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Real Women Beauty Ads Don’t Tell Whole Story

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

Ultimo Lingerie launched their new “Real Women” marketing campaign this week. They choose ten ordinary women to represent their brand, rather than the typical thin model standard favored by the fashion industry.

They range in ages from 18 to 45 and vary in sizes 8 to 18. This ad strategy may sound familiar since it’s been used by other beauty brands, most notably Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign. I agree with critics who point out that non-traditional models are packaged in the same old box: narrow definitions of diversity, similarly styled hair, make-up, and professional lighting to avoid any physical flaws. But the implied promise behind these photo spreads is that they counteract the lowered self-esteem that most women experience when exposed to a thinner body ideal. Does it work? Not really, since studies also show that normal and overweight women feel worse about themselves after viewing photos of women their own size. Having struggled with my own body issues, I’m left wondering if it’s possible to appreciate any image of another woman, without finding fault in your own.

This is Who I Am, Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes is an enlightening and inspiring book that couples nude photos of women with essays describing how they feel about their bodies. Spanning multiple generations, subjects range in age from 19 to 95, and represent a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and professions. The first photo in the book is of Emily, a 22 year old blond babe who could have been plucked from a Victoria’s Secret catalog. But that is only a small part of who she is. What’s underneath is a woman missing half a lung from complications due to cystic fibrosis, a painful and debilitating disease. Reading her story along with others, I found myself grateful for the stretch marks, scars, and saggy skin I’ve gathered over the years. While I might not make the final cut in any “Real Woman” lingerie competition, I am healthy, happy, and secure in who I am.

“Looks can be deceiving in many ways. It’s important to look deeper than the skin to get the whole picture before you decide what you see.” Thanks, Emily. I’ll keep those words in mind the next time I catch a reflection of my “real” self in the mirror, or flip through the latest fashion mag.

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