Are We Uglier Than We Think?

Recently, a Dove advertising campaign encouraged thousands of women to ascribe to the notion that they are “more beautiful” than they believe. This advertisement depicts a number of women describing their physical appearance to a forensic artist, who draws them first based on their descriptions, and then based on a description given by someone each individual had met and gotten to know a few weeks earlier.

The advertisement shows the reaction of each woman, as the sketch she described is unveiled next to the sketch the acquaintance described. The women react with amazement and delight as they realize that the sketch they described is much less attractive than the sketch based on strangers’ descriptions. The ad ends with the slogan, “You are more beautiful than you think.”

The ad campaign worked. The video went viral, populating Facebook feeds and YouTube Top 20 lists for weeks. Not surprisingly, most of the viewers and advocates for this advertisement were women. Unfortunately for these thousands of women, recent psychological research has proven that what this advertisement suggests is not actually true — that not only do human beings have a tendency to think of themselves as more attractive than is warranted, we commit this fallacy across physical and psychological borders. The concept of being “above average” is constantly proved wrong, as is the case among drivers, 93% of whom believe they are “above average,” and college professors, 96% of whom rate their work as “above average.”

Psychological research debunks Dove’s beauty and confidence fallacy, as well. When presented with two images of themselves and asked to pick the untouched version, people were more likely to choose photoshopped images that enhanced their attractive qualities than unmodified photographs.

So as consumers — as human beings — what are we supposed to do with these two seemingly contradictory concepts? Are we uglier or more beautiful than we think we are? And just whom should we believe? The truth is, no one defines our beauty but ourselves. There are women who swear that they are the spitting image of Audrey Hepburn. There are women who swear they are the spitting image of Mel Brooks.

Either way, some are wrong and some are right — and, more importantly — it’s for no one to decide but us. What we see when we look in the mirror is so much more than what our features present. We are complex beings with complex concepts of ourselves, made of a mixture of confidence, perceptions, love, and awareness. No soap company or psychological research can define that for us. A commercial that makes us feel good, for however brief a period of time, is a commercial worth watching and one worth sharing.