Friday, July 29, 2011

Do You Mind If We Make You Less Ugly?

The big celebrity story this week is about a L'Oreal ad featuring Julia Roberts getting banned in the U.K. for being overly airbrushed. If you haven't seen it, here it is, next to a picture of the "real" Julia.

I know it's hard to tell, but the picture on the LEFT is the retouched image. Or maybe it's a wax dummy from Madame Tussaud's. Except I think Tussaud's attempts to make its statues look less like wax than this picture does.

Julia Roberts is a lovely 44-year-old woman. Which means she's got a beautiful face, along with a few crow's feet and smile lines. Thus we share a 66% resemblance. And while I guess it's good to know that I too could look like a creamy-skinned goddess with enough digital manipulation, I don't really see how it benefits a makeup company - which makes products that we slather all over our skin - to feature pictures of a woman who looks as if her skin has been removed entirely and replaced with stretchy flesh-colored latex.

The British Advertising Standards Agency shared my puzzlement. It ordered the Julia ads pulled on the grounds that they're misleading and a little creepy. I think the ASA is doing L'Oreal a favor. As much as I'm willing to be seduced into believing that Lancome Teint Miracle Foundation will make me look younger, fresher, and somewhat less organic than I do now, that's just not the message these ads convey. Here's what I'm hearing from parent company L'Oreal, based on the meticulously airbrushed image above:

1.  Our product doesn't work!
2.  Julia Roberts is old and ugly!
3.  Women are gullible!

Of course, airbrushing is epidemic in popular culture. There are entire websites devoted to showing off horrific examples of models and celebrities Photoshopped to make them appear younger, prettier, thinner, and more like our alien overlords (Photoshop Disasters is a personal favorite). I know photographers and art directors think this stuff gives them a leg up on the competition...

Get it? Leg?
...but please.

Sometimes a heavily retouched photo will just make me mad, as when it depicts one of the most beautiful, gracefully aging women in the world - Diane Keaton - as a much younger version of herself.

Diane Keaton didn't even look like this when she was younger! I think the platinum-white teeth are supposed to deflect our brains from noticing that.

Some pictures successfully erase a woman's most distinctive features, which leads me to wonder why they bothered hiring her in the first place and not, say, the guy who does caricatures at the State Fair.

When I think of Kim Cattrall, I think of those big baby-doll eyes and her adorable heart-shaped face, both tweaked out of existence here. If someone really wanted to show off his 'shopping skills, he could have lopped about four inches off those earrings. They make my earlobes throb just looking at them.

I'm sure that many of these models have little or no say in how their photos are manipulated - they sign a contract and show up for a photo shoot, and that's it. Although if I had to sit in a makeup chair for three hours to be beautified, only to have every recognizable trace of my features obliterated in post-production, I'd start throwing shit like an enraged gorilla. Still, you just know some of these images are produced with the complicity of their subjects.

You think Madonna doesn't have editorial control over every frame shot of her famous face? Don't tell me she didn't sign off on this hot mess:

Strike a pose, indeed. Ms. Ciccone Penn Ritchie will turn 53 years old in August. And in the picture on the right, she looks it. Frankly, she looks ghastly in that getup, which is at least two decades too young for her. Again, she's a beautiful woman, and her body is absolutely slammin' - not just for her age, but for almost anybody's age. But I'm afraid Madonna has drunk the Kool-aid here. She's allowed a photo of herself to be turned into that of a completely different woman. Unlike that photo, Madonna, like all of us, is not a moment frozen in time. Like all of us, she changes, she grows, she ages. She's built a career on being dynamic, a chameleon. But this artificial moment of perfection does a disservice to a life brilliantly lived in real time.

It's easy to say that all this airbrushing reflects the pop-cultural belief that youth=beauty. Except that the Photoshop monkeys do their work on young women, too.

Scarlett Johansson is 26 years old! That's egalitarianism at work for you. If ScarJo needs this much retouching, then obviously women are born not being pretty enough. (By the way, don't even get me started on toddler beauty pageants. Just don't. It is to weep. And then kick things.) Ironically, the headline of the LA Times article from which I copied the above left photo is "Scarlett Johansson Less Photoshopped Than Usual in Latest Dolce & Gabbana Ad." Yes, really.

These pictures of unbelievably attractive Jennifer Aniston, who at 42 is literally getting more beautiful every year, are from 2002, when she was in her early 30s:

When did the beauty community decide that hair color and skin tone must match? It was prior to 2002, anyway. My guess is that some stylist way back when had a huge crush on Andy Warhol, and the fashion world has never been the same.

Would you believe this is a full-color picture?
But nothing tops this last one. If you have kids or are addicted to TMZ (or both, like yours truly), you probably know the saga of Demi Lovato. She's an 18-year-old singer and actress who until last year starred on her own Disney Channel show, "Sonny with a Chance." Like most Disney ingenues, she was cute, bubbly, and dating a Jonas Brother. Then she went on tour, had a nervous breakdown, and punched out a backup dancer for allegedly looking at Joe Jonas without permission. If it had been Kevin Jonas, I would have done exactly the same thing. But that's another story.

Before you could say "Supercalifragilisticcopyrightedlyric," Demi landed in treatment to deal with a full platter of physical and emotional issues, including eating disorders, self-mutiliation, and post-starring-in-"Barney" syndrome.

That's messed up.
Since leaving rehab, Demi has been upfront about suffering from poor body image and low self-esteem since girlhood. She's on a long road to recovery, and I wish her all the best with that. Recently she released a new single, "Skyscraper," which is about rising above adversity. For someone who has struggled with so much, it's a fitting ode to self-respect and empowerment.

And on the left is the promotional picture from the single:

Excuse me, I have to Botox my brain now. If you need me, I'll be looking for a paper bag that will mimic a youthful glow when I wear it over my head.

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