The black model who featured in the Dove ad accused of racism has spoken out to say she is ‘not a victim’ after Dove apologised unreservedly for the advert instead of defending it. Lola Ogunyemi explained in a comment piece for The Guardian that Dove was trying to say that women of all skin types and colours deserve smooth skin – but that message had been lost in unfortunate editing to the clip being shared on social media.
The ad went viral after screenshots showing Ogunyemi taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman underneath were posted on Twitter. Many people pointed out that it echoed old racist adverts that sold soap by claiming it was strong enough to make a black person white.
She said that the longer TV ad, shown in the US, did the campaign’s message more justice because it showed about seven women of different races all turning into each other, with Ogunyemi appearing again at the end. The full Facebook ad also showed the white model taking off her shirt and turning into an Asian model.
Ogunyemi wrote: ‘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”. I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for.’
She said that after the ad went out, people called her to congratulate her – especially for being the first model to appear in the line-up, and ‘for representing Black Girl Magic’. ‘I loved it, and everyone around me seemed to as well,’ the model wrote. ‘I think the full TV edit does a much better job of making the campaign’s message loud and clear.’ Ogunyemi continued on to say that, while she doesn’t believe the Dove ad was intentionally racist, advertisers need to ‘look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have, specifically when it comes to marginalised groups of women’.
‘I can see how the snapshots that are circulating have been misinterpreted, considering the fact that Dove has faced a backlash in the past for the exact same issue.
There is a lack of trust here, and I feel the public was justified in their initial outrage. 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.’
She finished by saying that she agrees with Dove’s decision to apologise for the ad, but that ‘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’. ‘I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign,’ she said. ‘I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.’
*Whatever the intention, many of us still maintain that the people that came up with the ad showed poor judgement at best. We can’t all see things the same way and optics such as this are always open to interpretation. The question should be why did they think women “changing” from one race type to another will be the best way to sell a skin product without people seeing prejudice in it.