Have you seen the new Dove commercial where women are asked to describe themselves for a sketch artist who can’t see them? “Tell me about your hair,” he said. “Tell me about your chin.”
“It kind of protrudes a little bit, especially when I smile,” said one woman in the ad sketch. Others talk only of their flaws: big jaw, too many freckles, fat face. The artist then gets more flattering descriptions from strangers who spoke to the women only once. The resulting sketches show striking differences: Those based on the strangers’ descriptions were far more flattering than the ones based on the women’s descriptions of themselves. Dove’s message: “You are more beautiful than you think.”
I asked clinical psychologist Monica O’Neal, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, what she thought of the commercial. “When I saw it my first reaction was that I thought it was beautiful and provocative,” she told me. “I wish there was a way to make it into a real experiment to see if women really underestimate their own attractiveness.”
We might, for instance, speak about ourselves in a more modest way to others. By the same token, we might be more likely to describe a stranger’s features more flatteringly — especially if we have a positive first impression of them.