Lezlie Lowe, as usual, is right. There is something offensive about “the sexualization of women for profit” (Say, just how much does The Coast make for those Wet T-shirt contest advertisements from the Palace anyway?). And I do think she’s hit on something when she points out that Dove’s campaign subtly relies on the very values it purports to challenge—a belief that aging women’s bodies are inherently unattractive.

On the other hand, forgive me if I note something contradictory and prudish in Lowe’s own commentary. Lowe claims that “conflating nudity and sexuality…is the territory of a nine-year-old boy.” Please. If the images shown on doveproage.com were of younger women considered more conventionally attractive, viewers would have no problem seeing them as sexual. Any time the words “beauty” and “nudity” are used in the same context, there is an element of sexuality present. There are only two reasons that I can think of why Lowe does not see this. One, she is caught up in that subtly prudish viewpoint that holds that sexuality is only present when it is made explicit ( There are, Lowe notes “no tits, no bush,” in the pictures.) Or, two, Lowe herself cannot accept the idea that the bodies of women over fifty might be desirable.

This is something that I have always found interesting about the Dove campaigns. Their choice of models only seems revolutionary if you accept the very premise that they purport to confront, that there is only one standard of attractiveness. If, however, like me, you already regarded mainstream standards of beauty as too narrow, then the pictures are just more pornography, and should be subject to the same debates about exploitation versus sexual expression as are pictures of what are considered more self-evidently attractive women. To me, to think otherwise smacks of a subtle and unexamined condescension towards the “unconventional” models.

By Martin Wallace

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