French-Marie Claire goes sans air brushing, but not sans camera tricks, makeup, lighting and models already near ‘perfect’.
French actress Louise Bourgoin graces the cover of this month’s edition of French Marie Claire – hailed as the “totally non-airbrushed April issue”. Leaving aside the fact that it’s not totally non-airbrused because the women in the ads still are – should we rush to congratulate Marie Claire for its bravery? Should we declare this a step in the right direction for body image?
Digital enhancement is only one part of a modelling shoot. No one is saying how long the hair and makeup took, what camera tricks were used, or how the models to be depicted au naturale were selected in the first place.
Even if the models in these issues haven’t been kissed by the photoshop fairy godmother, we are still being presented with an unrealistic expectation of how women should look. Existing beauty standards will not be compromised, even if Mr Airbrush takes a day off.
And I’m sure the editors picked the model who could put the best body forward, sans airbrushing.
We’re told these non-airbrushed images are supposed to make us feel good about ourselves. That’s what readers of Australian Marie Claire were informed when Jennifer Hawkins was featured on the cover “naked and non-airbrushed.” I wrote about this in January, arguing that making Miss Universe a poster girl for poor body image – with her dimple on the thigh and ‘uneven skin tone’ – treated women like idiots.
Using pretty much flawless young women in the first place hardly proves that models and celebrities are just like us. Give us a break.
If Louise Bourgoin hasn’t been airbrushed, then it means she really is that skinny. So, even though she may have a tiny wrinkle somewhere near her eye, the fact is that the thin ideal continues to be held up as what all women need to attain. As one fashion writer said: “If airbrushing is supposed to blur out any blemishes and/or imperfections — then Bourgoin is perfect”. Photographer Benjamin Kanare points to some of the tricks used to get the best outcomes:
…Burning out the skin using overexposure, soft light, adding a half blue filter to whiten the skin, pulled back images, large smile’s for celebrities so their nasal labial folds are hidden, pulled back hair with hands stretching the skin and smoothing the wrinkles. Using grainy film and converting the images to black and white to neutralize the skin tones.
If young women deserve to know when images have been digitally enhanced, don’t they also have a right to know about these techniques as well? Also, is this move just a one-off jump onto the anti-airbrushing bandwagon or is Marie Claire going to keep the blow torch of its models in future issues? It seems unlikely.
Eating disorder specialist Sarah McMahon –who has written for me before - gave me her thoughts:
The value of removing the digital Barbie-fication of models remains in question when magazines continue to promote one beauty ideal that is generally tall, fair and ectomorphic [characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage]. In the absence of airbrushing, magazines will endure by utilizing the world’s most beautiful models (who generally do not require “digital enhancement”). The French edition of Marie Claire featured Louise Bourgoin. Comparable “non-airbrushing” initiatives in France by Elle and Harpers Bazaar have used supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and actresses like Monica Bellucci. In Australia late last year we saw Sarah Murdoch’s “un-airbrushed” shoot on the front of The Australian Woman’s Weekly. These magazines continue to uphold the homogonised beauty ideal that contributes to body image disturbances through selecting models who incite unrealistic and largely unobtainable beauty ideals.
Ultimately this begs the question: what are the public health consequences of promoting such beauty ideals? This is an easy question to answer as the consequences are very well documented. Study after study reveals that promotion of a thin and homogenized beauty ideal contributes to body dissatisfaction and dieting- risk factors for the development of disordered eating.
This positions body image disturbances and ultimately eating disorders as a very serious public health issue- indeed a public health crisis. Tokenistic marketing activities by magazines giving lip service to this issue is simply not good enough.
Spain is one country taking the issue seriously. In 2007 Spain banned ultra thin models from the catwalks following a number of models literally starving themselves to death. In April 2008 an “anti-anorexia” bill was passed, banning uber-thin models and making it a crime for anyone to incite “excessive thinness”, food deprivation or extreme dieting. A new law bans the broadcasting before 10pm of TV ads that promote beauty products and treatments that suggest surgical or chemical ways to achieve a perfect body. The moce was prompted by concern that the ads were fueling a rise in eating disorders in young people.
But all we’ve got is the unsatisfactory recommendations of the National Advisory Group on Body Image and a Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct which appears to have achieved not much at all.
It’s difficult to know who is really behind the release of the Britney Spears before-and-after airbrushing images for Candie’s (shoes). Some accounts say Britney released them herself, others question it, given that Spears didn’t actually release any statement and the pics appeared in The Daily Mail.
As helpfully pointed out by the gigantic arrows, in the final images Britney’s calves and thighs have been made slimmer, some barely-visible cellulite has been removed from the back of her thighs, and tattoos and bruises have been airbrushed.
If it is Britney herself wanting to highlight what airbrushing does, I think that is a good thing. But again, I can’t help wondering about the use of lighting, camera angles, and the other tricks already mentioned. The more cynical part of me (rescue me Satchel Girl!) looks at the ‘before’ pics and wonders if there’s been some airbrushing done there as well?
The fact is, Britney is still presented in a sexualised and objectified way, inviting comments that focus on her body: cutting her up, analysing her piece by piece. For years Britney has attracted cruel comments for how she has looked, condemned for “baby flab”, mocked for wearing outfits that show her tummy, the usual ‘is she pregnant or just fat’ jibes. The Daily Mail reminds us of “A display of her flabby tummy on tour last month….”
Because Girl with a Satchel knows so much about these things, I asked her opinion late last night:
It seems odd that Britney would release these photographs, though this is the girl who produced a highly orchestrated MTV comeback documentary as a prelude to her post-breakdown comeback. If a celebrity wants to increase her female-friendly factor, whether that be to boost sales or attempt to genuinely connect, inspire and motivate women, then showing her real/authentic self is usually a good start. And can’t be any worse than having your butt splashed across the tabloid papers and magazines thanks to a courteous paparazzo.
Britney’s probably one of the most airbrushed celebrities of our time, as her career came to fruition in the 90s when we weren’t all so aware of the practises being used in the magazine industry. To see a relatively unpolished image of her online could be a good thing for her young fans.
But the fact that these images have been fed to The Daily Mail, a tabloid dubbed ‘The Daily Hate Mail’ by the feminists at jezebel.com for its often masochistic treatment of women, as opposed to a more women-friendly title (does such a thing exist?) smells like ‘stunt!’
Is this a case of pop star one-upmanship? After all, Jessica Simpson is on the cover of Marie Claire sans makeup and airbrushing this month, in aid of her new show, The Price of Beauty.
Now of course, showing women not digitally enhanced is better than what ACP’s former Art Director Louise Bell and colleagues once did, as told here:
What limits did you attempt to stick to? I was an art director at a time where retouching or “airbrushing”…was a very new technology. And Mia [Freedman] and I just went for it! We literally did as much as we could get away with – different heads on bodies; you name it.
Speaking of different heads and different bodies…
Here’s 23-year-old star of The Hills, Heidi Montag. Heide was on parade this week, displaying her new “bikini body”. She’s had:
A mini brow lift; Botox in her brow and frownline area; a nose job; fat injections in her cheeks, nasolabial folds and lips; chin reduction; neck liposuction; had her ears pinned back; a breast augmentation revision; liposuction on her waist, hips and inner and outer thighs; and a buttock augmentation.
But she’s still not happy.
Even though she can’t jog anymore (for fear of knocking herself out?) and can’t let anyone hug her because it hurts too much, she wants to go up another breast size, “but I can’t legally right now. The limit is 800cc and I have 700cc”.
Thanks Heide, for contributing to the body insecurities of all your fans. But maybe being able to run along the beach and share affection is overrated?
See also Newsweek, ‘Heidi Montag, Version 3.0′.