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Dove's Viral Beauty Campaign May Be Based on Faulty Research

Update Date: Apr 29, 2013 12:42 PM EDT

Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has garnered a lot of attention in recent weeks. A YouTube three-minute video for the company's products ended with the tagline "You're more beautiful than you think". While some have taken issue with the company's focus on a shallow definition of beauty, some argue that the research on which the advertising campaign was based was built on shaky data.

Discovery News reports that the company based its advertising campaign on a study that Dove had commissioned, first in 2004 and then updated in 2011. In the global study of 3,000 women, the study found that only 4 percent of women described themselves as beautiful. The company took this to mean that the majority of women had poor self-esteem about their appearance and wished to change it.

However, the same study found that 55 percent of American women were satisfied with their body shape and weight, a clear majority. An overwhelming 71 percent said that they were satisfied with their beauty. Only 13 percent of respondents said that they were less attractive than other women.

What accounts for this difference? First, it is likely that the use of the word "beautiful" in the question discouraged women from selecting the response. Many women may not have wanted to describe themselves as beautiful simply because that would have classified them as vain. In addition, while "beautiful" is a strong word in our language, many women may have described themselves as "pretty" or "good-looking".

The fact that few women described themselves as beautiful may also be a matter of honesty. Most human skills, talents and traits fall on a bell curve. For example, with humor, most people are neither very hilarious or extremely dull. Most people fall somewhere in the middle or close to the middle. The same could be said for beauty. While most people are neither grotesque nor stunning, they fall somewhere around average, with a few outliers on either side. That means that it is truly possible that, among the women surveyed, only 4 percent were beautiful - possessing the symmetrical features and other features that are generally found to be beautiful across cultural lines.

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