You’re Better Than You Think

Are women too hard on themselves when it comes to their looks — and everything else?

A Dove ad campaign called “Real Beauty Sketches” has gone viral. In it, women describe themselves to a forensic artist who sketches them from behind a curtain. Next, strangers describe them.

Women used more negative words to describe themselves:

  • (My chin) kind of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile.
  • My mom told me I have a big jaw.
  • I have a big forehead.
  • I have a fat, rounder face.

Strangers made more positive assessments:

  • Her chin was a nice, thin chin.
  • She has nice eyes. They lit up when she spoke.
  • She has a cute chin.
  • She has very nice blue eyes.

Afterwards, the women were surprised by how much more attractive they appeared in the eyes of strangers who — tellingly — yielded more accurate results.

In fact, Dove’s campaign was inspired by research finding that only 4% of women believe they are beautiful. Meanwhile, beauty can be a huge source of self-worth, which is unfortunate when there is so much more to women — and so much that is more significant.

“Good Morning America” did the same experiment and got the same results.

Last summer’s HBO documentary on supermodels, “About Face,” also found plenty of self-criticism among women who are thought the most beautiful among us. For instance, Carmen Dell’Orefice disliked one photo because it showed her feet, which she deemed “unattractive.” I looked at the photo and saw nothing wrong at all. Perfectly normal and natural looking.

We can be our own biggest critic.

But self-criticism doesn’t stop with our looks.

I’ve noticed that I can be pretty tough on myself. But when I consider how I would advise another person in the same situation I’m much more generous.

Being too harsh on ourselves can be a problem because low self-esteem limits us. When we lack faith in ourselves we don’t try, or when we do try, we are less likely to succeed. Or, we may put others down to feel like we’re better than someone else. But as they say, you can’t love until you love yourself.

If we were more self-accepting and self-loving everyone would likely be better off.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 26, 2013, in body image, feminism, psychology, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. I actually like a lot of Dove ads they always seem to convey of message that tells everyone is beautiful. The same goes for this commercial because it really shows us how harsh we judge ourselves. Its easy to see own imperfections that someone might not even notice. For example, my friend yesterday told me that she hates her nose because she believes its ugly. It surprised me because I don’t really look at someone else’s imperfections because we get to know someone by their personality not their looks. But with myself I judge myself more harsh than I would my friend.

  2. Mikaela Hansen

    This Dove advertisement was definitely interesting and eye-catching. We are so critical of ourselves because we are trying to be that “perfect” model person society presents us with. I rarely hear any girl or woman say that they think they are beautiful. But I am also wondering how many people actually outwardly will say that they think they are beautiful? I think many people will not tell others that they think they are beautiful because they don’t want to be deemed as conceited or too into themselves.

  3. This post is so true and relevant. We definitely are our own biggest critic. I think the more we find things about ourselves that we don’t like, we become invested in it to find more. We’re so used to ourselves, we see ourselves everyday that we know our own flaws. But in the eyes of strangers, they don’t see what we see. I really enjoyed watching the video, I think they’re beautiful, it’s crazy how we think of ourselves in such negative ways. I need to keep in mind that “You are more beautiful than you think.”

  4. It’s true! We are our biggest critics of ourselves. I feel like it’s so easy for women to feel not beautiful because of how society sets standards of what “pretty” is. A lot of it has to do with being physically fit, and having a skinny face, and nice hair and pretty colored eyes. I think it’s sad that woman are so hard on themselves and their appearances because it really affects the self-esteem, like the article said. Woman need to start embracing the beauty that they do have!

  5. Ashonti Hunter

    This ad really caught my attention. Almost all of my friends who are ladies often put themselves down because they don’t think they are attractive enough. These days most women are too caught up on being physically attractive. Self esteem seems low (with my friends I notice it more) and it is sad because there is no need for them to try to improve themselves. One of my friends is seriously fit and she is still trying to lose weight! I think if she lost anymore weight she would be a shorter more attractive version of Jack Skellington. I also am not sure how much of the negativity comes from not being “beautiful”. Just as movie stars are seen as beautiful, I do not think they would be see as so if they were regular people. I think everyone really just wants to be desirable, and women associate having huge breasts, a huge butt, or a really pretty face as desirable. I think what also takes a toll on how women feel about themselves is that they are constantly competing with other women, and they are constantly judging one another.

  6. Maciel Chavez

    I agree, women do think negatively about themselves. There is always that part of their body that they don’t like. Many women constantly put themselves down because of this situation. They let their insecurities take over their mind. Not only does it affect them mentally but also physically. Women shouldn’t lower their self-esteem and be too harsh. They should love themselves and love their flaws.

  7. Wow! I’ll admit to getting a little teary watching this. We really do have a tendency to focus on our own flaws, which is sad. If I just focused on the positive and appreciate and love what makes me uniquely me, how much happier would I be! Why is that so hard? If I was content and accepted of who I am, how much more confident would I be? It’s easy to say and talk about being positive about yourself, it’s so much harder to do!

  8. I must agree that there are some issues with this social experiment. It does still hit a very tragic part many of us can relate to. The images of a sexy “natural” (You know the….I haven’t eaten in days and I am about to collapse image, but I am balancing thanks to the weight of my natural but silicone implants) woman is bombarding the media today. The reality is many women have grown up thinking that this is what others find sexy so they try to fit this image. We can be so critical of ourselves. It can lead to obsessing about why we don’t look like them. (Just a hint probably because we eat) We can all be so critical of ourselves. To be honest I can relate because I am not the exception. However seeing how it looks from the outside I know that as a woman I need to be stronger. How can we expect others to see us for who we are if we can’t see our own strengths? Am I saying we need to see beauty because physical appearance is what matters or what other think of us is important? No! What I am saying though is that we need to stop seeing ourselves as not good enough or flawed. Not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually. We have been judged enough throughout society by others it is time that we see our strengths. We don’t look at our friends and say they are so pretty they just have large thighs or odd shaped chin. We see who they are and how beautiful they are. Although I get the experiment diversity is lacking and the company contradicts themselves, but the message that we need to stop criticizing ourselves is still important.

  9. I like this campaign because it does try to get women to stop thinking so negatively about themselves. I know tons of women who have insecurities about themselves, and it can be debilitating in many ways.
    Many women only see their own flaws and obsess over them. However, they have created these flaws in their own minds. Many women repeatedly bash themselves when they see or think about themselves because the first things that come to mind are flaws. It shouldn’t be this way, and I think that Dove’s campaigns are trying to show women this. Even if Dove is creating these ads just for another way of profit, it is still a better message than most other companies that gear their advertisements towards women give.
    I wonder how men would react if they were placed in the same scenario as the women were in this video. Would they be more likely to describe themselves to the artist as negatively as the women did, or neutrally, or with a more positive attitude?

  10. I had heard of this video, but never actually watched it. Now that I have I am glad that I did. I thought it was great and it really is so true. We view ourselves completely different from how others view us. We constantly zoom in on our flaws and if they bother us that much, it will be all that we see. Others can look at us objectively and see that we are actually much more beautiful than we claim to be. A lot of this stems from our societies perception of image and how we are constantly being judged based on appearance. Why are some features considered more beautiful than others? Why do we think one person is pretty, but another person isn’t? Our idea of beauty is shaped by what we see in the media. Those who are on TV and in magazines are how we see beauty. If we don’t match up to that we feel we aren’t pretty. For example we think our noses are too big, our eyes are too small, our face is too wide, but is there really a specific way we should look? I don’t think so. We need to stop comparing ourselves with others and understand that we all look different, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t as beautiful. We might have different features that pop out and that is perfectly ok. I think as a whole we need to stop saying what is beautiful and what is not, as if their was only one look. Instead we should embrace the many different features and see how they give us a look unique to us.

  11. zaineb alkhaleef

    I like that the Dove campaign is showing women of all types. I won’t say it shows “real women” because even skinny “hyper attractive” models are still women too, but I do really think it’s important to get all body types out there for women and men as well. The beauty industry is the beast when it comes to skewing perceptions of women and now increasingly men as well, so it’s good to see a company shake things up a bit and represent a better picture of reality and not a tiny segment of the population which by doing so, and having done so for generations, is highly toxic in my opinion.

  12. I totally agree with the saying that you cant love someone else untill you love your self, this is a saying we have been hearing over and over through out the years. Women have a hard time appreciating and loving what they got because there are so many things that tell us that if we dont look a certain way or act a certain way then we are not beautiful. We are constantly bombarded with images of women that propaganda says is beautiful, the only problem with that is that even a women who are considered the most beautiful would not look like those women in the pictures and that majority of the population do not have the same body types. So we are pressured to look like the women in the magazine but it is not possible because even those women look diffrent in real life normal, yet we still strive for a look that is not possible. A lot of women tend to envy the person whoes grass is greener only you dont see the whole picture you see what you want to see or trained to see, that what you have is not good enough. So yes women are hard on themselfs because they see other women in the mirrior instead of themselves.

  13. I believe that women are really hard on themselves because of the society that we live in. When they are small they are given Barbie dolls to play with and the dolls its self is “perfect” in the eyes if the child body wise. So the girls are exposed to that. Then at a older age when they see television they see these Victoria Secret models who are beautiful in the eyes of society. So to seek approval and attention young girls idealize this, but physically some women will never be six feet tall and really skinny because not everyone is built the same some women have more curves that others and they can’t change that. I have had experiences with girlfriends that always needed to hear that they were beautiful or pretty. I think due to the fact that they didn’t fit into the ideal “beautiful girl” that society hold these super models to. Basically what I am trying to say that every girl has a certain thing that makes her beautiful whether it be her appperance or personality. They should try to be like someone else they should just be themselves.

  14. I watched this video, and I noticed that I cried during the video. As a woman, I completely understand about their feelings. Women always care and criticize their own looking and tend to have negative thoughts about something in our faces. But when someone imagines your face, image, atmosphere, it is totally opposite from yours. They tend to have more positive and beautiful image of you. I also have a complex about my eyes, skin, and nose. I believe that I cannot go out without make-up and actually I have a desire to do plastic surgery in the future. But after watching this video, I noticed how women waste their time, how they are actually beautiful but they just don’t notice. Self-loving is really important to make women more beautiful. Even though they are actually beautiful, they cannot realize their real beauty unless they have confidence in themselves. I decided to try loving my complexion and myself step by step. Thank you for sharing the great video!

  15. Despite the obvious flaws that everyone has been mentioning. The idea over all just shows how much pressure woman feel to be the idea of the perfect woman. Also, I figured it kind of shows how much women compare themselves to each other that they would become much more generous when describing others. This is not a bad thing, But I can see how putting other woman and their feature under a lime-light could be counter productive for building ones self-esteem.

  16. I agree with these women because I’m sensitive at how I look to others too. I’m ok with my face but I care my body a lot. I’m stressed when I gain weight although people around me don’t notice it at all. I also have a friend who suffered from eating disorder because she had been bullied for being fat and had low self-esteem. It took almost a decade to recover her health and change how she thinks about her body. Also, I met a girl in class last quarter and she only ate a proper meal once in 2 days because she thought she would be fat if she eats 3 meals a day. She was very thin like a piece of paper but she was so pale that she didn’t look healthy and attractive to me. Being fat is a huge concern to women because there is the “ideal beauty” of women’s body. Today’s media like to talk about the beauty of women and give the example of “beautiful women’s body”. On the Internet and TV, we can easily find thin women as a symbol of beauty. We know our society considers a fat woman as lazy, irresponsible and unattractive regardless of her personality. I personally understand that the real beauty is not from how people look but I can’t help being sensitive because it’s a social phenomenon. If a majority of people are concerned about it, I need to be concerned too.

  17. I found this article very interesting and also really true. I think women are a lot harder on themselves when it comes to looks and just their lives in general. I know that I am extremely hard on myself. I think it is because we live in a society where advertisements, movies, and television all show people that are “perfect”, if it is by make-up, the camera angle, or by photo shopping flaws out. The reality is that no one looks or acts perfect. We are human and we all make mistakes and have flaws. People want to strive for perfection though. I think people just dwell way too much on the negative and need to embrace the negative and positive about themselves.

  18. This commercial definitely got attentions from the audience. I guess it is because it tried to tell women that they are prettier than they thought. After they saw the image people describe, they felt shocked and surprised. But they were satisfied. I guess sometimes our self-consciousness is so high that we care a lot about our looks. Then it is hard for us to express ourselves. We care too much about how people think about us instead of showing our true side. This commercial is so successful because they tried to encourage women to believe they are more beautiful than they think. It somehow gives women some consolation. There is a version for men too. But I don’t know it is for real or for joke. But I think men need some encouragements too not just only women. It is just that men want a more powerful ad. And dove’s commercial only focuses on women because women usually do the grocery shopping. So they can make the decision to buy which brand they want. That is how it is.

  19. Gilbert Nguyen

    It is definitely true that women are a lot tougher on themselves in their appearance. I enjoyed the video and I know many girls who always criticize their own appearance but whenever someone else gives them a positive outlook of them they are, they realize it’s true. I believe every women should do the study in order to wash away that denial they have in their mind.

    I feel like this video is a really good representation of most women in society. It’s amazing how one other person can change how a drawing looks and shock the person they describe.

  20. I agree with your article. In my opinion, those 4% of women who think they are beautiful have high confidence and those who think negatively of themselves have a lower confidence. But at the same time, maybe we love others more than we love ourself by how we treat others and ourselves.for other people when we look at them, we compliment them and wish we had their features but when we look at ourselves, even if we had the same facial features they do, we still think its not as good. I believe we always put ourselves on a higher standard than others.

  21. I really liked watching this video because I couldn’t agree more. I see women do this all the time. My girlfriend for example will say there is something wrong with a body part, and I never know what she is talking about because all I see is the body part and I don’t find anything wrong with it. I think many women should do this study, because it might help them become less self conscious, and more confident about their looks.

  22. We also project what we dislike about ourselves as what we dislike about others. So when you’re judging someone for what you don’t like about them it’s usually what you don’t want to be, but are at times. And also judging other people makes you judge yourself much harder. I have noticed that I become more cynical and think people are phony or stupid with the more south park that I watch. Which is why I’ve stopped watching it.When you judge others, you think that others are judging you the same way and that can inhibit you from trying things and taking any risks.

  23. Nataliya Naumova

    Maybe, it’s just me. Maybe, I am too sensitive sometimes. But this video really touches me. (I almost cried in the end of the video, when women saw their portraits.) I wish every one could go through this interesting experiment and see their true appearance. I agree that women got more concerns and are stricter judges. But I think that not only women are highly concerned about their appearance in our days, but men too because of all this images of current beauty standards that actually are results of work in Photoshop. Almost always these standards are just fictions, which impossible to meet. It creates a great stress. Thus, men and women feel pressure, shame, disappointment, and depression and don’t see their true beauty. Instead of seeing good characteristic in themselves, they see only bad things. It is interesting, how other people see us in different way, and it helps with self-esteem. I think that it is important to be a “healthy” self-critic. How others see us, women, also depends on how we feel inside. Thus, it is important just to feel good and be bright inside.

  24. Yes, women are way too hard on themselves when it comes to their looks. I personally have seen and spoke to quite a few girls that are in reality are really beautiful women, but for some reason they feel as if they don’t look as good as I see them. I was thinking its maybe because of our society today, the commercials and magazines that the media portrays of how women are “supposed” to look and because everything is photo shopped. These commercial models are impossible to match and that’s why I believe these women feel as if they are not beautiful.

  25. Rohan 7 Things

    Saw this the other day. Very interesting. There’s no doubt that our perception of ourselves is negatively shaped by all sorts of external factors including the “beauty” and fashion industries.

    Very telling!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


  26. Have you seen my post on it? I’ll leave a link. I’m actually pretty critical of the campaign. I definitely think that we are too hard on ourselves (especially women), and that part of the message I agree with, but I feel like the overall message is still that beauty reigns supreme in determining our worth. Let me know if you have any thoughts. Good post- thanks for doing some leg work on the issue.

    • I know the ad has faced a lot of criticism and on those points I didn’t have anything new to say that many others hadn’t already said. I was only focused on a new point rather than piling on. That new point being that women are too hard on themselves, whether it’s their looks or anything else, and recommending we be more generous with ourselves.

  27. I have to say, I completely agree with Akiva. While I appreciate the sentiment of this campaign, and it isn’t completely without validity– it is more than somewhat flawed. I read the same article from Jazzylittledrops, and what struck me the most was this quote: “How beautiful you are affects everything—from your personal relationships to your career. It could not be more critical to your happiness!” Although, I do wonder if perhaps this woman meant your self-esteem and self-image rather than your literal physical attractiveness.

    • Sure. See my responses above. Since those points have been made repeatedly I wasn’t interested in more repetition.

      On the point I made — that women are more generous with others than with themselves — the research makes sense. We have certain cultural notions of what’s beautiful and women would describe themselves as straying from them, while strangers were more generous.

  28. Interesting what Dove has been doing the last few years with these ad campaigns. I wonder if they are selling more soap?
    Your last few paragraphs remind me of the work Kristen Neff has been doing with self-compassion. I took a cultivating compassion course and was surprised how a majority of the women found it near impossible to generate self-compassion while most of the men found the exercise easy or at least do-able.
    One thing that really bothers me about this video is how the woman says that “natural beauty…impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.” If she is talking about external beauty I have a problem with this, because I think for women this is true. External beauty impacts everything for women. On the other hand, I don’t think external beauty impacts everything for men. Marilyn Manson comes to mind.
    Interesting and provocative as usual, Georgia.

    • Ads typically sell by making people feel bad about themselves, and Dove is doing the opposite, overtly, while still throwing in an undercurrent of doubt, covertly.

      Unfortunately, in this culture a woman’s perceived worth too often rests on her looks. Hoping to help change that.

      That said, the research is still telling.

  29. While this campaign has good ideas, it has several problems, as outlined in this article:
    Basically, it’s white normative, as well as beauty normative, and run by a parent company(Unilever), which also owns Axe, famous for their horrifyingly objectifying ads.
    You have written so many wonderful articles about this that you should see that while it is a campaign for beauty, the lists you made above for negative and positive aspects of beauty are demeaning in themselves. The article I linked to makes a wonderful point:

    ” So… I don’t know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. No real diversity celebrated in race, age, or body shape. So you’re beautiful… if you’re thin, don’t have noticeable wrinkles or scars, and have blue eyes. If you’re fat or old… uh, maybe other people don’t think you look as fat and old as you do yourself? Great? Oh, and by the way, there are real women who look like the women on the left. What are you saying about them, exactly? ”
    Thanks, akiva

  30. Solid work in your article today. The cultural matrix that gives rise to the pervasive negativity towards self is deep, complex and strong. I like your work here. Keep it up. Thanks. Alice

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