Thursday, March 22, 2012

Airbrushing, Photoshop & Advertising: Demi Moore for Helena Rubinstein

Helena Rubinstein's latest advertising campaign features an unrecognizable Demi Moore, who appears to be more of an idealized Replicant than herself. Her smooth, pore-less, line-less, expressionless, character-less face is far less beautiful than she is in reality.

Certainly the point in hiring a gorgeous high profile public figure to be the face of a product line is intended to achieve a singular goal: to sell product. However, at what point can you no longer buy into the fantasy? At what point is the chasm too wide between fantasy and reality that you can no longer suspend your disbelief? At what point do we consciously and unconsciously get the message that buying this lipstick or that eye cream will not deliver you some perfected version of yourself that is pore-less, blemish-less and line-less? When did we become so terrified of aging that we needed to have a beautiful nearly 50 year old woman look as though she was twelve in order to feel okay about the inevitability of growing older?

Living in Los Angeles, one is constantly bombarded by imagery promoting the latest and greatest way to achieve the fountain of youth. In fact, living at the epicenter of the entertainment industry means that one is privy to all of the real life transformations of celebrities who, in order to remain marketable, must adhere to the rigid and ageist tenets built into the Hollywood paradigm. Seeing so many high profile entertainers who capitulate in order to try to achieve unrealistic standards of beauty by way of repeated trips to their favorite Beverly Hills plastic surgeon fools no one. This is particularly true as their once beautiful selves are enveloped by their homogenized idealized selves that are devoid of any character. What made them unique is replaced by something that is not. 

A very well known successful TV and Film actress, who recently made a career change to an entirely unrelated industry, told me that as an aging actress good roles were few and far between. Rather than capitulating and undergoing the knife to preserve her career, or to take one-dimensional "mom roles" that she wasn't interested in- she made the bold move to change careers altogether. Her move was brave and proactive, but also necessary to preserve her self-esteem (and to remove the expectation that her agent would send her another great role).
The fountain of youth pressure cooker that is Hollywood serves as a microcosm for the pressure that society exerts on woman to fear aging, and to do whatever is necessary to conceal, erase, remove, and replace the signs of aging with those that represent youth.  By doing these things we are made to feel as though we are able to defer aging to some unknown time, or to continually renew our contract and remain ageless through repeated visits to the plastic surgeon. 

I am neither suggesting that plastic surgery and photoshop are bad, nor am I pretending that there aren't good reasons to use both when appropriate. What I am suggesting is that aging is an inevitable part of living and trying to erase its signifiers on the outside is only ever an illusion. Overly photoshopped faces in ad campaigns and overly altered faces and bodies (courtesy of a plastic surgeon) set unrealistic standards of beauty for all of us. I remember seeing an interview with Cindy Crawford a few years ago wherein the host was holding up one of her magazine covers and proclaiming that Cindy was a flawless beauty. Cindy responded by saying that she didn't even look like that since the pictures had been manipulated. What these types of idealizing distortions tell us is that we simply aren't good enough on our own, and that our inherent value is tied to our perceived youth- therefore do whatever is necessary to preserve it.

Beauty is ageless and timeless, and isn't defined by a lack of expression lines. As Erno Laszlo said, "Beauty is the way that a woman wears her looks." To that end, there appears to be a new trend to embrace aging that Madison Avenue has taken note of. Most notably is the recent launch of the Iris Apfel for MAC Cosmetics Collection featuring the 90 year old fashion icon. 
Iris Apfel's refreshing interview gives hope that the tide is changing, and that people are taking note.

Cate Blanchett's decision to forgo being photoshopped for her recent cover on Intelligent Life helps to galvanize this new trend in being real, and with any luck this trend will persist. Tim de Lisle posits, "When other magazines photograph actresses, they routinely end up running heavily Photoshopped images, with every last wrinkle expunged. Their skin is rendered so improbably smooth that, with the biggest stars, you wonder why the photographer didn’t just do a shoot with their waxwork." That  the 43 year old Blanchett is willing to unapologetically wear her age on the cover of a magazine is a breath of fresh air that surely helps sow the seeds of change.

And for a bit of levity...

What are your thoughts? Do tell.


  1. Bravo. I occasionally catch myself being catty and feeling contempt when I see a star desperately clinging to her youth, like when middle-aged actresses marry men in their 20s. Not that there's anything wrong with age differences, but I get the sense an aging beauty is hoping to turn back time by being with someone younger. And then I stop to think how awful it must feel to have made a career based on your beauty and to suddenly start to feel invisible ... or get fewer movie offers ... because that youth and beauty are fading and they are the only things Hollywood cares about. That and making everyone blonde.

    As for aging in general, it infuriates me that we dismiss our elders so readily. Many other cultures revere them for their wisdom and experience, but sadly our media has painted such an unrealistic picture of beauty, that NO ONE can possibly compete, and so many women fight the aging process as hard as they can.

    You can't imagine all the ways I berated myself in my 20s when I read all the magazines and saw models with brilliant white teeth and eyes and poreless skin. I had no idea those photos were airbrushed (and in later years Photoshopped). I assumed women really looked like that and they were genetically blessed. I was shocked, literally dumbfounded, when I realized that models on a magazine cover have their thighs slimmed, waists nipped, breasts and lips pumped up, teeth straightened ... all by a few mouse clicks. Given all that artifice, I feel fortunate I grew up when I did, when at least there was still some realism in the media.

    Demi Moore's face doesn't fool me for a second. Nor did Julia Robert's face in whatever ad got banned in the UK. Was it Lancome? These women are middle aged. They are not wrinkle free and poreless. Their skin texture is changing, just as sure as mine is, and they are likely getting jowls. I'd much rather see Cate with her creases and undereye hollows. She's the real beauty.

    Great post. And love that Fotoshop video. My husband was the first one to point it out to me. :)

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Zuzu. I just think that these societal failings that promote self-loathing if you do not look like an airbrushed beauty who is perfectly sculpted in every way is frightening. Nobody can measure up to these unrealistic standards including the actresses and models that are used to "sell us" on whatever product or procedure that the companies who are them are peddling. It's no wonder that eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, and low self-esteem are so rampant among women. Too many young girls look to plastic surgery as a potential "solution" so they can look like the girls/women on the cover of the magazines-- who themselves do not look like the girls/women on the cover of magazines.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that elders are dismissed far too readily rather than revered. We could learn a tremendous amount from cultures who respect their elders.

      I know-- growing up looking at those magazines does little more than breed an inherent sense of inadequacy when you think that you can't measure up to those airbrushed and photoshopped image who are no more real than the paper that they are printed on.

      Middle aged women being photoshopped in order to appear a fraction of their age just sends a damaging message to men, women, girls and boys- one that invariably leads to unrealistic expectations of what they should themselves look like, and what the person they are with should look like.

      I imagine that when Demi Moore sees these "doctored" images of herself that she's probably hard pressed to find bits and pieces of her own face. Demi is far more beautiful than her photoshopped counterpart-- a pity that she didn't say no to the proofs (assuming she was given the option).

      I agree that Cate is a real beauty, and that she opted not to be retouched is fantastic and inspiring. We can only hope that it has a real impact on some of her colleagues who will perhaps think twice about being depicted as poreless wrinkle free mannequins. There is really something to be said about aging with some grace. We should all be so lucky to be as wise as Iris Apfel at 90!

    2. I agree- I love that that Fotoshop video- it's funny and poignant!


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