Dove’s New Billboards Criticize the Way the Media Discusses Female Athletes’ Looks

Displays in 3 cities call out sexist rhetoric

Headshot of Kristina Monllos

When it comes to commentary about female athletes, media outlets often focus on their looks rather than their performance on the field and that has got to stop, according to Dove's latest campaign. 

In the next evolution of its "My Beauty, My Say" effort, the brand has partnered with former gymnast Shawn Johnson to call out this behavior and encourage the public to challenge the media to do better.

The new work, from Razorfish, uses digital interactive billboards in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, to stream live commentary about female athletes' looks to showcase how often the discussion is focused on their appearance versus their performance. 

"Instead of focusing on their athletic performance, they're often talking about—whether it's their clothing or their looks—it's probably not appropriate to refer to women's nipples or ass when they're talking about their athletic performance," said Jennifer Bremner, director of marketing for Dove.

By "exposing some of the comments that the media is using to belittle a female athlete's accomplishments" through digital billboards as well as with a push on the Unilever brand's social channels, Bremner said Dove hopes to "encourage people everywhere to join the conversation and challenge and push back against the negative commentary regarding female athletes' looks versus their performance." 

She added: "If you want to criticize them, criticize them on the field, not how they look playing the game." 

To release its new campaign Dove turned to Johnson, who detailed how critiques of her looks had negative impacts on her confidence: "I was at this competition to compete as a world-class athlete, but so much of the conversation was about how I looked. I was being told by the media, and the world, that I was 'too muscular,' that I had 'too much bulk,' that I was 'too short,' that I 'looked too young.' People even said that I had 'big ears!'" 

"Because of all those comments, I was constantly aware of aesthetics," wrote Johnson. "I tried to figure out how to do my hair and makeup and make my leotard look better. I even remember going into the cafeteria and questioning what I should eat. I needed a lot of fuel, but all I kept thinking about was what I had been told about my weight, and I thought, 'Maybe I shouldn't eat as much, so I can shed a few pounds to potentially win.' With the commentators and the news reporters focused on a topic that had nothing to do with my sport and my hard work, I felt helpless." 

As part of the new campaign, Dove has launched a hub on its site where it people are encouraged to tweet at media outlets "whose coverage perpetuates this negativity" and question their focus on female athletes' looks using the #MyBeautyMySay hashtag. 

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.