Black model in controversial Dove ad says the message was distorted
Lola Ogunyemi, the model in the heavily criticised Dove ad, responds to the backlash the brand received
A Dove ad published on social media of a black woman morphing into a white woman attracted backlash for racism – it looked like Dove was portraying dark skin as 'dirty' to promote its body wash. But Lola Ogunyemi, the London-born, Atlanta-raised Nigerian model who starred in the now-deleted video, pointed out that the ad's message was distorted after it went viral.
In an article she wrote for The Guardian, Lola said that she sees how the images have been misinterpreted. For the most part, what went viral was her morphing into a white woman. What many missed is how the white woman then morphs into a tanned Asian woman. The intention was to "highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness," she elaborated.
Unfortunately, Dove had already made a reputation for itself. An ad for body wash in 2011 made it look like a dark skinned woman was the 'before', and a white woman the 'after.' In 2014, pictures of a Dove tanning lotion read "Normal to dark skin" – dark skin was not normal, apparently.
"There is a lack of trust here, and I feel the public was justified in their initial outrage," she wrote. "Having said that, I can also see that a lot has been left out. The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion."
Lola explained that she went into the shoot, understanding what Dove was trying to achieve with the ad: "I remember all of us being excited at the idea of wearing nude T-shirts and turning into one another. We weren't sure how the final edit was going to look, nor which of us would actually be featured in it."
Had she known that she would be "portrayed as inferior" because of her dark skin, she would have turned down the job. She added: "That is something that goes against everything I stand for."
In hindsight, Lola thinks that Dove could have done more beyond simply apologising for the ad: by defending their creative vision and decision to feature a dark-skinned black woman in their campaign.
"I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign," Lola wrote. "I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased."
In their apology, Dove promised that they will use the feedback on this ad and "to guide us in the future." Let's hope the mark isn't missed again.
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