CHICAGO – Gina Crisanti was taking out the trash at work one day when a stranger approached her with an odd request. It was a talent scout who wanted her to try out for an ad campaign to sell Dove beauty products – wearing nothing but her underwear.
The offer was puzzling to say the least. Crisanti has never thought of herself as anywhere near supermodel stature – curvy and closer to 5 feet than 6.
But that, it turns out, is the point. Crisanti and five other “real” women – ranging from size 6 to 14 – are the stars of a Dove ad campaign that shows them wearing only bras, panties and big smiles.
“It is our belief that beauty comes in different shapes, sizes and ages,” said Philippe Harousseau, Dove’s marketing director on the “Campaign for Real Beauty.” “Our mission is to make more women feel beautiful every day by broadening the definition of beauty.”
The ads, the second phase of a campaign launched last September for Unilever’s Dove, have served as a source of both inspiration and ridicule.
They’re designed to sell products from Dove’s firming collection – lotions and creams meant to reduce the appearance of cellulite with slogans like, “Let’s face it, firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge.”
Some find it strange that the ads aim to profit from improving the same curves the campaign celebrates, but Crisanti and others involved with the campaign say they are hearing from women – and some men – who are huge fans.
“We’ve had some girls who’ve written in saying they are struggling with anorexia and they say they keep a picture of us on the refrigerator (as a reminder) that these girls are normal and beautiful and they can be normal and beautiful,” Crisanti said.
The ads can be a touchy subject – as witnessed by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper after he characterized the women as “chunky.” He was bombarded with hate mail from about a thousand readers. Some called Roeper an “idiot,” “Neanderthal,” and “sexist loser” – quotes he included in a follow-up column explaining his original comments.
Rebecca Traister’s reaction to the campaign was sharper than Roeper’s: “Yes, when I think of putting beauty in perspective for girls, mostly I think of suggesting that they shell out for three separately sold products that will temporarily make it appear that they have less cellulite,” she wrote sarcastically in her Salon.com column.
While it isn’t the first time that full-bodied women have been depicted in ads, the campaign has caught the attention of counselors and social workers who deal with eating disorders and other body-image issues, along with those in the business of selling products.
“Competitors will watch very carefully to see if they did tap into something,” said Tom Collinger, a professor of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University.
In Chicago, woman after woman passing by a huge Dove billboard said they think the company has done just that.
“Most girls don’t have that type of body (of a model) and they know they won’t get to that,” said Gaby Hurtado, 22. “But seeing this they say, ‘I can do that.’ “