The “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign Got It Wrong

Bad news. That “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” video, where a group of women describe themselves to a forensic artist, and realize how skewed their self-images are and cry, was not quite as accurate as we’d like to believe. The message was moving, yes. And for a moment, it was reassuring to believe that “you are more beautiful than you think,” but according to research, the opposite is true.

A series of studies done at University of Chicago and University of Virginia suggest that , if anything, we overestimate ourselves. Not just in terms of our appearance — but in every way. Researchers took pictures of participants and created enhanced versions of those pictures so that some were more attractive and others were less so. When asked to select the real picture of themselves, participants tended to pick the most attractive one. When asked to select the real picture of a person other than themselves, participants were able to do that with no problem.

This bias toward our own greatness can be attributed to a phenomenon psychologists call self-enhancement — where we overestimate our own good behavior, but accurately predict the behavior of others. It’s like when we say we swear we’re going to get to the gym four times this week, but when our friend tells us the same thing, we roll our eyes because we know it will be more like once. Also, research has shown that in addition to overestimating our good behavior, we seem to think we are above average at most things — like driving — when really, we may just be average. (Um. I still know I’m an amazing driver, thank you very much.)

So why do we insist on deluding ourselves? Because it’s easier than lying to everyone. The self-enhancement effect allows us promote ourselves socially and romantically, to be confident without feeling like big, fat hypocritical liars. So, back to the Dove campaign. They misled us. But no harm, no foul. If confidence is the end goal, I’ll just go on believing that I’m more beautiful than I think. [Scientific American]