On Saturday, hair and skin care brand, Dove, came under fire for posting a 13-second Facebook video of a black woman stripping off her shirt to become a white woman. The clip, which has since been deleted from Dove’s Facebook page, was immediately slammed by internet users for suggesting that “darker skin” equaled “dirty” and that the black woman’s appearance was in need of a transformation.
Now, Lola Ogunyemi, the black model at the center of the controversial ad, is speaking out on how she’s not a victim and why she’s standing by the brand’s campaign. In essay for The Guardian, Ogunyemi, who is of Nigerian descent, explained that she was initially excited to participate in the campaign to “represent [her] dark-skinned sisters” and “promote the strength and beauty” of her race.
Ogunyemi went on to reveal that the shots of the women stripping off their shirts to become other women were filmed out of sequence, so she had no clue where in the lineup she stood. Still, she felt confident in the campaign’s message, which she said was to use the women’s differences “to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”
“If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior, or as the ‘before’ in a before and after shot, I would have been the first to say an emphatic ‘no,'” Ogunyemi said. “I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for.”
When the ad debuted, Ogunyemi continued to defend it. She explained that the television commercial’s full, 30-second segment “does a much better job” at conveying the campaign’s original intention of conveying Dove as a universal brand suitable for all colors and skin types. She described the reaction as “upsetting.”
“I had been excited to be a part of the commercial and promote the strength and beauty of my race, so for it to be met with widespread outrage was upsetting,” Ogunyemi said.
Still, Ogunyemi said she understood the outrage. Considering Dove has come under fire before for suggesting that dark skin is inferior, Ogunyemi saw how customers could misinterpret the campaign’s meaning. “There is definitely something to be said here about how advertisers need to look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have, specifically when it comes to marginalized groups of women,” she said.
Though she could see the other side’s perspective, Ogunyemi confirmed that she doesn’t agree with the masses. “I can also see that a lot has been left out,” Ogunyemi said. “The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.”
At the end of her essay, Ogunyemi criticized Dove for backtracking on their original vision in their apology by not defending their choice to include a black woman as a face of their campaign.
“While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologize for any offense caused, they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign,” she wrote. “I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.”