Three seconds. That's the length of the ad that Dove posted on Friday 6th October, depicting three models removing their flesh-toned T-shirts in succession. But the backlash that has come from that clip — which Dove pulled over the weekend — has lasted much, much longer. And it's a discussion the beauty industry desperately needs to be having.
According to the parent company Unilever, the body wash ad was intended to "celebrate diversity," but landed them in hot water as people quickly pointed out how racially insensitive it actually was. Makeup artist Naomi Blake posted a screen grab of the gif on Facebook, which now has over 10,000 shares — showing the problematic implications of the ad: a Black woman "turning" white, presumably after using the advertised soap to "clean" herself.
It's especially troubling considering that soap and beauty advertisements dating centuries back have included similar themes, which are rooted in racism and colourism.
Dove quickly pulled the ad, and released an apology. "An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offence it caused." But actress Gabrielle Union and writer and producer Ava Duvernay were among many who felt that wasn't enough. "I really would like to know who exactly had a seat at the table making this decision," Union tweeted. Duvernay wrote, "You can do better than 'missed the mark.' Flip + diminishing. Deepens your offence. You do good work. Have been for years. Do better here."
Unilever, Dove's parent company, released an additional statement to Refinery29, saying, "As part of a campaign for Dove body wash, a 3-second video clip was posted to our US Facebook page. It featured three women of different ethnicities, each removing a t-shirt in matching skin tones to reveal the next woman. The visual was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and as a result offended many people. We are deeply sorry. We have removed the post and have not published any related content. We do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience. We are reevaluating our internal processes for creating and reviewing content."
Unilever is taking steps to be more inclusive, including its #Unstereotype Alliance and Real Beauty Productions digital studio headed up by Shonda Rhimes, which invites women to share their desires regarding the media's perception of beauty. But these steps don't excuse the stumbles... and this one isn't their first or the first of any beauty brand this year for that matter (who can forget Nivea's White is Purity deodorant campaign from a few months back).
As Union pointed out, it takes having people of colour involved in the vetting processes to keep these ideas from making it past the whiteboard. And it takes educating ourselves to make sure these ideas don't even make it to the whiteboard. We asked Unilever for the steps it will be taking to re-revaluate its internal approval processes, and will update this post when we hear back. In the meantime, here's hoping that those Fenty Skin Care rumours are true. Rihanna, who's already changed the industry one month deep into the beauty game, can give a pretty damn good primer on inclusivity for those who desperately need it.
A previous version of this post identified the makeup artist by her Facebook username. It has been updated to include her real name.