One of the women featured in a Dove campaign criticized for racist imagery is speaking out in defense of the advertisement.
Lola Ogunyemi, a Nigerian woman born in London and raised in Atlanta, penned an op-ed for The Guardian on Tuesday in response to the controversy surrounding a Dove soap ad on Facebook showing her removing a brown T-shirt to transform into a white woman wearing an ivory T-shirt. (The second woman also removes her shirt to reveal another model of a different skin tone.)
The ad sparked backlash on social media last week, with many noting the historical use of racist images in soap advertisements. In her piece, Ogunyemi acknowledged the beauty industry’s continued issues with representation.
“I know that the beauty industry has fueled this opinion with its long history of presenting lighter, mixed-race or white models as the beauty standard,” she wrote. “Historically, and in many countries still today, darker models are even used to demonstrate a product’s skin-lightening qualities to help women reach this standard.”
Ogunyemi said she chose to appear in the Dove ad to represent women of color globally, and saw the campaign’s objective as using “our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness.”
However, Dove has been accused of racism in its advertising before ― a problematic 2011 ad showed a black woman standing in front of a “before” sign and a white woman standing in front of an “after” sign ― and that damages trust with consumers.
“There is a lack of trust here, and I feel the public was justified in their initial outrage,” she wrote. “Having said that, I can also see that a lot has been left out. The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.”
Dove ultimately apologized, but Ogunyemi thinks the Unilever-owned brand should have also discussed their decision to include her and what that means.
“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,” she added. “I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.”