Embarrassing, manipulative, Dove.

After I saw the first Dove ad in their on-going “Campaign for Real Beauty,” I kept my response to myself because I was fairly certain that I would be the only person in the whole, wide world (as we used to say when we were kids) who would find it ... well: Repulsive.

The Dove ad features six ordinary women with different body types, none of whom look particularly anorexic. They have been lined up in white bras and panties and posed to look in-your face confident, cocky, and sexy. What they resemble, instead, is a bunch of bank clerks or dental assistants in a locker room after a sweaty game of ping pong, who are too old to be thrusting their underwear clad-hips towards the pervert photographer who has somehow talked them into posing half naked for the picture.

Thank heavens he didn’t catch them in the shower.

The caption under the photo, which has been made into giant billboards and plastered all over the known universe, is “Real Women Have Curves.” The concept is this: You, your grandmother, the 200 pound captain of the Women’s Mud Wrestling Team – none of us have to judge ourselves against conventional standards of beauty (size zero models with thighs perfect for a game of pick-up sticks). Why? Because Dove has freed us to glory in our roundness, our tattoos (yes. One of the panty-clad dental assistants has a tattoo on her thigh), our chubby ankles, our droopy hair, and our (bravo, whoopee, let’s hear it from the audience) individuality.

I hope that Dove gave those poor dumb clucks a lot of money because, instead of individuality, what the ad evokes is a desire to throw each of them a towel and urge her to “Cover up.”

Never, never, never had I suspected that I was one of many who found this advertising campaign objectionable. But last week, during one of our marathon telephone calls, my sister, Linda, said, “You should write a column about those revolting Dove ads.” It was she who told me to go on-line and check out the various “I hate the Dove ads” websites and links.

Dubious that such things could exist, I obeyed. Good grief. There they were! Spoofs galore. Some border on being deranged. Some are really clever. Most are very, very funny.

First I have to tell you about A Dove Film Evolution. This is a live action commercial in which, over a period of sixty seconds, an ordinarily pretty woman who looks like your cousin Martha before she has brushed her teeth is transformed via make-up and trick photography (a Photoshop-like tool widens her eyes, narrows her jaw, slims her neck, and so on) into a gorgeously boring every-hair-in-place fashion model. At the end of the commercial, these words flash across the screen: “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.” The purpose of the ad, I suppose, is to counsel us to take off our makeup, flaunt our blemishes, and, like Martha, go out in public before we have been air brushed or brushed our teeth.

A spoof of this ad, called Slob Evolution, shows a guy so similar in looks to the woman in Dove Evolution that he could be her fraternal twin. Mimicking her actions, he sits on a stool in front of the camera. But instead of being fussed over with curling irons, things are being shoved into his mouth: shot glasses of whisky, cans of beer, cigarettes, fast food, and God knows what else. Over sixty seconds, his face gets dirtier, sloppier, wider, and uglier, until he has been transformed into a big, fat slob. At the end of the spoof, his photograph is posted on a giant billboard with the caption: Lardo! These words follow: “Thank God our perception of life is distorted. Nobody wants to look at ugly people.”

It’s funny. It’s stupid. And I am probably stupid because I think it’s funny, but ... oh, well.

Before I go on, let me assure you that the women in these Dove ads are not fat. Nor are they ugly. Any one of them walking past a construction site (if she were fully dressed) would probably evoke hoots of appreciation. The little blond in the center, in fact, is adorable. But seeing them lumped together in their underwear and knowing that they are not (if we are to believe Dove) professional models is just plain disconcerting. How comfortable would I be if my bank teller handed me a ten-dollar bill dressed only in her undies? Would I let my dentist’s assistant within fifty feet of me if she were garbed only in a bra and underpants? Or, to reverse the equation, how long would I want to look at a billboard displaying my UPS driver, my accountant, or the guys who pick up my garbage, if they were wearing only jockey shorts and black socks. Ordinary people, unless we are sleeping with them, should wear clothes. Otherwise, it’s just too, damn personal.

Which brings us back to the concept of models. They are, in effect, mannequins. Webster defines them as: “1a: an artist’s, tailor’s, or dressmaker’s lay figure b: DUMMY 2: a woman who models clothing :MODEL.”

The purpose – the only purpose – of a mannequin, model, or dummy, is to sell a product. And regardless of Dove’s proclamation that its billboard was created to celebrate “real beauty,” it is only trying to sell firming cream. Which begs the question. If all of us women are supposed to embrace our looks without comparing ourselves to movie stars, why the hell would we need Dove’s firming cream (Skin Vitalizer; hand and body lotions; moisturizers; shampoos, or conditioners)?

There is a myth out there that men hate but that women love these ads. Not I. When I am looking at a fashion magazine, I don’t want to be distracted by the puffy skin under a model’s armpit or the ripples on her thighs. I want to look at the lipstick, earrings, or sweater she is wearing and contemplate buying it. I don’t want ads for beauty products to be sociological treatises on my superficiality. I just want to look at pretty people.

Lighten up, Dove. And ladies, ladies, ladies. Please, for heaven’s sake, put your clothes back on.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit: shellyreuben.com.

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