Earlier this month, Dove drew backlash for a commercial it posted (and has since pulled) of a black woman taking off her brown shirt and revealing a white woman wearing a beige shirt underneath.
Now, Lola Ogunyemi, who was featured in the ad, is speaking out against racism in the beauty industry in an essay she penned for The Guardian.
“I am a Nigerian woman, born in London and raised in Atlanta. I’ve grown up very aware of society’s opinion that dark-skinned people, especially women, would look better if our skin were lighter,” Ogunyemi began her piece.
Aware of this “repressive narrative,” she signed on for Dove’s campaign when the company offered her the opportunity to be one of the faces of its new body wash ad.
“Having the opportunity to represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued,” Ogunyemi said.
She also explained how she was unaware of what the final cut of the commercial would be. Otherwise, she would not have been a part of the campaign at all.
“Then one morning, I woke up to a message from a friend asking if the woman in a post he’d seen was really me. I went online and discovered I had become the unwitting poster child for racist advertising. No lie,” Ogunyemi wrote. “If you Google ‘racist ad’ right now, a picture of my face is the first result.”
Adding, “If I had even the slightest inclination that I would be portrayed as inferior, or as the ‘before’ in a before and after shot, I would have been the first to say an emphatic ‘no’. I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for.”
Though Ogunyemi did not agree with the controversial ad, she did have a “positive” experience working with Dove.
“I had an amazing time on set. All of the women in the shoot understood the concept and overarching objective – to use our differences to highlight the fact that all skin deserves gentleness,” she recalled.
“I remember all of us being excited at the idea of wearing nude T-shirts and turning into one another. We weren’t sure how the final edit was going to look, nor which of us would actually be featured in it, but everyone seemed to be in great spirits during filming, including me,” she said.
Dove has since released a statement, apologizing for the short video.
“An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully. We deeply regret the offense it caused,” the company tweeted.
“While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologize 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. I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased,” Ogunyemi concluded her essay.
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