Julia Roberts is almost cute enough for the media, but not quite

Remember that really creepy Lancome foundation ad where Julia Roberts’ face had been airbrushed until she looked ghostly and unlike herself? The UK has banned it (along with a similar ad featuring Christy Turlington wearing a Maybelline foundation). The government over there has this interesting idea that airbrushing the hell out of a photograph intended to show how well a foundation works constitutes a fraud – and that girls and women are suffering enough from the pressure to look a way that no human being ever could with just makeup.

It’s too bad the US doesn’t give a crap about either problem, but you’ve gotta admit that’s the brilliance of capitalism. For proof, we’ve got the strongest economy and a healthy middle class and… oh, right. Never mind.

A clause in Roberts’ contract prevents anyone from seeing the untouched photos for the Lancome ad (some sources presume this is about vanity, but I think there could be business reasons for it and prefer not to judge). Here’s Roberts today side by side with the Lancome image:

Untouched current pic of Roberts beside heavily airbrushed Lancome ad

Uh-huh. The untouched image strikes me as more attractive because it looks less bizarre. But it also actually makes me wonder what foundation she’s using, because her skin looks great. The second image erases a lot of what makes her Julia Roberts, and while it looks flawless in the same way that anime characters look flawless… well, that states the problem right there.

Lancome insists the airbrushed photo accurately represents what the foundation will do for you, but that’s patently absurd: she’s been made up by a professional, skillfully lit by another professional, and carefully photographed by another professional, but they need to airbrush all that to show us how good it’s really going to look on us? I don’t think so. We’ll be applying the damn stuff ourselves and then appearing in whatever grotesque wrinkle-seeking, melasma-illuminating, redness-enhancing, oil-spotlighting, ashy-looking, sun-damage-emphasizing lighting the world throws at us. (Note: it’s not just this photo – read the comment thread derail on this post as a review of a Lancome product turns into a discussion of the eerie promo picture).

The company behind both Lancome and Maybelline is L’Oreal, but they’re hardly the only company responsible for this sort of thing. In fact, I’ve spend the past couple of decades grappling with two very contradictory messages: that Julia Roberts is gorgeous and I should want to look like her, and that she is aesthetically inadequate for Hollywood. It started with Pretty Woman.

Pretty Woman poster featuring Julia Roberts' head on someone else's bodyThat is Julia Roberts’ head on the body of model Shelley Michelle. Now, it’s been said that the only reason this happened was that the poster was put together well after the film had wrapped and neither actor was available for posing (apparently the male body isn’t Richard Gere, either). Fair enough. Let’s accept that. But that was not the explanation of the day for this next poster, which featured the legs of Donna Scoggins, Roberts’ body double in the film, who is famous for her legs and cast as a leg model in commercials:

Pretty Woman poster featuring just Donna Scoggins' legs.Now, here’s a shot of Julia Roberts’ legs now, from last fall when she was promoting her 2010 movie Eat Pray Love:

Picture of Julia Roberts in a short skirt - her legs look great!For real, Media Goons? She was about 42 when this shot was taken, so it’s hard to imagine her legs look better now than they did twenty-one years ago. If those legs aren’t good enough (and for whom? the hetero boys we’re assured will “sleep with anything”?), then fuck dieting, fuck exercise, fuck cosmetics and fuck cosmetic surgery. I hereby call on all women to give up on all this shit and tell our critics: “Why should I? I still wouldn’t be good enough for you anyway.” With this regime in place – let’s call it the “Hathor Prescription” and I’ll go make some videos and launch a line of leisure wear for it – you should become considerably more relaxed about your appearance in approximately thirty days, and completely stop giving a fuck at around ninety days.

L’Oreal spent a lot of years telling me I was “worth it.” I never was sure what that meant. It felt like some kind of lip service to my self-esteem, but when they confront me with a spookily airbrushed photo of one of the most successful actresses of all time, I wonder if there has ever been a woman born that L’Oreal considers “worth it.”

I recently sampled the Lancome foundation myself so I could give you a better idea of what it can really do for you. Here’s a slighty retouched photo – honestly, I hardly did anything to it, just corrected some red eye and stuff – which I may use in the promo for the “Hathor Prescription”:

Stick figure with Donna Scoggin's legs attachedYes, those are my real eyelashes.

Comments

  1. says

    If those legs aren’t good enough (and for whom? the hetero boys we’re assured will “sleep with anything”?), then fuck dieting, fuck exercise, fuck cosmetics and fuck cosmetic surgery. I hereby call on all women to give up on all this shit and tell our critics: “Why should I? I still wouldn’t be good enough for you anyway.”

    Heh, I already do that! Well, I exercise and eat whole foods because they make me feel good, but I also eat chocolate and fuck anyone who says I should sacrifice what makes me happy now on the off chance it will eventually lead to me being judged worthy of making other people happy.

    I think it’s awesome Britain’s banned these ads. Fraud is an aspect of airbrushing I hadn’t really considered. Hopefully the USA will pick up on this eventually (even if we do it the way we do everything else: ten years later and pretend we invented it).

  2. says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    I hadn’t thought of airbrushing in terms of foundation as a fraud, either, but since foundation is supposed to hide little flaws, it makes complete sense.

    M.C.,

    Especially since it was “natural beauty” and sort of faux inclusive but not really… I think we had some old posts about that campaign.

  3. sbg says

    I knew when I bought the Almay Smart Shade concealer that there wouldn’t be clear little bubbles on my skin that just magically turned into my skin color upon contact. I really did, I just had a coupon! But I did not know that not only would it not smartly shade to my precise skin tone, it also would also blend worse than any other concealer I’ve ever tried and I was left with dark make up dots all over my face, only I didn’t know it until I was outside in public because my bathroom mirror is apparently very forgiving.

    Yeah. So. We all know make up does not work miracles, so going to the PhotoShop lengths companies go to all on the wing and a prayer that they’ll trick you into thinking their product gets you closer to that fake fakery is not only false advertising, it’s just daft. Show me what your product can actually do and I’ll try it, or I’m sticking to my usual make up decision making, which involves picking whatever’s on sale. At Walgreen’s.

    Also, Jenn, you and I could be twins! Seriously, I look almost exactly like that, but my hair is stick straight and my lips are a wee bit thinner (that damned plumping lipstick doesn’t work like collagen injections!).

  4. I.A. Scott says

    I love his line “it’s a self-regulating thing, where you’re absolutely lying”. Also judging by that video they’re going for a “slightly jaundiced” look.

    Maybelline makeup TV ads here have all had “eyelashes computer enhanced” or “enhanced in post production” type messages along the bottom for a long while now.

  5. Dani says

    “The second image erases a lot of what makes her Julia Roberts, and while it looks flawless in the same way that anime characters look flawless… well, that states the problem right there.”

    That’s what I thought when I saw it. In fact, it reminds me of when I was first moving away from drawing anime and starting to draw more realistic faces. I didn’t have a real understanding yet of how the face and facial muscles actually work, plus, I’d been drawing anime for years, and so my faces had eyes that were too big, a generic-looking nose and mouth, and a minimal amount of other details. Just like this image; it reads as a face, but is completely unrealistic (and not half so interesting) as a real face. Yet, this is the “ideal” that is shoved down our throats daily.

  6. says

    sbg,

    I tried the Almay Smart Shade Foundation, and my skin started burning until I washed it off. Hypoallergenic, my ass.

    Awww, you should try the Lancome and take a picture like I did! :D

    I’ve been ignoring makeup ads for a long time – false eyelashes in mascara ads and so on. I love YouTube reviews for makeup products – in many of them, they actually apply the product in front of you, and you can see for yourself what difference it’s making.

    I.A. Scott: Maybelline makeup TV ads here have all had “eyelashes computer enhanced” or “enhanced in post production” type messages along the bottom for a long while now.

    Where’s “here” for you? UK?

    Mascara ads have used fake eyelashes for years, and I think that constitutes a fraud, too. Really, an ad for a product should have to actually use that product, and nothing else.

  7. sbg says

    Oh I just did!


    Photobucket

    Isn’t it uncanny, folks? (No, I’m not flipping Jenn the bird, and no, my hair isn’t naturally that color. However, I can recommend anyone to a natural way to achieve it the way I do. Hehe.)

    Disclaimer: I edited because I fail at figuring out which side my beauty mark, er, mole shows on in a photo.

  8. says

    sbg,

    *dies of laughter* We look so much alike, I think… is it possible? SBG, we are both so blandly perfect, I think we must finally have achieved Teh Gorgeous! I’ll email these pics to a casting agent immediately and let you know what they say!

    I.A. Scott,

    Nah, I was pretty sure you’d mentioned being in the UK before, and it made sense from context.

  9. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    It’s more than I could have ever hoped, to be blandly perfect. I predict we’ll both be stars, and it’s all because of our make up choices. Brilliant! Everyone can get there.

    Er, or.

  10. minuteye says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    sbg,

    Mascara ads have used fake eyelashes for years, and I think that constitutes a fraud, too. Really, an ad for a product should have to actually use that product, and nothing else.

    Maybe make-up ads are supposed to be like surrealist paintings: it’s not a woman in a purple hat, it’s how you FEEL when looking at a woman in a purple hat. In the same way, it’s not what your eyelashes will look like when you put our mascara on, it’s the way passers-by will FEEL about your eyelashes while you’re wearing our mascara.

  11. Dina Bow says

    Almost all marketing is fake and enhanced. Just look at the food labels at the grocery store or at a McDonalds ad. Pretty much nothing looks like it really does.

  12. sbg says

    Dina Bow,

    I think the distinction here is that these products imply that women can reach this level of perfection and that they should try to by purchasing these things which will, in fact, not make them any more perfect than they already are. The same isn’t exactly true for the shellacked, inedible versions of food in print ads.

  13. says

    sbg,

    I know, I can’t help it. Sometimes, I feel sorry for all those poor, unfortunate souls who are not as stunning as I. That picture truly captures my je ne sais quoi

  14. says

    Nothing really to add the conversation (anything I wanted to say has alread been said, and better), but I had to say that I laughed my ass off over this thread…especially Jen’s pic of what she looks like without her makeup.

    Anyone who says feminists don’t have a sense of humor hasn’t met any. :)

  15. Red says

    I posted a few comments over there. I basically told Lancome if they wanted this product to be a top-seller, they had to make sure the photos of the models they use look like real human beings and not alien plastic toys that would give little children nightmares.

  16. Ace says

    I gave up on all that shit round about middle school. Just said “fuck it” and I still don’t buy or use cosmetics for the most part, because even at the age of 13 I figured out that it just wasn’t gonna happen.

    I’d rather be “ugly” for real than some fake, trussed-up “pretty” anyhow. Guess I’m just stubborn that way.

  17. says

    Feminists would all commit suicide without senses of humor, I think. Honestly, this site was getting waaaay too depressing and burning us all out, so we decided to start injecting more humor and creativity into it – even as we’re ranting relentlessly about stuff that deserves a rant – because otherwise you just can’t withstand it.

    JT, Love it!

    Red, I really do have to wonder if there’s anybody out there falling for ads like this.

    Ace, like you, I knew by about 13 I was never going to to be conventionally gorgeous – I just don’t fit that mold, and until they develop cheap cosmetic surgery to lengthen legs, I never will. But I like makeup because applying it is my only artistic outlet, and I can achieve looks that say, “Take me seriously” or “I am gorgeous in my own way” (see Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds) and so on.

  18. Azzy says

    If the company claims any woman can achieve that photoshopped look with their foundation, they should prove it. They can pick any woman they like, as conventionally gorgeous as they can find, but if they can’t make her face look like a plastic doll-face glued to her skull, they should refund all their customers who bought their makeup because of their false advertisement.

  19. Dani says

    “If those legs aren’t good enough (and for whom? the hetero boys we’re assured will “sleep with anything”?), then fuck dieting, fuck exercise, fuck cosmetics and fuck cosmetic surgery. I hereby call on all women to give up on all this shit and tell our critics: “Why should I? I still wouldn’t be good enough for you anyway.””

    This crossed my mind as I was helping myself to an extra sloppy joe last night :P

    Ace:
    I gave up on all that shit round about middle school. Just said “fuck it” and I still don’t buy or use cosmetics for the most part, because even at the age of 13 I figured out that it just wasn’t gonna happen.

    I’d rather be “ugly” for real than some fake, trussed-up “pretty” anyhow. Guess I’m just stubborn that way.

    It took all of middle school and high school of trying (and failing) to tame my frizzy curls (that grow horizontally as well as vertically) and oily skin, and feeling ugly as a result, to realize this. Now, I only wear makeup when I feel like it and want to have fun with it, and not because I feel obligated to.

    I really hate the way these ads make us feel like we have to look (like their definition of) *perfect!* all the time just to be at all valued or respected (of course, there’s the fact that people who see women as nothing more than painted-up dolls wouldn’t respect us anyway…).

  20. SunlessNick says

    Red,

    Yeah. A great many of these photoshopptedly “beautiful” pictures are tumbling right into the uncanny valley.

  21. Patrick McGraw says

    In discussion with some straight male gamer friends, I discovered something telling: all of us tend to be most attracted to women who have a distinctive appearance – for example, finding Claudia Black much more attractive than Megan Fox.

    It’s just anecdata, but it is further evidence that the cookie cutter mold that Hollywood and the cosmetics industry keep telling women they have to fit into isn’t even what men want, despite that being the supposed rationale behind the campaign to control women’s appearances.

  22. says

    Patrick McGraw,

    See, I hear this a lot, but I’ve also seen and heard men ruthlessly tear into objectively* beautiful women (like actresses, models and porn stars) for failing to meet some standard or other.

    *objectively is a loaded word, but these women DO perform femininity/sexiness as dictated by the culture. So if they are not enough, what is????

  23. says

    JT,

    “Conventionally attractive” or similar might be better than “objective.” They fit a socially prescribed mold. And you’re right – some men tear them apart. And not in an honest, “Hmm, I just don’t get why people think Angelina Jolie is so gorgeous” way, but in a “Her arms aren’t quite skinny enough – what an ugly bitch!” way.

    So let’s tally the social messages: guys will sleep with anything, except Julia Roberts isn’t good enough for them. And guys find all sorts of things attractive, except when they are dissatisfied by anything short of a living Barbie doll. I think all of these things are actually true. I think there’s no pleasing misogynists, and there are plenty of them about, representing “men” quite vocally, and they’re the ones who demand perfection in the way emotional abusers do – just to keep you jumping. I think guys like Patrick’s talking about are probably not misogynists, and genuinely appreciate women.

    Who’s the media catering to? Emotionally abusive misogynists. Interesting. If they ARE the majority of the populace, we are doomed. If not, why are they getting catered?

  24. Ara says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I wonder if there’s a large difference between what rich and powerful males consider attractive and what other males consider attractive– considering the way society is set up to reward the misogynistic, maybe the ones with unreasonable beauty standards rose to the top and now the ad campaigns have some variation on author appeal?

  25. says

    Ara,

    I don’t think there’s a class gap in what hetero men find sexy about women’s looks – I suspect men in every group are all over the place in their tastes, based on just my own experience (which is not universal, of course). But I do think that a lot of people in the higher-ranks of society are status-obsessed, and it’s a mark of high status to have a “trophy” wife or girlfriend, and she must have a certain look and certain other attributes in order to be the perfect, well, fashion accessory for the successful man.

    I also believe that a lot more people than realize it are asexual or aromantic, or simply have activities that mean far more to them than any sex or romantic relationship ever could. One example of this would be someone who loves making money or business deals far more than they love romance or sex, and if I’m right, I’d expect that sort of person to show up more among the upper financial classes than the lower ones. That person probably wouldn’t develop his own taste in women’s looks (because nothing about a woman has ever raised his pulse the way closing a deal does), so he relies on the media to tell him what he should be looking for.

    Just my theories, of course.

  26. Patrick McGraw says

    Yes, there are a frightening number of men who will tear into conventionally beautiful women for some perceived imperfection. I think this has more to do with how our culture has encouraged a narcissistic attitude in men towards regarding women as existing to feeding male desires than the impossible beauty standard, which is directed more at women.

  27. says

    Patrick McGraw,

    I agree that the men are reacting to encouragement to behave narcissistically, but would clarify that I think the impossible beauty standard is a product of male narcissism, too. It’s designed to keep women’s self-esteem low so that the vast majority who can’t meet the standard:

    –will tolerate bad male behavior and mistreatment, believing they don’t deserve better because they’re not beautiful enough
    –won’t try to compete with men in the workplace and slots of power and authority
    –if they manage to have self-esteem and decide to compete with men, they will still be held back for not being gorgeous enough.

    If you make your own way, there is a sort of “handsome” look you can go for as an alternate to “super model.” This look says “Take me seriously – I have wealth and power” – Chanel suits, expensive makeup, expensive hairdos – the look you see on female politicians and famous lawyers. But I’m not sure even this look is available to everyone: while there are some buffalo sized powerful men out there (politicians, Rush Limbaugh), I can’t think of an obese woman who’s powerful. Nor do these women tend to be all that far off from the impossible beauty standard. And they tend to be white. Condolezza Rice really does look like she might’ve been a model, and for that she had to endure a lot of objectifying comments.

    As a girl looking out into this world with ambitions, you just don’t get the feeling your prospects are much good. Boys – at least, white ones – can aspire to be movie stars or presidents (or both!) or uber-wealthy geeks running software empires or whatever. I can’t imagine what it’s like. Everything I wanted to do for a living would have forced me to endure massive sexual harassment, because that’s just a fact of life for women in male-dominated work.

    And people think the reason women “opt-out” is some hardwired female nesting drive. Please. We have to put up with SO MUCH FUCKING SHIT all the time that we’re ready to give up around age 32, regardless of whether we have an “opt out” option or not.

  28. Patrick McGraw says

    Agreed, I wasn’t clear that both messages come from the same source. I just think that the messages sent to men and women are often very different, even if the end result is the same shitty situation.

  29. Zahava says

    Computer generated images are also used prolifically. The actress/model isn’t even in the ad or commercial! Also, many of the unknown people we see in cosmetic and hair color ads are computer-generated images!

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>