worlds only disabled supermodels.
Rebekah began her talk by explaining that to her, real beauty is about owning one’s uniqueness and embracing the things that make you unique. “In this day and age, we’re all obsessed with perfect, and it can be quite challenging for a lot of people when they can’t see the true beauty in themselves. It was hard for me for a long time. I spent a large portion of my life trying to fit in with the crowd. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I just wanted to be normal. That word normal… It’s very similar to the word perfect – it just doesn’t exist. People spend an entire lifetime trying to achieve perfection. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to cover up our imperfections, we lose ourselves. In a world that’s magnified by beauty, wealth, power and perfection, it can be difficult to accept the things that we cannot change.”
“Beauty is a funny thing,” says Rebekah. She explains how it’s different for everyone and there’s no right or wrong way to embrace it. “My mom has been a big influence on how I perceive true beauty. She helped me embrace the things that I hated about myself like my cellulite, stretch marks and my arm. But she taught me that these were all part of what made me unique. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about these things, trying to conform to unrealistic standards in beauty that we constantly feel pressured to meet. At a very young age, I was told by a modeling agency that I would never find success in the fashion industry, because I didn’t fit the “model” look. This bought on a lot of fears and insecurities that I never even knew I had! After that, I began to hide my arm under long, baggy sweaters, and I would often pose awkwardly in photos, so people wouldn’t notice my arm. I became my own worst enemy and I was SO angry at myself for feeling that way.”
Rebekah says she blames the advertising industry and the ideal body image that they push on us that contributes towards this warped perception she and many women have of their bodies. She adds that a lot of companies won’t even book her. Not because of her arm, ironically, but rather because of her size (Rebekah is a local size 34). “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard I’m too short, my hips are too wide and my thighs are too thick. However, being a model who doesn’t fit the typical industry standards, only means I’ve had to work harder and push further than other models in the industry. Sometimes I think I’m fortunate to struggle – not so much with myself, but more so convincing the industry I have what it takes to be successful. If I never heard the words “no” or “you never will” I wouldn’t know what it’s like to fight for something so hard and appreciate where I am now.”
Rebekah says her journey has mostly been about helping people who may not see the bright side of the cards they were dealt. “It’s about embracing who you are, and educating people about those living with disabilities and differences. I have this rare opportunity to educate. While we all struggle with things in our life, we have the ability to control how we treat those struggles”.
Key messages from Rebekah’s talk:
We need to help young girls feel confident in their own skin
We need to open up a conversation about our differences
Be careful with your words and always aim to be kind
As women, now more than ever, we need to support each other
We then go to listen to Ibtihaj Muhammad, a female Olympic fencer for team USA (7 years). She’s the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the USA in the olympics. She had an incredibly commanding presence, and chatted to us about how beauty & sport intersected in her life, defining her journey as an athlete. She says, growing up, sports were central to her family dynamic. Playing various sports as a Muslim youth, Ibtihaj’s mom always had to adapt the sports uniforms for her, adding long sleeves or pants. Because of this, she says she had a hard time fitting in as a kid.
When she was 12 years old – while driving down the street with her mom in New Jersey – they saw from the road (into the local high school) athletes that had on long jackets, pants and what they thought were helmets. They also had swords in their hands. Her mom said, “I have no idea what sport that is, but when you get to high school, I want you to try that out.” Her mom saw this as a unique opportunity to participate in a sport where she, for once, didn’t need to alter the uniform. So, when Ibtihaj got to high school, she joined the fencing team. “That was the beginning of this journey into sport that I didn’t see coming at the young age of thirteen.” Ibtihaj explains that historically, fencing was a sport for nobility. It’s traditionally very white and expensive. But, fencing also held it’s challenges and Ibtihaj says it was during fencing that she first heard the “N” word when someone referred to her using that phrase. “It was difficult to be questioned – as a girl who was very strong and good in the sport – that as a black girl, I should instead be playing baseball. I was also told that Muslim girls didn’t participate in sport and certainly didn’t fence.”
I’ve now been part of team USA for 7 years, and would like to think I’ve shattered some stereotypical views of which sports African Muslim women, or women, in general can participate in.
Key messages from Ibtihaj’s talk:
Believe in your work ethic
Believe in your strength as a woman
Believe and trust your faith
Next up was the super vivacious and well renowned Plus Size style blogger, Jessica Torres.
Jessica refers to herself as a fashion and body positivity reporter. When you get a chance, go check out her blog HERE.
“We all have body issues, and we all need to be heard. To me it’s all about representation because that matter so much!”
Jessica explains that when she was younger, she didn’t have anyone to look up to – all she saw in the media were skinny models. She jokes that when she saw someone who looked like her, it was always in “before” diet pill pictures… “It was like, you’ll go from this, to something thinner and prettier”. I was always told; “oh, you’re SO pretty, BUT, if you lost some weight, you’d be so much hotter and men would find you so much more attractive. Or, that dress looks SO cute on you, but if you lost a few extra pounds, it would look EVEN better.” Jessica says that these often thoughtless comments really affected the way she saw herself, and the way she let other people treat her. “I missed out on so much. I didn’t go to my high school prom because I thought a body like mine would NEVER look good in a dress. I regret it so much, because that’s something I can’t get back! I used to wear baggy T-shirt and jeans because they hid my body. I was always told, make sure you cover your stomach, make sure you cover your arms – nobody want’s to see that jiggle and all that fat. And that’s what I did.”
Thankfully all that changed when Jessica got to college. There, she met friends who were fuller figured and fabulous. They encouraged her to embrace her body. “I started blogging because I realized there wasn’t anyone who looked like me, and I wanted to show other plus size girls that it’s okay to embrace the body you were born with. Finally I worked up the courage to do a post wearing a two piece swimsuit (it was hard). When I saw that picture, I thought ‘damn, you actually look so good!’ That’s when I realized the perception about how I looked was my own doing. When I started putting myself out there on social media, I started receiving messages from other young girls from different parts of the world telling me how they’d seen my body, and it had inspired them to be positive about their plus size figure.
I realized I needed to embrace who I was, and remind other women that they can be happy right now.”
Key messages from Jessica’s talk:
We depend so much on people to value us, and we shouldn’t
It’s all about feeling empowered with the way you look
I decided I needed to stop judging myself through the eyes of others
You don’t have to wait to be beautiful – you can be beautiful now
You decide when you’re beautiful, don’t let others decide for you
Accept your gene size ( I love this)
I saw my mom dieting and criticizing her body, I picked that up from her, so did my sister
The final speaker – and probably the one I most resonated with – was Caryn Franklin, a British fashion commentator and professor of Diversity in Fashion. She was the fashion editor of cult magazine, i-D in the 1980’s. Caryn chatted to us about how the media needs to change the way it sees and speaks to older women.
“It’s only when you’re listening to your own voice, that you can make a valuable contribution to your industry. I refer to myself a disruptive fashion lover – It’s only when you really love something that you’re in the position to reform it. The power of clothes, the joy of clothes, has never died. I’ve seen clothes embolden women, give them confidence. I’ve seen beauty products do that too. I think bringing beauty and fashion into our lives on our own terms and wanting authenticity is a great place to operate from.”
One of the projects Caryn has been working on recently is counteracting stereotypes around age. She says that young designers need to know that older women have a lot more money to spend, and that we’re all on the path to growing old, so we need to be inspired.
She goes into how, through her intense research, she’s discovered that no matter what your age, there’s pressure coming from mass media about how you should look. “In mass media imagery, you never see the image of a woman who has not been thoroughly post produced (re-touched). Most of the time, all the character and lines have been removed from her face. Yes, there are older women in beauty campaigns – but they’ve been made to look like twenty year olds, and that doesn’t serve us, or younger women. It’s actually younger women for whom the advertising is aimed at, and because of this, they are encouraged to feel a lot of concern about getting older, so corporates can tap into your spending ability and keep you with them for years and years.”
Quite often, says Caryn, companies benefit from the fact that their products don’t actually live up to their claims. This means when you buy the product, you probably only use only a third of it. You then then leave it in the back of their cupboard, and buy another product. It’s a vicious circle and companies love the fact that we are repeat buying with much more frequency than you would, if you were actually using the whole product. Think about that!
“As much as we like to think that some companies want to bolster female self esteem, they’re actually only concerned with profit margins. I’m a big believer in putting the “power of the purse” behind the changes we’d like to see.”
In closing, Caryn explains how important it is for women of her generation (Caryn is 66 years old) to be hyper vigilant about the amount of imagery out there that creates a very corrosive, anxiety and fear driven drive to purchase. “There is an underlying message of loss (ageing) which corporations promote, because they want you to buy into products. A message of atrophy as you begin to loose your youth.” She goes on to say that there is enormous gain to be had from moving through maturity, because of the intellectual capital and experience you gain. “Truthfully, you simply don’t mind the fact that your face is changing,” says Caryn. “So, even though you’re encouraged to think that you’re going to mind, you’re not going to – because the gains are so much more. If we had a better dialogue about what it is to get older – and if we were able to enact that in our fashion and beauty imagery – we may be able to address, in a somewhat disruptive, but very pro-active way, this dialogue, which really is unhelpful.”
Key messages from Caryn’s talk:
Engage with fashion and beauty on your own terms
Style does not retire
Don’t get older just to get wiser, get older because it’s fun
Youthfulness is about how you live, not when you were born
Older women need more achievable and realistic role models
Looks really aren’t that important
After meeting these amazing women, we were whisked downtown to the Dove Real Beauty showcase.The women featured in the Dove Real Beauty Showcase are all real women. Each of them had a say in how they looked in their photographs, and some of the young women featured have also benefitted from self-esteem education delivered through the Dove Self-Esteem Project – a programme created to help girls develop a positive relationship with the way they look and to reach their full potential in life.
The women include Vicki, a retired medal-winning Paralympian from the UK who had to change her definition of beauty after losing her leg to cancer; Paola, a football lover who started her own club for girls in her hometown of Mexico City after she noticed many young girls drop out of sports as they entered their teenage years; Jasmine, a young professional who has decided to pursue career goals instead of traditional beauty ideals in her birthplace of China; and Cammy, a young woman who participated in the Dove Self-Esteem Project over 10 years ago, and now passes it onto the next generation of young girls through her public speaking and coaching. All these dynamic women were photographed for the campaign by none other than world renowned photographer, Mario Testino.
There was a (very) proudly South African moment when I saw South African born Luyanda, a chartered accountant, featured in the campaign. Growing up in South Africa, Luyanda was desperate to fit in – going to great lengths to change her hair so she could look more like what society perceived to be ideal beauty. But, after realizing she would never fit a standard beauty mould, she decided to grow dreadlocks. And she hasn’t looked back since. I loved her comment so much. She said; “I have stopped trying so hard to fit in -my beautiful personality is written all over my face, and that’s the only beauty I need.”
“The way Dove empowers women to celebrate their own unique beauty has long resonated with me. I have always taken the same approach with my pictures. A photographer has a choice – they can take a picture and make it about themselves by using avant- garde techniques, sometimes capturing the weakness in women, or they can choose to give their picture over to the woman in front of the lens by making her look herself and feel her most powerful.” – Mario Testino
What could top such an exciting, inspiring day? A beautiful dinner, that’s what. Come evening, we were whisked to the Liberty warehouse in Brooklyn. But this would be no ordinary journey…I was so excited when I heard we’d be making our way to dinner by water taxi over the Hudson River.
When we arrived at the Liberty Warehouse, it was quite simply breathtaking. The room was twinkling with an array of soft light, and our tables were decorated with the most beautiful orchids. We dined on a warm pear salad with fresh cider vinaigrette and curly frisee for starters, and a delicious pan seared Branzino fish fillet with lemon caper sauce, lemon sautéed kale and vegetable bundles for mains. Needless to say, we went mad at the dessert table.
In the following months, as Dove launch their new and very exciting products into the South African market, I’ll be able to divulge even more. What I can say it that you are all going to LOVE the new and very innovative products.
And to Dove, thank you for a truly memorable press trip. It was, without a doubt, the best one I’ve been on yet. Hope to see you again soon, NYC.
I’m giving one reader the chance to win a Dove hamper, filled with all my favourite products.
The hamper includes: Dove Deeply Nourishing Shower Gel, Dove Essential Nourishment Body Lotion, Dove Intensive Repair Damage Therapy Shampoo & Conditioner, Dove beauty Bar soap, Dove Invisible Dry 48h Anti-Perspirant Spray. Also included is a gorgeous bath robe.
To enter, leave a comment below this post telling me what #RealBeauty means to you. Please ensure you include your email address (only I can see it), so I can contact you, should you be the winner. I’ll announce the name of the winner next week Friday, 24 March 2017 on a In My Bag Facebook post.