In 2006 Dove ran a series of posters in their campaign for real beauty, one of which put «wrinkled?» «wonderful?» question boxes next to a photo of a smiling older woman. «Will society ever accept that ‘old’ can be beautiful?»— read the caption, aiming to spark a beauty debate.
Fourteen years later, and consumers’ responses to the recent L’Oreal ad «Wrinkle, Women, Wonderful?» illustrates the disheartening state of that beauty debate in China.
GQ Lab’s commercial for L’Oreal is a 4 episode sci-fi/mystery mini film, depicting a dystopian world in which the powerful WWW corporation pushes a single beauty standard – the so-called Dollface. To achieve Dollface, women undergo procedures to add wrinkles, but a scientist played by actor Zhu Yi Long, switches the meds with L’oreal’s anti-wrinkle product, wreaking havoc on the experiments.
The mini-series delivers dramatic effect through stories of four characters: a woman kidnapped to the clinic by her mother, who worries her daughter won’t find a husband without a beautiful face; an underground agent helping the anti-aging scientist; a woman who’s been passed over for a promotion because of her looks instead of her skills, and the scientist Zhu Yi Long.
According to GQ Lab’s WeChat article, «although the whole story takes place in a fictional world, it reflects reality. WWW corporation is like our social environment: it’s a world where beauty and huge profits are tied together». In this world, beauty companies are actually realizing a «destruction plan, copying the same beauty template that finally obliterates [real] beauty». If this was the initial concept of the film, something went wrong during execution. Even though the ad pushes the idea of a singular beauty standard being harmful, the whole setup seems plain offensive. Much of the audience, however, begs to differ.
On L’Oreal’s official Weibo page, the series cumulatively generated over 4.5 million views, and sifting through 37K comments, you won’t see any signs of an outcry about harmful beauty stereotypes.
Aside from a handful of critical articles and a few comments on about how the film is «a waste of actor’s talent» and «way too long for today’s impatient audience», netizen response is overall enthusiastic.
Audiences were charmed with Zhu Yi Long, and excitedly waited to see how the story would unfold, as the film was released in four installments. There wasn’t a wave of objections against the layered message, that women with wrinkles are not beautiful. Nor was there an avalanche of remarks that the whole dystopian world is even scarier than reality.
True, in many cases beauty brands attempting to do social good by expanding definitions of beauty standard are often perceived as an illusion of honesty. It’s hard to shake off the fact that ultimately their goal is to get women to spend more money on products they don’t necessarily need.
But maybe things really are changing. A deep diving study from media agency Wavemaker predicts that by 2030, outdated ‘ideals’ will be much less appealing for Chinese women. More personal, diverse and holistic beauty will be “a total result of a face that is tailored to express one’s individuality, health, fitness as well as balance of mind.”
The data brings hope that in the next decade, women will become more comfortable embracing their age, and the brands that will resonate with this increasing consumer force will be those that help individuals champion their uniqueness .