Dove’s recent controversial ad about a Black woman transforming into a white one has been called racist and tone-deaf—and now, the model at its center, Lola Ogunyemi, is speaking out.
On Tuesday, Ogunyemi penned an op-ed for the Guardian and recounted her experience shooting the ad as a positive one. She said she was proud to represent Black women and that all the models who participated were excited about the idea of each one removing their skin-colored tops and changing into one another.
“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 was also happy with the end result: In the 13-second Facebook video and 30-second commercial that aired in the U.S., Ogunyemi removes her shirt to reveal a white woman in a lighter shirt who then reveals an Asian-American woman. But a shortened GIF that circulated around social media may have lost the message, she says. She also didn’t realize the order in which the women would take off their shirts.
“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,'” she wrote. “I would have (un)happily walked right off set and out of the door. That is something that goes against everything I stand for.”
Many argued that “turning black white” just perpetuates a long history of depicting Black people as dirty and white people as pure. And Ogunyemi says she too is no stranger to white beauty standards: “I’ve grown up very aware of society’s opinion that dark-skinned people, especially women, would look better if our skin were lighter.”
Now, though, she says she has become the top Google Image result for “racist ad.”
Dove removed the ad and promptly issued an apology on its Facebook page Saturday. The beauty brand followed up with a lengthier post Monday explaining their concept to “be a celebration of diversity.”
The Nigerian model says she understands why people may be outraged by the ad and says their feelings are justified.
“There is definitely something to be said here about how advertisers need to look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have, specifically when it comes to marginalized groups of women,” the model says in her closing remarks. It is important to examine whether your content shows that your consumer’s voice is not only heard, but also valued.”
But, ultimately, Ogunyemi is more dissatisfied with the fact that Dove did not defend its creative decisions and explain the narrative of the ad.
“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.”