Building body confidence & self-esteem
Dove believes that beauty should be a positive experience for every woman and is taking concrete action towards beauty inclusiveness for all women and towards improving self-esteem for girls.
Body confidence affects self-confidence
Women and girls are more anxious about their bodies than ever. And when they lose confidence in their body image, many lose confidence in themselves.
Half the women we spoke to – and seven in ten girls – said they have failed to be assertive or stick to a decision as a result of not feeling good about the way they look.1 This can have a profound effect on their lives, their careers, their futures – and their health.
Eight in ten girls opt out of important life activities, such as trying out for a team or joining a club at school, if they don’t feel good about the way they look. It could even mean that they don’t want to spend time with their friends.
Seven in ten girls stop themselves from eating when they are worried about their appearance, or otherwise put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor. For adult women, it’s an incredible nine in ten.
We want to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. Dove, our leading Beauty & Personal Care brand, is taking concrete actions to make a positive experience of beauty accessible to every woman and girl. Together, we’re reshaping beauty to make it less toxic.
Achieving our target a year ahead of schedule
No young person should be held back from reaching their full potential.
Since 2005, Dove’s self-esteem programmes have helped more than 60 million young people build self-esteem and positive body confidence through our educational programmes: reaching around 41 million through our on-ground Dove Self-Esteem Project and over 21 million through the Clio award winning Cartoon Network partnership episodes. We have achieved our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) target a year ahead of schedule.
Now that we have surpassed our USLP target, we have a new ambition: to have helped a quarter of a billion young people by 2030.
Celebrating real beauty isn’t just building body confidence. It’s building our business too. Dove is our largest brand and it continued to grow in 2019. We’ve seen that ads with progressive portrayals of people are 25% more effective. People connect with them better and talk about them more. That means a stronger impact for our brand.
When women learn about Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, their perception of Dove shifts and they’re more likely to buy our products. We’ve seen a direct link between awareness of the project and brand equity.2 Women are 15% more likely to purchase Dove products – and in some markets, this is even higher. For example, in the US, the proportion of women likely to purchase Dove products increased by 21%, when they were made aware of the impact of the Dove Self-Esteem Project.3
The Dove Real Beauty Pledge
Dove has believed that beauty should be a source of confidence for 62 years, and recommitted to this in 2017 for its 60th anniversary, renewing its vows to women everywhere.
Vow 1: We portray women as they are in real life
We never digitally distort images of women. We never show unachievable, manipulated, flawless images of ‘perfect’ beauty. Instead, we represent women as they are in real life. All women who feature in our ads have approval of the images before they are used.
Vow 2: We portray women with diversity, honesty & respect
We believe that beauty is for everyone. That’s why our campaigns never silently feature models or actresses. Instead, we feature women who represent a broad view of beauty – showing different ages, sizes, ethnicities, hair colours, styles and body types.
Vow 3: We help girls build body confidence and self-esteem
Dove is on a mission to ensure the next generation grow up feeling confident about the way they look to help them reach their full potential. Since 2005, we’ve worked in 142 countries to improve self-esteem in more than 61 million young people with our educational tools.
Celebrating real beauty: the CROWN Coalition & the CROWN Act
Dove’s brand purpose is to make a positive experience of beauty universally accessible to every woman. To achieve this, we need to ensure every woman feels seen and represented in the world of beauty.
As well as using educational tools, Dove is working to create broader societal and environmental systemic change through advocacy. Dove is one of four co-founders of the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Coalition, which is working to pass legislation that bans hair discrimination in schools and workplaces across the US.
Even today, black girls and women face biased grooming policies in schools and workplaces. This has a negative impact on their ability to learn and progress both academically and in their careers, as well as on their self-esteem. Dove’s CROWN research study – which was carried out in 2019 and surveyed 2,000 women employed full time in the US – found that hair discrimination has a measurable social and economic impact on black women. Black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional in the workplace.4
The CROWN Coalition is sponsoring The CROWN Act, a law that prohibits discrimination based on hair style and texture. First introduced in California in January 2019, the CROWN Act expanded the definition of race in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Education Code, to ensure protection in workplaces and in public and charter schools.
The inaugural CROWN Act was signed into law in California on 3 July 2019 and came into effect on 1 January 2020. The CROWN Act has also passed into law in New York, New Jersey, in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio and in Montgomery County, Maryland.
New Jersey, which became the third state to sign the Act into law on 19 December 2019, did so on the one-year anniversary of the wrestling match when New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson's locs were forcibly cut off. Twenty-two additional states are considering the CROWN Act and have either pre-filed, filed or formally stated an intent to introduce their own anti-hair discrimination bills. And in December 2019, the CROWN Act was introduced in both chambers of the US Congress, paving the way for it to become a federal law.
Shattering stereotypes through Project #ShowUs
Around 70% of women do not feel represented in media and advertising. And seven in ten want brands to take responsibility for the images they use.5
In 2019 Dove launched Project #ShowUs, an image library that is created and curated exclusively by women, female-identifying and non-binary individuals. In our research, six in ten women fed back the response that #ShowUs images would have a positive impact on how confident women feel in their appearance, compared to just a fifth who feel similarly about current images in the media.6
So, in partnership with the largest international stock photo distributor, Getty Images, and Girlgaze – a collective of female-identifying and non-binary photographers – Dove is building the world’s largest stock photo library of its kind. A year in the making, the collection is available now for the media and advertising industries to view, license and use. We want to set a new standard for the authentic and diverse representation of women. We’re building the world’s largest photo library of 20,000 images of women, created exclusively by women, female-identifying and non-binary individuals.
We’re offering women around the world the opportunity to become part of the change and add their images to the library. And 10% of every image licensed is used to support female-identifying photographers and grow the collection further. We’re working with global media partners – including Vogue, Stylist and Glamour magazines – to change the landscape of what women see in the media.
Since launching, images from the Project #ShowUs image library have been licensed over 28,000 times by more than 2,500 companies in over 60 countries. The Project #ShowUs image library has doubled in under one year, with 10,000 images now available to license. Furthermore, since launch, over 85,000 women have shown interest in taking part in #ShowUs with nearly 4,000 signing up to become part of the library.
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals
‘No’ to digital photo alterations & ‘yes’ to real life
Project #ShowUs follows Dove’s ‘No Digital Distortion’ mark, which the brand launched in 2018. The ambition behind the symbol is to help women and girls navigate the media landscape. We let them know that the image they’re looking at has not being digitally altered to fit the ideals of what beauty is and isn’t.
The symbol works as a stamp to assure people that no digital distortion has been used on the women featured in Dove's imagery across print, outdoor, in-store, digital and social media. The women included are 100% as you would see them in real life – and 100% beautiful.
Since discovering that unrealistic and digitally altered beauty images used in advertising not only impact self-esteem, but also play a role in eating disorder development, we have been working in partnership with academic institutions and experts in the US to call for the introduction of industry regulations and tax incentives around the way beauty is portrayed in advertising, tackle weight discrimination, and advocate for the sale of diet pills to children under the age of 18 to be banned.
In 2019, Dove began working in partnership with Professor Bryn Austin at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED), a public health incubator based at Harvard School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital, My People Power, and the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) in the US – amongst others – in order to tackle these issues together.
Tackling body confidence & self-esteem through the power of film
Young people are deeply impacted by on-screen images; what they see shapes their relationship with their bodies and beauty standards. Low body confidence and beauty anxieties can affect their health, friendships, and even performance at school. This is why the Dove Self-Esteem Project has been working with US media company ATTN to create ‘Girls Room’, a new five-episode scripted US series from Emmy-award winning writer, producer and actor Lena Waithe.
Girls Room tackles the pain and power of female adolescence through the eyes of five girls as they face the challenges of growing up in today’s social media world. The series is based around those moments spent in bathrooms – the girls’ room. This everyday space is where we experiment with our appearance and shape our sense of self, but also a place of vulnerability where we come face to face with the mirror, the weighing scales and our insecurities.
The series follows each character from the school washroom to their individual bathrooms back home where they confront the barriers to self-esteem that teen girls are facing every day, from the pressures of social media, teasing and bullying to dealing with body dissatisfaction. The content is based on the Dove Self-Esteem Project’s research into body image and was co-created with academic experts from the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England.
“Appearance ideals, pressures and stereotypes are widespread on social media. Studies show that the more time adolescent girls spend on social media the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with their bodies, especially when it comes to posting selfies, seeking validation through comments and likes, and comparing themselves to other people’s highlight reels. We need to disrupt the social media landscape with content that encourages girls to accept and respect their bodies and showcases a diverse and inclusive range of appearances,” said Professor Phillippa Diedrichs, body image expert at the Centre for Appearance Research.
The series is designed to reach girls in the ways that they’re connecting today – peer-to-peer and through content they’re accessing on their phones. ‘Girls Room’ was directed and produced specifically with the mobile-first, vertical viewing habits of today’s young audiences in mind – one of the first full-scale scripted productions to be shot like this.
“By setting the series in the bathroom, we showcase a key space in female development where young girls chat, interact with their friends, see themselves in the mirror and weigh themselves. It is where our body confidence can be made or broken,” said Sophie Galvani, Global Dove Vice President.
Boosting body confidence and self-esteem
Our Dove Self-Esteem Project reaches young people by offering confidence-building workshops for classrooms and educational activities for parents, mentors and youth leaders. We work with world-renowned body image experts and leading universities to develop evidence-based educational tools that have a proven positive tangible impact on young people’s self-esteem.
Our guides for teachers (Confident Me), for parents (Uniquely Me) and for youth leaders (True to Me) help them get young people talking about body image and building their self-confidence. Resources include activity guides and online articles that help parents tackle tough topics, like bullying and poor body image. The titles may vary, but the theme of all our guides is the same - everyone should grow up feeling confident about their looks. The positive impact of our school self-esteem programmes has been proved by academic studies.7
Helping children shine with Steven Universe
What we watch has a big impact on how we feel, especially when we’re young. That’s why Dove has teamed up with the Cartoon Network. Our two-year partnership is helping young people with their body confidence through something they love – cartoons!
Steven Universe, the critically acclaimed cartoon series, has become a global pop culture phenomenon, and is recognised for its themes of inclusivity, empathy and relatability. The show’s diverse characters fight evil by getting strength from their body type, perfectly matching the Dove Self-Esteem Project’s commitment to building body confidence and self-esteem in young people.
To build self-esteem, we’ve created a series of short episodes on issues that matter to children, like teasing and bullying, appreciating our bodies, and navigating social media. It wouldn't be Steven Universe without a song, so we also developed an exclusive body confidence song, ‘We deserve to shine!’ And we’ve published games and an interactive and personalised e-book, ‘Your Magic Mind and Body’.
All content was co-created with body image expert Dr Phillippa Diedrichs from the University of the West of England’s Centre for Appearance Research. Our priority was to make content that was both grounded in scientific evidence and that would have a meaningful impact on young people’s self-esteem. Research shows that media can be a powerful source of influence on young peoples’ perception of body image and emotional intelligence. And thoughtfully designed inclusive content can create more positive attitudes and behaviours towards their own and others’ health.
This was the first time the Dove Self-Esteem Project has reached children directly. We’ve also raised awareness about the partnership among influencers and parents through PR activity, a global communications campaign, and our new app for parents. So far, our partnership with the Cartoon Network on the Steven Universe series has reached more than 21 million young people and earned three Clio Awards in 2019.
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals
Reaching over 6 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
We’ve been working with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) since 2013 to get our message across to more young women. Our Free Being Me programme has reached over 6 million girls in over 125 countries, and we’re aiming to reach 6.5 million by the end of 2020.
Back in 2017, we developed a new badge programme called Action on Body Confidence, to equip girls on how to address the issue of body confidence in their local communities. As the girls develop new advocacy skills, they will be able to make their passion heard, allowing them to act as a life changer in smaller communities and ultimately reach even more girls.
We hosted our inaugural Young Women’s Advocacy Forum (YWAF) at the 2018 UN General Assembly for girls to speak out about body image issues that they feel passionate about. Eleven delegates from ten countries, aged 18-25, advocated for more education on body confidence and self-esteem in their countries. They also received advocacy programming and skills development so they can continue taking action to raise this issue in their local communities.
In 2019, we took part in quarterly webinars with the participants to provide them with continued support, as well as monthly one-to-one sessions to give the girls tailored advice for their projects. Laura, for example, has been interning with Girl Guides USA since January 2019 to build her ‘Girl Led’ platform for girls to share experiences, stories and advice.
She has produced four videos about body confidence, created a board of ‘girl reporters’, and reached 400 girls so far. She is now creating a focus group to collect data on what girls would want to have on this platform. We are working with Laura to help her scale the project.
We also hosted our second YWAF at Women Deliver 2019, the largest conference on the health and rights of girls and women. We formed a Youth Advisory Panel with partners and young leaders from Women Deliver, WAGGGS and others. This is helping us capture the voice of young people in our strategy, programme development and advocacy.
Girl Scout Angeli is an advocate of the Free Being Me programme
Angeli, Girl Scout
“I was 14 when I first attended a Dove self-esteem session in a national Girl Scout camp. I was able to confront insecurities and fears in my own body. The confidence that I gained helped me find that capacity to lead young people in my community as a government official.
“We went on to train adults and young women to share Free Being Me, and in the last three years we reached more than 600,000 girls in the Philippines.
“Cultural change is a big challenge to overcome but for a girl who believes in herself, there ain’t no mountain high enough. Imagine millions of girls believe that they can make the world a better place to live, regardless of their size, race or colour. A future where girls and women can reach their full potential.”
Our new partnership with UNICEF
At Women Deliver 2019, we announced a new three-year partnership between Dove and UNICEF to help 10 million more young people gain self-esteem and body confidence.
UNICEF is reiterating the importance of self-esteem issues by working with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to create new educational modules. The modules will be implemented as part of UNICEF’s wider adolescent life skills programmes for 10-18 year-olds in Brazil, India and Indonesia. The modules, which have been tested by academics, are being implemented into secondary school education systems and after-school programmes.
The partnership brings together the scale and specialised skills of UNICEF with the expertise and experience of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, the world’s largest provider of self-esteem education.
“Young people are some of the world’s best advocates, creators and thinkers. Yet, feelings of disempowerment, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence too often prevent them, especially young girls, from speaking out, standing up for what they believe in, and reaching their full potential,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Through this partnership, we are hoping to change that.”
In 2018, Dove achieved accreditation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as cruelty-free. Since January 2019, PETA’s cruelty-free logo has begun appearing on Dove packaging to assure customers that Dove does not, and will not, conduct any tests on animals anywhere in the world. This makes Dove the biggest beauty brand in the world to be cruelty-free.
PETA has also recognised Unilever’s ongoing work on developing alternative approaches to animal testing and commitment to promoting their adoption worldwide. For over 30 years, we’ve been developing ways for assuring our products are safe, which don’t involve testing on animals. We collaborate with more than 50 partners across the world, including governments and NGOs, openly sharing our scientific expertise and approaches with all interested stakeholders.
Unilever is also supporting the Humane Society International’s #BeCrueltyFree initiative. This is leading legislative reform in key beauty markets to ban cosmetic animal testing and trade. As part of this, Unilever is investing in non-animal safety assessment training for future cosmetics safety scientists.
To facilitate the adoption of a global animal testing ban for cosmetics, we’ve offered to collaborate with an even broader range of stakeholders on a global scale to share our safety assessment approaches. We’re hopeful that through collaboration – among companies, NGOs and governments – it will soon be possible to assess the safety of all cosmetics products without the need for animal testing anywhere in the world.
1Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report (PDF | 2MB) (2017), based on responses from more than 10,500 girls and women aged 10-64 in 13 markets.
2 Millward Brown Dove Masterbrand Dove Self-esteem Project Analysis, September 2016, [Base: Women aged 24-54, USA (758), UK (400), Brazil (643), China (399), India (632)].
3 Millward Brown Dove Masterbrand Dove Self-esteem Project Analysis, September 2016, [Base: Women aged 24-54, USA (758), UK (400), Brazil (643), China (399), India (632)].
4 Dove CROWN Study 2019
5 Dove Impact of Beauty Stereotypes Quant Study, conducted by Edelman Intelligence, Dec 2018 – Feb 2019 with 9,027 women aged 18–64 from 11 countries.
6 Dove Impact of Beauty Stereotypes Quant Study, conducted by Edelman Intelligence, Dec 2018 – Feb 2019 with 9,027 women aged 18–64 from 11 countries.
7Diedrichs, P. et al., ‘Effectiveness of a brief school-based body image intervention ‘Dove Confident Me: Single Session’ when delivered by teachers and researchers: results from a cluster randomised controlled trial’, Behaviour Research and Therapy Journal (2015).