There’s a video floating around on the Internet that you’ve probably seen already. There are two doors into a public building, one labeled Average and the other Beautiful. It’s an ad for Dove soap, which isn’t obvious except that even the “average” looking women in this ad are pretty attractive. My reactions to this experiment were emotional and complex. I know it’s an ad and their goal is to manipulate my emotions, but they got me thinking about the way different women reacted to the signs, and what those reactions say about our ideas about beauty and ourselves.
Women by themselves would stare at the signs and have a little internal debate before choosing. It made me cry to see lovely women streaming through the Average door, and yet I know that’s where I’d go. Even if I felt beautiful at that moment (something that rarely happens), I wouldn’t want to seem boastful. If no one was watching, I might try the beautiful door just to see how it felt. The presence of witnesses must affect the choice made, because it isn’t just about how we see ourselves, but how we think others will perceive us.
My favorite moments were when a group of women encouraged one another. Three friends veer from Average to Beautiful. A daughter heading for Average gets pulled over to Beautiful by her mother. After a moment of consideration, another woman pushes her friend’s wheelchair through Beautiful. When the women in the group know each other, there is no question which door to choose. We all deserve such friends and family members in our lives, people who make us turn and own our beauties, whatever they are.
The thing that bothered me the most was the woman who stopped, stared up at the two signs, then walked away without entering the building at all. I didn’t know if avoiding the doors was a sign of amazing self-worth (“no labels for me!”) or a sign of deep brokenness (“too ugly to enter”). Her decision not to choose was painful to witness. Either she is challenging me to not let others put me in a box, or she is showing me her wounds and daring me to disagree with her.
Either way, the lesson is clear. Words have power. When we use them to label ourselves or others, even in jest, they stick. Our fears of what others might think get tangled around what we think and feel ourselves until we no longer know who we are. We fall victim to the belief that though we are unique, varied, marvelous individuals, the best we can claim is average.
What about you? Average? Beautiful? Or much, much more?