When Dove asked Lola Ogunyemi to be in a new soap campaign, she viewed it as an opportunity to represent her “dark-skinned sisters” and “remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued,” she wrote in a commentary for the Guardian.
She was shocked to wake up one recent morning to find she had become the “unwitting poster child for racist advertising.”
“If you Google ‘racist ad’ right now, a picture of my face is the first result,” Ogunyemi said in the commentary published Tuesday.
The recently released Dove body wash ad drew widespread outrage for showing a black woman — Ogunyemi — removing her shirt to reveal a white woman. To scores of consumers, the images invoked a message that dark skin is dirty and in need of cleansing, a racist stereotype historically seen in soap ads, as The Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reported.
Dove removed the ad and issued an apology Saturday, saying it “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.” In an emailed statement to the Associated Press on Sunday, Dove said the video “did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened.”
But Ogunyemi has a message for critics: “I am not a victim.”
While members of the public were justified in their initial anger, she said, the photos posted online were misinterpreted, and left out important context. Most of the images showed only Ogunyemi and the white woman that followed her. But the full video clip actually showed the white woman changing her top to reveal a third woman, who is Asian, Ogunyemi said.
“My friends and family loved it,” Ogunyemi said, adding that she was proud of the ad.
“I am a Nigerian woman, born in London and raised in Atlanta,” she wrote. “I’ve grown up very aware of society’s opinion that dark-skinned people, especially women, would look better if our skin were lighter.”
The complete, 30-second television commercial, Ogunyemi said, actually showed seven models, of various ethnic backgrounds, answering the question: “If your skin were a wash label, what would it say?”
Even after the filming the ad and seeing the final edited version, Ogunyemi loved the concept and was “over the moon” when she saw the final product.
“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,'” Ogunyemi said.
Ogunyemi herself knows quite a bit about how advertising works. A London native who for many years lived in Atlanta, Ogunyemi graduated from Emory University with a degree in psychology. She earned an MBA and now works for a digital marketing agency in London, according to her company bio. She previously worked as a social media assistant at the fashion brand Burberry.
On the side, Ogunyemi is also a professional Hula-Hoop dancer — she shoots music videos and performs at festivals, according to a blog post on her company website.
In her commentary, she wrote that she supported Dove’s decision to “unequivocally” apologize for the ad. But, she added, “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.”
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