Speaking Truth

You’ve all probably heard of Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign by now. If you haven’t, brief summary: Dove (parent company: Unilever) has partnered with Twitter to call out women who tweet “negative” (um, hello, subjective) things and to encourage (read: command) them to speak beautiful—to say only positive things and to smile!

Okay, so…I get that this is well-intentioned, at least from a marketing perspective. I get that Dove is trying to show the world that they care about women. But this campaign…it just…no.

I’m writing this in a hurry, so instead of offering references to studies, personal testimony, and so forth, I’ll offer an anecdote:

My ex used to control my speech. Don’t say that, you sound stupid. Don’t talk like that, you sound like a thug. Maybe he thought he was helping me. I don’t know. Because what he ended up telling me, every time, through those admonitions, was that who I was and how I chose to speak wasn’t good enough. That I could be better—I could be like him—if I simply changed my words.

But I didn’t want to be like him. It made me feel confused and terrible and sad and alone. So alone. And then later, when I was going through a very hard time in my life—my divorce from the aforementioned ex—I wanted desperately to tell someone how much I was hurting and how unvaluable I felt. But, in their well-meaning ignorance, everyone simply told me things would get better, to buck up and think positive, and it would all work out in the end.

It did work out in the end, but it took me a lot longer to get to that point because I had spent so long being silenced. First by my ex, then by people who didn’t want to hear my pain. I spent so long feeling isolated after realizing that I had no one to talk to who was willing to understand, and it drew out that time of pain and delayed my healing.

Listening is hard work. Listening and not judging is hard. And with #SpeakBeautiful, Dove seems to be taking the easy way out, silencing women who are struggling and sweeping them out of sight so others don’t have to deal with the tough reality of life.

But in the end, life is a full, whole thing. Truth is a full, whole thing. Beauty is only a part of that. Good and bad, beautiful and ugly. That’s truth, and that’s life. When Dove tells women to speak beautiful, they are telling women what we’ve heard all our lives: You’re not entitled to the whole pie. Here’s your slice, shut up and be happy with what you’ve been given.

And I just have to say again…


I choose not to #SpeakBeautiful. I choose to #SpeakTruth. And the truth I am speaking today is this:

When you tell me to speak beautiful, you are silencing me.
When you publicly shame me into speaking beautiful, you are not talking to me.
You are talking to everyone else.
You are telling them that my words are toxic, which makes me feel like you are telling the world that I am toxic.
You have told me to buck up, that things will work out in the end, and after silencing me, you have left me behind.

I want you to stop this, Dove. I want you to instead think about what it means to speak truth. What it means to say instead:

I hear you. I am listening. I will not judge. Pour out your sorrows and I will help you carry your burden without judgment and without abandonment. You are a woman. You are a human being. You are allowed to feel deeply, whether joy or pain, because that is part of life. You are entitled to life.

Speak truth.

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9 Responses to Speaking Truth

  1. Teri Anne Stanley says:

    Maybe…I like to think what they mean is “Don’t repeat and feed the ugly,” but of course, that hashtag doesn’t sound as nice.
    I think I’ll just say, “Run like a girl!”

    • Audra North says:

      I like the idea of being positive. I think that can apply to everyone. What I take issue with is that: A) They’re targeting women only and B) they publicly reply to a woman’s down-sounding tweet with a message of, “Don’t talk like that.” It feels like calling out an individual instead of a mass movement.

      I don’t think a movement for more positivity in the way we speak looks like this, with one-on-one “Don’t speak like that” tweets. It looks like fostering and funding support groups, showing women positivity without making specific references to a single person (because that places responsibility for a cultural problem on the shoulders of those who really aren’t responsible for carrying that load), and making sure that everyone is in on this movement instead of just women. Because it’s work, and giving us more work to do when we’re already behind is not okay.

      I like “run like a girl” for exactly that reason.

  2. Wonderful post. I have shared this on all my social media accounts. I borrowed your line to add to the beginning of each:

    I choose NOT to #SpeakBeautiful. I choose to #SpeakTruth.

  3. I loved this post. Life can be hard and isn’t always beautiful. We should reflect that and be honest about how we feel; and anyway, I don’t trust people who smile all the time (bit of advice my dad gave me when I was a kid) – it’s not normal. Thanks for posting x

    • Audra North says:

      Thanks, Rebecca! I like your dad’s advice. :)

      I truly love the basic concept behind Dove’s campaign–publicly using words of encouragement to lift up women and girls instead of tearing them down. But in a general sense, not focusing on individuals and taking a pithy, quasi-censoring approach. The way this was executed…nope nope nope. :)

  4. Elinor Aspen says:

    Well-said, Audra. This reminds me of the “Stop the Goodreads Bullies” madness — calling out any woman who makes a critical statement with no attempt to determine whether she has a legitimate point or is expressing her own subjective-but-true preferences.

    It is heartbreaking to feel that no one is willing to listen to your pain. I understand your sense of isolation. My own mother used to walk away whenever I got upset while talking about bad experiences in school, because strong emotions made her uncomfortable.

    • Audra North says:

      Elinor, I am so sorry to hear about your experience with your mother. I hope that you were able to eventually find someone with whom you could share your feelings.

      I applaud women and men who are able to listen well. It’s such an art–something I didn’t even realize until I was well into adulthood.

  5. Jackie Horne says:

    Amazing post, Audra. Thanks for calling our attention to the negative, silencing aspects of what is purporting to be a positive, confidence-inspiring campaign. #SpeakTruth indeed.