Lola Ogunyemi, the black model who was featured in Dove’s recent controversial advert, has spoken out for the first time since the outrage on social media and subsequent apology from the personal care brand.
As a Nigerian woman who was born in London and raised in Atlanta, Ogunyemi said she grew up aware of society’s opinion that dark-skinned people would look better if they had lighter skin.
“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. 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,” she writes in The Guardian.
The model said she was happy when Dove offered her the opportunity to be the face of their new body wash, as it meant she would represent dark-skinned women in a global beauty brand.
Ogunyemi said she had a “positive” experience with Dove, and the concept explained to all the women on set was nothing like what is on social media now.
“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 was quoted as saying.
Though none of them knew what the final edit would look like, everyone, including her, was “excited”.
When the first clip was released, she was “proud” of herself.
“Then the full, 30-second TV commercial was released in the US, and I was over the moon again. There were seven of us in the full version, different races and ages, each of us answering the same question: ‘If your skin were a wash label, what would it say?’
“Again, I was the first model to appear in the ad, describing my skin as ‘20% dry, 80% glowing’, and appearing again at the end. I loved it, and everyone around me seemed to as well. I think the full TV edit does a much better job of making the campaign’s message loud and clear,” she said.
However, Ogunyemi said she was surprised when she woke up one morning to realise she had “become the unwitting poster child for racist advertising”.
“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,” she said.
Though she said advertisers had to look beyond the surface and consider the impact their images may have, Ogunyemi said she could “see how the snapshots that are circulating the web have been misinterpreted, considering the fact that Dove has faced a backlash in the past for the exact same issue”.
She also felt the public was justified in their outrage, but also saw that a lot had been left out.
“The narrative has been written without giving consumers context on which to base an informed opinion.”
The beauty brand has since apologised for the ad.
Read Ogunyemi’s full statement here.