Reader K.C. alerts us to essayist/novelist Meghan Daum’s solipsistic take in the Los Angeles Times on the Dove cosmetic company’s “Real Beauty” ad campaign. You’ve probably seen the billboards: six very  nice-looking but definitely not model-slim ladies cavorting in their skivvies. Unlike professional models, who exude glamor and seductiveness when stripped down to their designer bras and panties, these amateurs look like nothing so much as six gals from the office caught in the act of changing into their cocktail dresses for a “girls’ night out” on the town.

Characteristically Daum, best known for her memoiristic fiction and nonfiction, interprets the ad campaign as being all about her:

“So why am I feeling so uneasy? Is it simply that we’re now shocked by any woman in the media who isn’t built like a silicon-enhanced greyhound? It’s tempting to say that the ads prove how shallow we’ve all become.”

And naturally, there’s also a political spin to Daum’s me-focused commentary:

“…I actually feel a little sick to my stomach.

“Why? It could be the fact that the lead product of this campaign is, ahem, cellulite firming cream. With glorious, backhanded brilliance, Dove is sounding the trumpets of body acceptance while also selling woebegotten ‘real women’ a cure for their realness.”

OK, we’re on familiar ground now: Big corporations capitalizing (in the Marxist as well as the ordinary sense) on women’s insecurities about the way they look. And now for Daum’s English 101 interpretation:

“Naked bodies — especially, it seems, those of women — work much the same way. Although the visual impact cannot be underestimated, there are hundreds of other sensory expressions — smells, textures, the sound of bare feet walking across the floor — that simply cannot be represented in advertising. That is the reason we have professional models. They show us their bodies without invading our privacy or their own. An underwear model represents intimacy while at the same time protecting us from the rawness of actual intimacy. Her genius lies in her ability to be generic. And this is something Dove’s ‘real women’ just can’t do….

“These amateur models remind us how much we need professional models, not for their jutting bones and flawless skin but for the way they throw themselves in front of traffic so that we don’t have to.”

Meghan, Meghan, you overwrite. The real explanation is much simpler: People like to look at pretty things, which is why pretty things pitch products, not the nice gal with the attractive hair in the next cubicle who always orders the giant chocolate-chip cookie to cap off her lunch.

K.C. offers this observation:

“She’s thinks the ads are icky, but since she writes for Vogue and the other beauty rags, don’t you think her piece is pretty much what those editors want to hear? She’s a contributing ed. to Bazaar and yet the LA Times never mentions that.”

I can’t comment (because I don’t know) whether Daum is trying to please the editors at Bazaar, which will never until the sun shrivels run a fashion spread featuring “real” amateurs as models rather than the most expensive professionals that money can buy. But I did note this disburbing note of ideological anachronism in Daum?s article:

“Here we are in 2005, in the same summer that the health manual ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves,’ the very touchstone of hairy-arm-pitted, bra-burning exuberance, is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and women are clucking their tongues at models who don’t meet the preternatural standards of Tyra Banks and Kate Moss.”

“Our Bodies, Ourselves”? Does anyone read that humorless pitch for throwing away your razor anymore? I’ll betcha two giant chocolate-chip cookies that the six real-life beauties in the Dove ad (who are well-groomed to a woman) sure don’t.