Making a statement with non-retouched photos
Beyoncé’s exposed L’Oreal photoshoot exposes her pores and non-airbrushed complexion, bringing one thing to mind:
Beyoncé is not flawless.
These non-retouched photos showcase the world-famous celebrity in a less-than-favorable light, prompting a melting pot of shock and even disgust at her projected appearance. While many of Beyoncé’s fans took to social media sites to defend the pop star, others scoffed at the photos and expressed their distaste for the appearance of pores and the overall lack of flawlessness.
This attitude of distaste toward makeup-free female celebrities has continued to prevail in modern society and is propelled by magazine spreads that compile different candid photographs of celebrities caught in public without pounds of makeup caked upon their face, seen in US Magazine’s “Stars Without Makeup” feature. Similar to the large public response to Beyoncé’s leaked photographs, the exposure to more pictures of celebrities without makeup on attracts the public’s attention and a variety of reactions that range from indifference to sympathy to disgust.
The attitude of distaste toward blemishes and an imperfect complexion can be attributed to the unrealistic beauty standards established by the media and advertisements. In a 2009 paper published by Brian Moeran, “Advertising and the Technology of Enchantment: The Portrayal of Beauty in Women’s Fashion Magazines,” he explored the manner in which international fashion magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire convey beauty through advertising, as well as the subsequent reaction from their readers. The paper discussed the powerful influence of makeup and celebrity presence upon socially-constructed beauty standards.
In the paper, Moeran discussed the influence of magazines and advertisements in dictating how men and women should behave and the products they should purchase to improve their well-being.
“In short, they fashion a particular gendered worldview of the desirable, the possible and the purchasable,” Moeran wrote.
The paper analyzed the way magazines portray beauty and perpetuate idealistic beauty standards through advertisements and beauty spreads on various tips, tricks and how-tos on achieving these expectations. Moeran connected these methods to the idea that influencing a woman to manipulate her appearance through various means suggests she is a victim of oppressive and idealized beauty standards.
Moeran placed focus on the role of a woman’s face and its importance in everyday social interactions. Stemming from this idea, makeup plays a vital role in maintaining a woman’s “public face” and allows for the selection of a particular “face” to show in public. The downside to this aspect is the unrealistic standards makeup advertisements continue to push by silently conveying that a woman’s face should look flawless and blemish-free.
Charisse Koba, aesthetician and makeup artist and founder of Miel Beauty Bar, said the media industry plays an influential role in personifying how society thinks about beauty, and the impact Photoshop and airbrushing has on society’s perception of physical appearance, which can be damaging to a young woman’s growing self-esteem.
“It’s not what the real person looks like. It’s unrealistic,” she said. “I think it can negatively impact by creating this idealism especially for young women who are growing up in this to have completely unrealistic expectations and have some security issues and think that they’re not gonna be wanted if they don’t look a certain way.”
Koba further said she views makeup as a form expression and a way to highlight a woman’s natural beauty and boost her self-confidence.
“For women, that’s at the root, it’s our self-esteem,” she said. “I think women want to exude a certain persona or personality. When we wear makeup sometimes we just instantly feel better about ourselves so anything we can do to promote that feeling I think is something that can become a part of our every day.”
While some may see the beauty industry as perpetuating ridiculous beauty ideals, Yvette Burggren, owner of Miel’s with a degree in media studies from New School University, said it is more the magazines and Photoshop who hold most of the power in emphasizing unrealistic beauty standards.
“I think it’s perfectly normal for a woman to want to put on makeup or celebrity to want to put on makeup, but I think that the images that we’re seeing are these kind of heavily Photoshopped images,” she said. “It’s not so much the makeup, it’s the airbrushing and the intensifying of the photography and the fact that it’s so pervasive. The beauty industry, what it’s trying to do and what we’re doing is to make ourselves feel our best. We’re not trying to promote unrealistic crazy looks.”
Moeran discussed the role of celebrities in his paper, recognizing that society tends to often copy the appearances of those at the top of the socioeconomic scale and assigns status to those considered attractive. What unfavorable photos expose other than acne and pores is a perception of celebrities that elevates them above the average individual.
“When you’re looking at the celebrity world that’s like we’re putting these people on a pedestal and Photoshopping them and making them look totally unrealistic,” Burggren said.
Moeran said in an interview that celebrities themselves are commodities used to purvey, advertise and promote various other commodities such as concerts, films and merchandise.
“I think that has a major effect because the sheer number of photographs of celebrities must have an effect on people and we spend far too much time reading totally non-objective media of various kinds,” he said.
Moeran also pointed out that the frequency with which people involve themselves with the media relates to how much they like and pay attention to the world of celebrities.
“I think we spend far too much time accepting what the media tell us, we don’t criticize,” he said.
Celebrities are often placed into strict boxes with achievements in physical beauty and flawlessness. The relationship between female celebrities and the general public is one in which society enjoys living vicariously through the glitz and glamour of their favorite shining stars. This type of relationship creates a thin and invisible barrier separating the famous from the ordinary, and the exposure of celebrities as anything less than flawless results in a destruction of this division.
Koba said the power of the advertising industry over constructions on beauty also influence the idea of herd mentality and wanting to constantly fit into the crowd.
The disgust showcased toward unfavorable photographs of female celebrities has its roots in the unrealistic expectation for these women to consistently look flawless and void of any physical imperfections. Seeing these successful celebrity figures in a manner that does not meet these preconceived notions elicits negative reactions leading to judgment that criticizes the individual. Although visible pores, acne or other facial blemishes are not uncommon for a human to combat, the judgment and negative comments toward the sight of a celebrity with these imperfections only emphasizes the idea that the “unnatural” is the most appealing.
“At a certain point some people have this expectation that celebrities should look perfect at all times,” Koba said. “And I think that’s our reaction to a way that we’ve been brainwashed a little bit.”
However, there exists another side to this same coin, where the posting of a picture of makeup-free celebrities prompts a positive reaction of praise and admiration. In this case, the difference in public reaction lies within the context of the photograph. While Beyoncé’s photographs were leaked and therefore uncontrolled, the posting of a fresh-faced selfie by a celebrity such as Demi Lovato is controlled by the subject herself. Furthermore, society is more likely to express approval of a fresh-faced celebrity if she posts a photo with the intent of spreading positive messages of self-acceptance and self-confidence. Social media trends such as “No Makeup Monday” promote positive beauty ideals through the posting of makeup-free selfies.
Society’s distaste toward physical imperfections as evidenced by the negative reaction to less-than-favorable photographs of celebrities is further fueled by the advertising of acne-fighting beauty products. Major companies such as Neutrogena, Clean and Clear and Proactiv advertise their products in such a way that showcases acne, pimples and the like as unfavorable and distasteful. Slogans such as Clean and Clear’s “Clean, Clear and Under Control” reflect the unfavorable attitudes toward facial blemishes by conveying the idea they should be hidden from the public eye. These commercials portray teenagers with acne as embarrassed and shameful, their humiliation and shame only disappearing once their acne disappears. The result is the implantation of the concept that consumers should strive for flawless, blemish-free skin with the advertised products.
Burggren attributed society’s disdain for facial blemishes through a biological standpoint.
“Biologically, we’re tuned in to all these cues of health,” she said. “Usually if you have blemishes or something red it’s signaling a problem in the body and we’re just kind of tuned into that. There’s like visual cues that signal bodily health from an evolutionary standpoint. That’s why we seek perfection.”
It is the deceptive nature of advertising, Moeran said, that contributes to its negative impact upon women and young girls.
“I think that every time an image of a woman is used in a fashion magazine or in an advertisement, if that woman’s face or figure is Photoshopped in some way to change it to make it look a little bit more slender or get rid of a slight mark on her cheek, if that happens I think, like cigarette adverts, there should be a large sign at the bottom of the picture saying, ‘This image has been Photoshopped,’” he said. “This image does not look like the woman who was photographed.”
The powerful combination of the beauty industry and the perception of celebrities contributes to the distaste toward any sort of physical imperfections. But it is this type of attitude that further strengthens society’s ridiculous and impossible-to-achieve beauty standards. Leaving behind one’s preconceived notions of beauty and perfections, the only message Beyonce’s L’Oreal pictures convey is this:
Yes, Beyoncé can wake up like this.
Celisa Calacal is a freshman journalism major who is confident in her skin, pores and all. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.