In a stunning 3-minute PSA for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, Dove examines the cost of toxic beauty standards on the mental health of developing minds. The video emphasizes the cascading and long-term consequences children exposed to certain content can form, including the development of life-threatening eating disorders.
In the ad we follow Mary, the central focus of the piece, from early childhood to her young teens. We see her go from the uninterrupted joy of her young life to something hyper fixated and solemn. It begins the moment she receives her first smartphone, which the PSA draws attention to.
From there, Mary is sucked into the endless stream of beauty and body content online. Not far from her 13th birthday, she is shown to be writing in a journal covered in rainbow stickers and “keep out” stickers, outlining her weight-loss goals and her plan to go on Weightwatchers for adolescents. She plans a detailed workout routine and develops a fixation on her eating habits. We see her standing in front of the mirror, examining her still-developing body from the side to see how thin she is. Then, we see a self-recorded video of her weighing herself and then turning the camera back to see her painfully childish face.
We see her mother struggle to take the phone away from Mary, clearly worried about the effect it is having on her child.
Now, her journal isn’t just chronicling her exercise goals, but is an outlet to berate herself for overeating. Titles like “Stop that” and “Craving!” scatter the pages as she tries to talk herself out of being hungry. All the while, social media clips of frail bodies scroll past, while an influencer announces that thigh gaps are back in style.
“Look at yourself. Your gross ugly self,” Mary writes.
The next image we see is of Mary bent over and withdrawn. She is thin. She is in the hospital. Her frail, pale hand on the blankets as she enters eating disorder recovery.
Now, Mary is older. Healthier.
Her mother, who once tried so desperately to pull the source of Mary’s insecurities away from her, sits next to her and sings about how beautiful her daughter is. Mary wipes away a stray tear on her mother’s face.
Social Media and Body Image
Finally, Dove shows us a montage of young women, of all shapes, skin tones, and sizes, who are in recovery from body dysmorphia and eating disorders. These women and girls were shaped by the social media landscape around them, and in their struggle, there is not only beauty, but hope. It tells us that recovery is possible.
This PSA clearly demonstrates the relationship between what children are exposed to and how they come to view themselves and their own bodies. Even adults are influenced by social media trends. So, you can imagine how difficult it is for children and teens to separate themselves from beauty standards.
Children are being impacted and influenced by beauty standards at younger and younger ages. We are starting to better understand how devastating mental health consequences can arise from an unhealthy interaction with social media and exposure to toxic beauty standards.
Dove leaves us with an encouragement to sign their petition to pass the Kids Online Safety Act, which requires social media platforms to protect children and their private information online.