Lola Ogunyemi, the model that outraged social media users felt was denigrated in an ad for Dove soap, said the ad wasn’t racist at all.
Ogunyemi explained that the screenshots of the longer, 30-second TV ad confused the context and made the ad seem like something it wasn’t. The pictures posted to social media show Ogunyemi lifting her shirt and transforming into a white model. Since Dove is advertising soap, the public interpreted the ad as indicating a black person would turn clean and white after using the soap, the New York Post reported.
Ogunyemi claims that was not the intention at all and she is proud of the work she is doing as part of the ad campaign and as part of her larger work with Dove.
“Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued,” Ogunyemi wrote for an op-ed published in The Guardian.
In an interview for BBC, Ogunyemi states that Dove’s intent was to show that the soap would work on all skin types. She said the TV spot makes it clear with the text that accompanies the images. The ad also features a variety of different types of women.
An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused.
— Dove (@Dove) October 7, 2017
When asked by BBC interviewers what she thought of the cut down version of the ad for social media, Ogunyemi said, “I thought it was fantastic.”
The reaction from upset social media users and articles written by certain media in response was to place the ad in context with the entire beauty industry and the way it markets products. They are using Ogunyemi’s portrayal to form a narrative of whiteness as beauty. Ogunyemi recognized the truth of that narrative but does not feel the Dove ad is part of it.
“If you Google ‘racist ad’ right now, a picture of my face is the first result. 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,” said Ogunyemi via The Guardian. “All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective—to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”
— Dove (@Dove) October 9, 2017
And although Ogunyemi can see how the ad could be interpreted as racist, she also believes Dove could have been stronger in defense of the company’s vision.
“While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologise 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. I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.”