Health & Wellness

Artist recreates Dove 'real beauty sketch' experiment on TODAY

The FBI-trained forensic artist who sketched women for Dove’s hit ad campaign about distorted self images came to the TODAY show Thursday to recreate the social experiment.

“We are not so positive about ourselves very often,” clinical psychologist Jennifer Hartstein told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. “We don’t look at the general view. We kind of take it as all a big piece together and say, ‘This is bad, that’s bad.’ We don’t just look at our strengths, we only focus on the weaknesses.”

The beauty brand’s three-minute video, “Real Beauty Sketches,” has been viewed 27 million times on YouTube. TODAY recreated the experiment Thursday with two show producers and an audience member. 

In the original campaign, seven women answered questions about their appearance to forensic artist Gil Zamora, who drew sketches based on their self-descriptions. Zamora then drew a second sketch of the women based on a stranger’s description of their appearance.

The two sets of sketches were dramatically different. Those based on the women’s self-descriptions featured wrinkles, puffed cheeks and dark under-eye circles, while those based on the stranger’s descriptions were more flattering. Some of the women teared up when they realized that their harsh view of themselves was not shared by others.

On the show Thursday, Zamora sketched two TODAY producers who didn’t know what the segment was about, and a woman from the TODAY show plaza. As he did for the Dove ad, Zamora sketched them based on their own descriptions and those of a stranger.

TODAY producer Kate Cook saw her two sketches and joked that it was “like looking in a mirror,” while Guthrie remarked that both were “quite flattering.” 

Cook said it was hard to describe herself, adding that she would be terrible if she had to give a description of someone at a crime scene.

“He was like, ‘Tell me about your eyes,’ and I’m like well, ‘There are two of them,’” she said.

Michelle Leone, another TODAY producer, told Zamora she has “a roundish face and distinctive eyebrows.” She acknowledged that the sketch based on the stranger’s impressions was probably more lifelike.

While the Dove campaign has hit a nerve with women, a spoof involving men has also cropped up in which their self-descriptions led to images of movie stars. It's drawing laughs but it also illustrates a real phenomenon: women tend to be harsher on themselves while men are better at emphasizing the positive.

“There’s a greater level of acceptance for men to look kind of as they are than it is for women and that’s really a shame,” Hartstein said. “We need to be able to all embrace our differences and our beauty.”