A former participant in my coaching and mentoring programs told me today that learning to listen to her body–to sense her body, to be aware of bodily reactions to emotions and thoughts–was one of the most valuable lessons of her time with me. “I’d never realized how disembodied I was.”

We live in a culture of disembodied ways of being. We pop painkillers to soothe tension headaches rather than alter our too busy lifestyles. We take vitamins instead of  preparing and eating real foods.  And we slather our bodies and faces with products containing known carcinogens because that is what we’ve been taught to do. It’s normal, so no one questions it.

Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” documents a social experiment showing the distorted images many people have of their physical attractiveness. Dove has capitalized on their “real beauty” message–using it to sell many carcinogenic containing products under the auspices of promoting better self-esteem.

On the surface, the message Dove sends is: “You are more beautiful than you think.” But underlying it is the same old disembodied, objectified view of beauty that keeps women obsessing about appearances rather than claiming our unique beauty and getting on with being the dynamic forces for good that we were created to be. Dove presents beauty as an external reality, disconnected from the “real woman” beneath the surface who has an interior experience and her own beautiful story that is about far more than the size of her nose or her wrinkles.

LA Times writer Meghan Daum nails this in her editorial “Real beauty, really Dove?” She points out that all the women in the project conform to cultural stereotypes of attractiveness. As she puts it, “None of the video participants was forced to thumb through the thesaurus looking for a nice way of saying ‘has three heads’.” What if one of the sketch models did have a large nose or a double chin? Would the participant describing her to the artist have said so? Probably not.

As my shero India Aria says “I am not my hair. I am not my skin. I am the soul that lives within.”

Hair comes and goes. Skin changes with the seasons. I’ve heard it said that our noses and ears continue to grow throughout our lives. If my bulbous nosed Irish relatives are any indicator of what I have to look forward to, I’ll be sporting a significantly larger schnoz in my eighties!

So, with all due respect to their intention to support “real beauty”, Dove is still missing the essential piece: soul work. Beauty is an inside job.

The story of beauty that begins in our souls guides us to deeply inhabit our bodies and love our flesh, to value each hair on our head whatever the color, and celebrate each wrinkle as documentation of another year of life. When beauty is an expression of the soul that lives within, the externals fall into proper perspective.