AI, Authenticity and All the Highlights From 20 Years of Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

By Marie-Antoinette Issa
on 3 July 2024

The year is 2004: Martha Stewart goes to prison. Janet Jackson experiences a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl. And, global skin care brand Dove takes its first steps towards challenging the narrative of female standards of physical perfection through its Campaign for Real Beauty. At the time, the initiative revealed some startling truths. Including one very alarming one. Only 2% of women considered themselves beautiful. Confronting, but not completely surprising for a generation raised on supermodels, Special K diets and the celebration of slipping into a size six dress.

In the two decades since, Dove has continued to challenge society, media, and the beauty industry to change their representations of women. To be transparent about digital distortion. And, to face the harmful impacts of unrealistic beauty standards on women and girls. And, this year, to mark the 20th anniversary of this groundbreaking campaign, the brand renewed its commitment to supporting women and girls in the face of evolving beauty standards. Particularly as artificial intelligence (AI) continues to impact these ideals.

Last week, Faustina Agolley led a team of passionate panellists – Danni Rowlands (Head of Prevention from The Butterfly Foundation); Chelsea Bonner (CEO/Founder – BELLA Management); Kate Jones (Content Creator & Curve Model) and Tess Giordimaina (Dove ANZ Marketing Manager) in conversation. As Dove recreated the iconic images of two-decades-ago and launched their new global report, “The Real State of Beauty.” And, released some key research to support their latest initiative. One of the largest studies ever conducted by a beauty brand. 

Alarming findings into beauty beliefs

The new findings supporting Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign paint a sobering picture of beauty standards around the world. With a specific focus on Australia. The study reveals that 44% of Australian women are willing to sacrifice a year of their lives to meet societal beauty standards. Exceeding the global average of 38% as a result. This alarming statistic underscores the intense pressure Australian women feel to conform to often unattainable beauty ideals.

The study further highlights that 80% of Australian women and 78% of Australian girls feel pressured to maintain a healthy appearance. Moreover, 75% of women and 67% of girls feel the pressure to maintain a slim figure. And, additionally, 68% of women and 61% of girls feel the burden of having a small waist. These figures indicate a pervasive and increasing checklist of beauty standards that many find difficult, if not impossible, to meet.

The emergence of AI

One of the biggest threats to the representation of real beauty is AI. More than four in five Australian women report being exposed to harmful beauty content online. With 90% of online content predicted to be AI-generated by 2025, the rise of AI poses a significant threat to women’s wellbeing. One in two Australian women feel pressured to alter their appearance based on online images. Despite knowing that many are fake or AI-generated. Additionally, a significant majority recognise the prevalence of digitally altered images in the media. With 74% of Australian women and 68% of Australian girls acknowledging this reality.

“As someone who has fought to redefine beauty standards, I’ve seen the harmful effects of unrealistic beauty ideals,” says Chelsea. “AI-generated content only worsens this issue, bombarding us with unattainable images. Dove’s commitment to real beauty, refusing to use AI-generated imitation humans in advertising and promoting transparency with the Real Beauty Prompt Guidelines, are critical steps in protecting and celebrating authentic beauty,” she adds.

Making a difference with Dove

Dr. Phillippa Diedrichs, a research psychologist at the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England and a body image expert, underscores the dual potential of AI to foster creativity and access to beauty. While also necessitating greater representation and transparency. In Australia, one in four women and two in five girls find creating different versions of themselves using AI empowering. However, almost half of women (45%) and over half of girls (54%) believe it can negatively impact their self-image. Without improvements in representation and transparency, AI risks perpetuating narrow and unrealistic beauty standards.

“Despite 20 years of work to broaden definitions of beauty, women feel less confident in their own beauty than they did a decade ago. Representation is more important than ever. As AI technology continues to evolve, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is real beauty and what is manufactured by AI,” Dr. Diedrichs says.

In response to these findings, Dove has pledged to accelerate its efforts to champion transparency and diversity. And, to take action to shatter beauty stereotypes in new and emerging media. Accordingly, their latest campaign features a range of WOC and shape. Furthermore, as part of this commitment, Dove has announced its dedication to never using AI to represent real women in its ads. Additionally, Dove has created its Real Beauty Prompt Guidelines. These provide easy-to-use guidance on creating images representative of real beauty using the most popular generative AI programs.

“Dove has always stood for real beauty. And, our commitment to never using AI in our ads underscores our dedication to authenticity,” says Tess. “By introducing the Real Beauty Prompt Guidelines, we aim to foster a more inclusive and transparent approach to beauty in the digital age. Ultimately, it’s our mission to uplift women and girls everywhere. And, to ensure they see their true selves reflected in the media,” she adds.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign reflects the impact of AI on women. And, demonstrates the significant strides real beauty has made to change beauty standards for the better. The work Dove began in 2004 is far from over. However, with the brand’s latest campaign, their continued commitment to championing better representation, breaking beauty stereotypes, and, standing up for the power of real beauty remains as powerful as ever.

To learn more about Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, visit

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