Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Literature in the Classroom Assignment: Part 1


Before I turned this into an assignment, I was actually going to blog about it here, a few months back when we looked at the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video in class. The desire to blog and rant about it was sufficient incentive for me to do an assignment on it, and then when I was done I wanted to share it here anyway. Now that the unit is thoroughly complete, I'll be posting this reflection, as well as the other reflections and writing experiments I did across my two Literature in the Classroom assignments. These pieces have not been edited in any way since submission, so anything my lecturer found objectionable or thought was poorly written (actually fairly little, considering I got a 6+ for each assignment), you can find objectionable, too.

Here's a link to the video for Dove Real Beauty Sketches. Watch it first, then read on:

Cliff's notes on what I had to say:
from the first draft (not the version I ended up submitting below): "After having some time for my thoughts to percolate, I believe I expressed my new interpretation of the text with sufficient strength during a group discussion in class by announcing: 'I want to punch this ad in the face!'"

Reflection: “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” by Dove

As a white, semi-middle class male in Australia, I’ve been conditioned to accept it as a universal truth that females are insecure about the way they look, to the extent that they hate their bodies. This, of course, is not universally true, however the incidence is enough that as a high school teacher I can expect to have female students and even work alongside female teachers who suffer from body image issues. Consequently, the first time I saw Dove Real Beauty Sketches, I was inspired and encouraged by seeing a campaign with the apparent aim of improving female body image. Alas, this elation was fleeting.

Superficially, DRBS is effective in its use of binary oppositions to make an overt statement about beauty (Moon, 2001). Each subject describes herself to the sketch artist in what she and the audience) perceives to be a negative way (this, in itself, warrants deeper considerations as to whether or not the descriptions given should be regarded as negative), which is juxtaposed by a second person describing the same woman in a positive light. At the end of the video, the two sketches of each woman are presented side by side in opposition to each other. Invariably, the second sketch appears more appealing to the women in the video and is described positively by each subject.

When I took a step back and considered the advertisement from a different perspective, my affections towards DRBS were replaced with an aggressive distain. As a text analyst, instead of focusing on DRBS as a solution, I considered the cause of the problem (Freebody & Luke, 1990). Having experienced serious body image issues in my own life with symptoms that match body dysmorphic disorder, it has been my experience that body image issues are frequently caused by the acceptance of the belief that beauty is a source of merit. Just as intellectual, moral and financial success are all measures used in my culture to judge oneanother, beauty is used in my culture to judge oneanother, and it is something which we can think of in terms of success and failure. While DRBS challenges the severity with which women stereotypically judge their beauty, it fails to challenge the fact that these same women do judge their beauty. More profoundly, it fails to challenge the issue of women judging their value and success as humans by their perceived beauty. Because it fails to address the deeper psychosocial issues at play, I believe the text is no more equipped to support women’s confidence than a band-aid is equipped to deal with a cleft artery.

While the video was potent in my initial white, affluent Australian Discourse, the video became impotent in my Christian Discourse (Gee, 1991). Just as I was challenged to evaluate the values taken for granted by the text, as a Christian I was also challenged to evaluate what personal values I was applying to the text in order to have my initial response. I realised that I, too, was taking for granted the belief that it is normal and acceptable for women to judge their individual worth based on perceived beauty. This is inconsistent with the very worldview that I claim to uphold. The Bible rejects the worldview that an individual’s value can be measured by how successful they are. Whether social, financial, business, familial, moral, ritual or beauty, these culturally accepted grounds for personal value simply do not apply under biblical theology. Instead, a person’s value is grounded in them being one of God’s creations, made in God’s image, for whom God has laid down His life. For the follower of Jesus, Christ is the most important thing. For DRBS, perceived beauty is the most important thing.

Placing DRBS in a classroom context produces its own challenges. Since this text reinforces idolisation of beauty, I don’t think it would work as a text used to challenge girls and boys over their attitudes towards beauty. However, it does serve a valuable role in helping children learn to decode and challenge persuasive texts. The use of binary opposition between negative and positive is a powerful rhetorical tool which, in this instance, is used to privilege one view and marginalise another. An awareness of this would help students to critically analyse a variety of texts.


  1. I can see the marketing side to this very severely eradicating anything good in it. Dove is a cosmetics and personal care company so they want people to think that beauty is of paramount importance.
    As someone who did used to literally rely on my appearance for work, when I was younger and better looking I see some but very limited merit to this. I think this is especially true of it affecting the jobs we go for, if you need a certain image for the work it matters but in all fairness most of the time it doesn't, this is true of both genders.
    Self image is key and that is what the ad is trying to make you think they are selling but if this was true it would be for therapy not beauty enhancement. Reality is the most perfect looking people are often the most critical and will know every flaw on their entire body. As such classical beauty rarely comes with confidence, more often paranoia.
    I would say the other area of bias is getting someone to describe another they have just met to a stranger. The social convention would tell us what we say will be fed back so we will give a positive account even if they thought the person was a repulsive hag.
    I don't like the way things like this are presented as being nice to people while so evidently meant to make them more critical to buy more of their product.

    1. In the following spiel, I'll be making some very broad generalisations, typecasting and stereotyping. I'll also be using questionable definitions of beauty and smart.

      Beautiful people are generally insecure and hypercritical of their beauty, just as smart people are generally insecure and hypercritical about their smarts, because being beautiful or smart is not just an accessory to our identity, but it's critical to our identity. Because of this, anything that threatens this trait is a serious issue for us. For the smart person, just passing a subject at uni is a personal failure -- you need a high distinction/honours/7 score, and anything less than this undermines your identity as a smart person. For the beautiful person, just having people look at you without being offended by what they see isn't good enough -- you need to look "perfect" and get constant reassurance that you do in fact look perfect. There's always some imperfection in the body. To the average-looking person, the beautiful person' mild flaw brings them down from 100 to 99, and by doing regular maths, we assume that this is a difference of 1, which is insignificant. What we don't realise is that the difference between 99 and 100 is actually infinity, as there are infinite fractions between 99 and 100. Thus, beautiful people legitimately get insecure about things that the rest of us don't even notice or care about, and hate their bodies (and thus, themselves) for things that we didn't even think were things. They go out seeking the approval of others in order to feel good about themselves. We call them "attention seekers" and "cam whores" for their antics, thinking: "she knows she's beautiful, she just wants attention." But in reality, a lot of beautiful people really don't think they're beautiful, and really are desperately craving evidence of approval of others to reassure them that they are in fact beautiful, thus sparing their identities.

    2. Remembering all generalisations are wrong I still agree with your declaration.
      When I was an ugly scrawny little thing and getting more than I should have I was happy being an ugly scrawny little thing.
      Once I started becoming better built all I saw were the imperfections.
      When I stopped going for aesthetics I stopped caring as much how I looked and became happier again.

      I think the thing that defines intelligence is understanding how little we truly know and how good it is not to know things so we can continuously learn.


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