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Dove and The Longstanding Tradition of Racist Soap Advertising

In 2017, Dove aired an advertisement that got extremely critiqued for racism. This ad showed two women who apply the dove bodywash, and then transition from black women to white women. This shift from a black woman to a white one is reminiscent of a typical racist beauty-product advertising cliché: a "filthy" black person becoming "white" after being purified or cleansed. Unfortunately, rather than breaking away from this outdated standard and aiming for diversity, this dove commercial contributed to the longstanding tradition of racist soap advertising.


Here are some old adverts with obvious racist connotations to give you a better idea:




Pears Advertisement, 1884.

This soap ad shows two children in a bathroom; one black and one white. The ad mentions the phrase "For Improving The Complexion", and shows the white kid washing away the dark complexion of the black kid. It conveys the idea that white people are superior to black people by showing how to wash away the “blackness” off a black person. It also implies how washing it away will make the blacks happy (portrayed by a smile) and in turn, shows that trying to be white is in their best interest. This Pears ad further shows that Pear's soap will civilize Africans, wash away their barbarism, and bring these primitive people closer to becoming civilized.





N.K Fairbank Co’s Soap Wrapper, 1860s.

This old advertisement shows a white girl with blonde hair (objective American beauty standard) asking an Afro-American girl Why her mother doesn’t wash her with Fairy Soap. This ad directly implies that if the black girl had been using the soap, she would have been as white and “pure” as the other girl. Furthermore, the implication that the Afro-skin American's appears dirty because it is darker than the complexion of the white girl is also evident. This was first published in the 1860s, whereas slavery was declared illegal in 1865. Hence, it is understandable why most advertising of the time did not treat African Americans fairly. But seeing brands like Dove following the same trope in modern times is disappointing to say the least.


Looking at these ads, one wonders if they are any different from the ones Dove released in 2017.


Moreover, this was not the first time Dove had shown such a transformation. In 2011, a black woman transitioned into white woman after using dove's body lotion. This time, although the advertisement was soon removed with the following tweet:


"An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offence it caused."

The removal, however, did not undo the harm done, as most viewers advocated for a boycott of the brand. While a Dove spokesman attempted to justify the ad by claiming that it was intended to celebrate diversity, this does not appear to be the case. The advertisement plainly showed a black woman being “purified” with the body wash and turning white.


With these instances of racial imagery in advertisements, it is critical to recognize that advertising does not work in a one-way manner; rather, it reinforces the values that characterize our world. So, what do these advertisements reveal about our society's moral values? And about our society's attitude towards the black community? These types of tone-deaf advertising surely provide society with numerous reality checks. Is it still possible to live in a world based on the ideology of white supremacy? Are we still trying to instill the notion that black people are inferior? Is this so popular among white people that African Americans don't even have a say in how the media portrays them?


It's also worth noting that if the positions were reversed, and Dove depicted a white woman transitioning to a black one, the ad would not have been perceived as problematic by both the white and black communities. The other way around is problematic because it is directly related to how African Americans and the black community is treated in America; they are judged by the color of their skin and are habitually discriminated against because of subjective beauty standards.


Dove never answered to the question of how many African Americans in their organization examined the advertisement before it was posted. In addition, the company refused to admit and apologize for using racism as a marketing strategy to encourage customers to buy soap. It may be argued that because racial discourse is so important, we should not rely on a beauty company to facilitate it. However, such kind of thinking conveniently ignores how beauty companies like Dove use racism as a marketing strategy. They imply that you must be white to be beautiful, and that they will assist you in becoming white. They have persuaded millions of people that they need to buy these whitening products in order to meet the social standards of beauty.


In conclusion, the never-ending practice of exploiting racism to sell your products must stop. The pushback against advertisements with racial overtones is crucial and necessary, but the companies at fault must accept responsibility for their actions and work to improve. To just continue the "apologizing" cycle for such racially insensitive commercials that are causing so much harm and undoing any progress achieved in terms of combating racism in America is meaningless. Such regrets are only valid till the subsequent obnoxious advertisement is seen. Nobody knows where or when it will come to an end. But it should stop now.

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The way you’ve given different companies’ products and how they reinforce racism to promote their “whitening” or “purifying” products, was extremely required. Growing up in a society like Pakistan, I’ve always been bullied on my complexion, people have told be several ways through which I can be “de-tanned”, and this has had a really negative effect on my since childhood. Seeing the “fair-and-lovely” advertisement since my early years has had me thought that why do people want their colour to change and why is it so desired. The way media products create those fake beauty standards have an effect on the audience, whether it is desiring it, or creating insecurities among the people. Having a “Gori bivi” is desired by…

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Aaniah Ahmed 25110324
Aaniah Ahmed 25110324
2022年12月11日

Your post highlights some extremely important points. What is most disturbing is the fact that Dove has continued to feed people with ideas of colorism and racism years later as well. Their marketing campaigns in recent years have all added to the same narrative that they have previously established by means of their adverts. Even till date, Dove as a company still stands by the idea of 'whitewash', and I fail to understand how this is acceptable coming from a company that has a world wide consumer base and following.

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I think what lets Dove continue an advertisement campaign with a tint of racism is the customer base that continues to purchase products of the brand. As long as there is no backlash and even if there is backlash but it does not get translated into the revenue Dove is making, Dove will not change its tone-deaf attitude. Because at the end of the day, it is a profitmaking organization and is not very concerned with how harmful its racism is.

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Leena Mustafa 25020392
Leena Mustafa 25020392
2022年12月11日

Love how you’ve gone in depth into a topic that needed to be discussed! Colourism is greatly imbedded in our society. Since childhood I’ve multiple times seen my female house helps apply skin bleaching creams and whitening soaps which would in turn burn their skin due to the bleaching ingredient. Wheatish colour is associated with having a “dirty” skin while fair complexion is associatied with cleanliness specially in the sub continent. Dove recently dropped an advertisment that was accused of rascism because the woman is shown as wearing a brown shirt and after applying dove she transforms and is shown as wearing a white one. In The subcontinent specifically the uneducated class internalises colourist media because they already have …

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Yes, the main issue with advertisement campaigns like this is that there are people who start to think that one needs to be light skinned or else they are inferior. There are instances when women think that they will not be able to marry someone as they will be rejected for the skin color they have. Which is why so many young girls start purchasing whitening creams when it is the time for them to get married. Moreover, this culture of getting whitening injections also stems from the beauty standards set by advertisements like Dove's. People start to feel uncomfortable in their own skin and this is not something that should be encouraged. Its time to promote diversity and inclusivity…

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Iman Ahmad
Iman Ahmad
2022年12月11日

The idea of colorism is not only prevalent in large, globalized companies but it also persists in Pakistan. For instance, the popularity of whitening creams, specifically targeted towards women e.g. "Fair and Lovely" and "Ponds Brightening face wash." and "Zubaida Aapa Whitening Soap" is only growing, and continues to be accepted into society. The problem is that they not only showcase white skin as being more attractive, they also apply connotations of morality with different skin colors. For example, being "lovely" or "clean" in comparison to having "dull" skin. Sadly, this culture also extends to rishta culture in Pakistan, and is a theme that my partner and I actually discussed in our presentation on "Indian Matchmaking" as people have criteria's…


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This was such an important topic to shed light on! I have not seen this advert, yet I am not surprised by the racist ideals it is perpetuating. The association of cleanliness with 'whiteness' and dirt with 'blackness' is so prevalent in Pakistani society as well. Fair and Lovely has been the biggest proponent of eurocentric beauty standards, and I have been a part of so many conversations with Pakistani women who have internalised these standards. A friend of mine was once complaining about how she thinks her feet are ugly because they are ashy and dry, but the way she phrased it was that they're 'kaalay and ganday'. Another friend of mine, who is comparatively darker-skinned, felt very hurt…

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I truly agree with what you said specially the part that South Asians "have spent decades ridding ourselves of those traits". This reminds me of so many after and before transformations of our both male and female actors. One main difference in their looks is always that now they look comparatively fair and that is always because they excessively use whitening creams over the years and get whitening injections because they think that their on screen beauty lies in looking fair and white.

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