On October 10, Lola Ogunyemi, the actress from the now-infamous Dove advertisement, wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian, “I am the woman in the ‘racist Dove ad.’ I am not a victim.”
The ad recently came under fire from consumers when a black woman, Ogunyemi, removed her shirt and transformed into a white woman. The white woman then removed her shirt and turned into an Asian woman. The ad was meant to show that Dove body wash caters to everyone.
Though, once the ad launched, people were upset with the racist undertones. Photos were distributed online of the moment Ogunyemi turned into a white woman. Consumers took to social media to express their distaste for a black woman transforming into a white woman and brought up cases of racist advertisements from the past.
In 2011, Dove received backlash for an ad regarding their VisibleCare body wash. The ad featured three women, left to right a black woman, a Latina woman, and a white woman. Behind them are two before and after shots of skin. The dry skin is behind the black woman and the smooth skin is behind the white woman. Articles began popping up from those who claimed the “‘unintentionally racist ad” showed a black woman’s dry skin fading into a white woman’s smooth skin. The headline for the Jezebel article in 2011 ways, “Dove Body Wash: Strong Enough To Turn A Black Woman White.”
Fast forward to 2017, and Dove quickly responded with an apology for their recent advertisement, saying that they “missed the mark.” In a released statement they wrote, “Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offence that it has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future.”
But, Ogunyemi didn’t feel like the experience was a negative one and was surprised that an advertisement meant to show inclusivity was met with such backlash.
In Ogunyemi’s statement for The Guardian, she wrote, “I know that the beauty industry has fueled this opinion with its long history of presenting lighter, mixed-race or white models as the beauty standard. Historically, and in many countries still today, darker models are even used to demonstrate a product’s skin-lightening qualities to help women reach this standard. This repressive narrative is one I have seen affect women from many different communities I’ve been a part of. And this is why, when Dove offered me the chance to be the face of a new body wash campaign, I jumped.”
“Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued,” she continued. “Then one morning, I woke up to a message from a friend asking if the woman in a post he’d seen was really me. I went online and discovered I had become the unwitting poster child for racist advertising. […] I had been excited to be a part of the commercial and promote the strength and beauty of my race, so for it to be met with widespread outrage was upsetting.”
She added that she and the other actresses were excited at the prospect of turning into one another. Ogunyemi wrote that her time shooting the Dove commercial was a positive one, filled with women. “All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness,” she wrote.
She went on to describe how her friends and family were excited to see her featured first when the ad launched on Facebook. Then again, the 30-second advertisement came out on television, and Ogunyemi was featured first again. “I loved it, and everyone around me seemed to as well. I think the full TV edit does a much better job of making the campaign’s message loud and clear,” she wrote.
Dove has faced issues in the past regarding racist undertones in their ads, which is something that Ogunyemi addressed. “There is a lack of trust here, and I feel the public was justified in their initial outrage. Having said that, I can also see that a lot has been left out. The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.”
She concluded her statement by writing that Dove could have defended their advertisement better and defended the choice to use Ogunyemi as a face for their campaign. “I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.”
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