Dove takes on toxic influence with ‘Detox Your Feed’

It is recognizably a bedroom, containing all of the usual accoutrements: A bed, a night table, a chest of drawers,  etc. But the walls, floor, ceiling and furniture are covered by the kinds of toxic messages seen by young girls on their social feed every day.

Even when regarded individually, the messages are unnerving. Viewed collectively, they offer a chilling glimpse into the pervasiveness—and persuasiveness—of social media, and the outsized impact it can have on how adolescent girls regard their appearance.

“Botox is a girl’s best friend,” reads one, a reference to the growing number of girls, some as young as 13, who are lining up for botox treatment.

“Who doesn’t love a good butt augmentation,” reads another, referencing the Brazilian butt lift—more formally known as SSBA, or safe subcutaneous buttock augmentation—which has become the world’s fastest-growing cosmetic procedure, even though The Guardian described it last year as “the world’s most dangerous cosmetic surgery.”

“Got my teeth filed today, and I can’t stop smiling,” reads another, referencing the newish phenomenon of young people filing down their teeth with a nail file to remove minor imperfections after seeing influencers perform the wince-inducing action on platforms such as TikTok.

Developed by Edelman Canada, the bedroom installation at Sherway Gardens mall in Toronto is among the Canadian activations in a new global campaign from the Dove Self-Esteem Project called “#DetoxYourFeed.” More than 1,000 people have visited the exhibit since its April 27 debut. Its success has led organizers to extend its run by one week, to May 8.

The global beauty industry is well on its way to becoming a trillion dollar industry, and much of that money has been made by suggesting to women that they simply aren’t good enough.

In 2020, former advertiser turned professor Martha Laham released a book titled Made Up: How the Beauty Industry Manipulates Consumers, Preys on Women’s Insecurities, and Promotes Unattainable Beauty Standards, in which she states that “the pathological pursuit of youth and beauty can swiftly spin out of control and lead us down a crooked path to self-destruction.”

Since 2004, Dove has been putting forward ideas of what constitutes beauty through its Real Beauty platform, with a steady stream of attention-grabbing campaigns and award-winning advertising like “Evolution,” “Reverse Selfie,” and “Real Beauty Sketches.”

But this year, Dove is focusing on one particular and relatively new part of the industry: Influencers. #DetoxYourFeed is not a condemnation of influencers as a whole, but is calling out the potentially harmful advice—whether from influencers, brands or even just friends and family— that is being normalized in teens’ social feeds. The goal, it says, is to empower young people define their own beauty standards and unfollow any content that makes them feel bad about themselves.

The latest iteration of the campaign is being led by a nearly four-minute video called “Toxic Influence,” which features young girls and their mothers in an interview setting. Being boosted through Dove’s YouTube and Instagram channels, as well as paid search and social, it addresses topics like “fitspo” and “thinspo” and the rising trend of promoting elective cosmetic procedures to young girls.

According to a recent NBC News story, influencers are increasingly being offered cheap procedures such as a “lip blush”—in which colour pigments are deposited in lips through a tattoo-like process—to rhinoplasty and breast augmentation, in exchange for promoting the services of clinics.

The video uses A.I. face mapping, a startlingly sophisticated technology that is increasingly blurring the line between fact and fiction, to seemingly depict moms providing their daughters with toxic advice. “That is not me,” says one shocked mom who has just seemingly said of botox: “You’re never too young to start.”

Another woman is stunned to hear herself advocating for “great powders” that suppress hunger, enabling young girls to be able to always skip breakfast and lunch.

Another shakes her head as she watches herself promote a chemical peel (“they’re a total glow-up”), a so-called “skin resurfacing” procedure which uses a mixture of chemicals to remove the top layers of the skin. The Mayo Clinic says that risks stemming from chemical peels can range from redness and changes in skin colour, to infection and even heart, kidney or liver damage for deeper peels.

The damning messages keep coming: “Keep telling yourself, you’re not hungry, you’re just thirsty”; “fake eyelashes are so easy to glue on if you cut your eyelashes off”; “remember, skinny is never finished.”

“You wouldn’t say that to your daughter. But she still hears it online, every day,” says the super. The spot then proceeds with a discussion between the moms and daughters, with moms stunned to learn just how prevalent this type of advice has become. “This stuff is on every girl’s feed,” says one young girl. “It’s scary to me,” says one mom.

“Moms who participated were shocked to learn that this type of harmful beauty advice has become normalized for their daughters,” said Dove in a release. “They were compelled to sit down with their daughters and detox their feeds together.”

Not surprisingly, the installation has also produced strong reactions among moms and daughters. “I have two young daughters. Social media and its toxicity is a topic I would’ve had no idea how to tackle,” said one mom after taking it in. “It’s scary. This should be addressed with all kids, including girls below the age of 10.”

Chris Powell