This article is not about the cult Polish comedy film "Sexmission" by Juliusz Machulski, but about a great initiative by the Dove brand. What do they have in common? The main characters in the movie, Max and Albert, were trying to bring back the male gender to the world devoid of men, while Dove attempts to bring back the canon of beauty that is not dripping with sex, but is genuine and natural.

“Why do women have shorter feet than men? To be able to stand closer to the sink” or “There are no perfect women, only some are able to cover their defects with breasts” – these are two of many stereotypical and chauvinistic jokes, which label women showing them as housewives or sex objects. Jokes tend to talk about some of our features or faults in a humorous way and we can take them lightly, but when a Polish MEP says at an international forum that women are weaker, smaller and less intelligent than men and hence should earn less, this is no longer funny.  Looking at the image of a woman shown in the media it is hard to find examples showing feminine strength and independence. It is much easier to acquire a few new hang-ups. On TV and in billboards we see long-legged women with slender waists and faultless radiant skin. They are sensible, seductive and beautiful every inch. No wonder a survey by cosmetic company Dove says nearly 70% of women do not identify with the image of a woman created in the media. “This result not only influences how women see themselves. It also hurts them”, says Kenneth Kaadtmann, creative director at Mindshare in Denmark, company responsible for marketing strategy at Dove.

Image hack

For years Dove have been claiming that they’re not trying to sell cosmetics, only to convince women they are beautiful. In one of my recent article I wrote about its moving and inspiring video with a drawer. This time the brand is following the same path in accordance with its mission, promoting an action called “Image hack”. It turns out it all started very innocently… The Mindshare agency was looking for a photo of a beautiful woman on shutterstock. The results were stereotypical, focusing on the external and superficial and not on what’s underneath the physical look. People from the agency started to wonder: “What if we hacked the website and changed the photo search criteria?” And then they thought: “What if we did this legally?” Moving up the ladder, they came up with the idea to start cooperation with top photographers. They would show strong and independent women in their photographs, and putting them on shutterstock they would tag them “beautiful woman” or “real woman”. The action spread and as many as 97 photographers from all over the world decided to join it, and so at the turn of January and February the website was flooded with images of real looking women in unusual shots.

The idea seems simple and obvious, doesn’t it? But it does require being vigilant, perceptive and open-minded. It’s worth paying attention to what surrounds us, as good ideas often come from everyday life.

Unity power

Mindshare agency knew that this wasn’t enough. They understood that in order to change the image of women in society, we need to change the way it is presented in the media. This meant hacking advertising agencies and brands. Dove decided to create a message to two target groups: advertisers and agencies. They wanted to encourage the first group to create briefs differently, and the second group to promote the idea of diversity and not to use stereotypes. As a result, 42 brands joined the initiative and on the World Women’s Day in Denmark there appeared outdoor advertisements using the above mentioned shutterstock photos. Wonderful initiative uniting different companies in one common idea. “The time will show whether we achieved the goal. We can already see that many of the photos are being downloaded and we can presume they are used by many companies. (…) Let’s hope the campaign continues until the entire media sector does away with stereotypes”, Kaatdmann says.

So when I went to check the results of the campaign, typed in “beautiful woman” and “real woman” on shutterstock and saw that the campaign images do not come up as the first results, I felt a little disappointed. But I thought that even though the brand still has plenty to do in this area, they have taken the first very important step. What’s more important than the search results is the message to the world: the image of women created by the media is the one we allow them to create, so the change depends on us.

Below you can view a video about the “Image hack” campaign: