The model says her initial reading of the ad was also positive, and she thinks that the ad has been misconstrued to some degree
Recently, a racist advert by personal care and beauty company Dove caused a storm on social media. Dove came under fire when it posted a series of images, supposedly aimed at “representing the beauty of diversity”. In the images, a black woman is seen taking off a brown T-shirt, only to reveal a white woman in a lighter tee.
The images caused an uproar on social media, with users slamming the company and vowing to discontinue using its products. And the model, Lola Ogunyemi, unwittingly found herself at the center of an international furor. Dove quickly took down the ad and also released an official statement apologizing for the Facebook clip, saying it had “missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully”.
They wrote, "An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused." At the same time, the company also tried to show remorse by stating that the ad was not meant to offend anyone.
"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 offense that it has caused," they tweeted. At the same time, Marissa Solan, spokesperson of the company also came forward regarding the same.
She wanted people to know that the objective of the ad was that the moisturizer meant for everyone. "The visual was intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and, as a result, offended many people. We are deeply sorry," Marissa said.
Amidst all the outrage, model Lola Ogunyemi has now defended the clip, saying that far from belittling black women it celebrated ethnic diversity. In an interview with the Guardian, Ogunyemi spoke about how she had been accustomed to society's perception of and attitude towards dark-skinned people.
She said, "I am a Nigerian woman, born in London and raised in Atlanta. I’ve grown up very aware of society’s opinion that dark-skinned people, especially women, would look better if our skin were lighter." Hearing comments like "you’re so pretty… for a dark-skinned girl" was not something new for the model.
Ogunyemi believes that in many places there are companies that continue to focus on demonstrating a product’s skin-lightening qualities by using models who are darker. Keeping this in mind, Ogunyemi became quite eager to be part of the Dove campaign.
She said, "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." However, her excitement did not last for long as she woke up to the news of the ad getting racist remarks.
"If you Google “racist ad” right now, a picture of my face is the first result. 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."
Ogunyemi also argued that if she had any idea about her being portrayed as inferior, she would have never signed up for it. "If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior, or as the “before” in a before and after shot, I would have been the first to say an emphatic “no”. I would have (un)happily walked right offset and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for," she said.
She explained how her experience with Dove had been good and, in fact, everyone was excited to be part of the project in which they were trying to show that beauty comes in all colors. "The experience I had with the Dove team was positive. I had an amazing time on set. 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."
Rather than finding fault with the clip, people should open their minds, Ogunyemi feels, and look deeper into the meaning of a particular thing rather before branding anything as racial or offensive.
"There is definitely something to be said here about how advertisers need to look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have, specifically when it comes to marginalized groups of women. It is important to examine whether your content shows that your consumer’s voice is not only heard but also valued."
According to Ogunyemi, there is a lot of information that is not being communicated which makes the entire campaign look like a racist remark. "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," Lola says.
She said there was a 30-second, made-for-TV version that had other images and a slogan that made it much clearer that the intention was to say that all women deserved quality products.
She agrees that Dove did the right thing to come forward and apologize but there was a better way to deal with the situation and that was to defend the accusations that were being hurled at them. "While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologize for any offense caused, they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign."
She further added that the remarks that the ad has been getting from people are not going to bring her down because she is aware of who she is. "I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased."
This is not the first time that the company has faced a backlash in the media. In 2011, Dove was slammed for an advertisement which said "before" and "after". While the "before" board had an African-American woman in front of it with cracked skin, the woman in front of the "after" board showed a white woman with smooth glowing skin.
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