Posts Categorized: body image

It’s Not About the Ad

Lovely reader Patty sent me this link a while back, and I hesitated to include it in any roundups because it gets into some diet-y, fitness-y, pushy stuff toward the end. In fact, I’d say if you struggle at all or are in recovery, skip it.

BUT. The first bit was pretty fab, and has stuck with me all this time. Particularly this passage:

Because if we’re honest, this isn’t a war on Photoshop, this isn’t a war on consumerism, and this isn’t a war on glossy magazine ads. Sure, mass media has a collective responsibility to be more honest with their portrayal and we, as consumers, have a collective responsibility to hold them accountable. BUT cultural “ideals” will always be plastered on billboards. That’s not going to change. Even in a non-Photoshopped world, we’re never going to look like supermodels. They’re, you know, super. The perfect storm of genetics and training and nutrition and lighting and makeup and spray tanning and 8 weeks of broccoli goes into one Armani ad.

It’s not about the ad.

This battlefront is waged within each and every one of us, individually. At the end of the day, at the end of the commercial, at the end of the magazine, nobody can make us feel inferior about our body without our permission. The best way to change the ecosystem is to change our own psychology. We have the fundamental, inalienable right to look at a Photoshopped god-like body and appreciate it while simultaneously cherishing our own body.

This perspective isn’t nearly as popular or widely discussed as the need for change in the system.

Now I understand that retouched photos create impossible beauty standards and believe that magazines and ad agencies should back WAY off it. I also understand that being able to look at a Photoshopped image and say, “She looks great. And damn, so do I!” is a worthy goal, but an incredibly difficult one for many of us. Myself included. But it’s the germ of the idea that I’m clinging to: That pushing for change within the advertising and fashion industries is important but slow, and that a quicker route to empowerment is to accept all bodies as good, to discard the figure-shape hierarchy, to explode the definition of beauty and include ourselves in it.

We live in an oppositional world where we’re trained to want – even demand – black or white, yes or no, this or that. There’s not enough “and” in our lives right now. When we look at photos of supposedly “perfect” women’s bodies and faces, many of us – again, myself included – often feel shameful, deflated, filled with failure. Because our brains are saying, “Since I can’t be that, I’ll never be beautiful.” What if we could look at photos of supposedly “perfect” women’s bodies and faces, acknowledge their loveliness, and NOT feel that rush of self-focused negativity? What if we could just note their appearances neutrally, realize they have nothing to do with us or our beauty or our worth, and move on? Easier said than done, not an excuse for rampant re-touching, but definitely worth pondering, I think.

How we feel about our bodies is linked to how we feel about other people’s bodies. But we might be able to weaken that link a bit if we remind ourselves that there’s no one right way to have a beautiful body, and that there’s beauty enough for all of us to go around.

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Be Your Own Ally


Working toward a more positive body image is difficult, challenging, frustrating. There are many outside forces pushing against us that erode our confidence and work hard to convince us that we are not lovely and worthy and strong and luminous. We internalize those forces over time, and over time the struggles we experience begin to take place within ourselves. This is a reminder to have patience, practice forgiveness, and be gentle with yourself as you learn and grow. You will have setbacks and difficult emotions, you will feel jealous of others and disappointed in yourself, you will have days when it feels like you’ll never be able to smile into the mirror again. Have patience, practice forgiveness, and be gentle with yourself. Just as Rae Smith points out in the image above, if you want to make body image progress, you must learn to be your own ally.

Image courtesy The Love Yourself Challenge

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People Have Pores

Time for a little reality check. Let us examine:


This is a typical makeup ad, of the kind usually found in the front sections of monthly fashion mags. People talk a lot about rampant Photoshopping of bodies in ads and editorials and this is, indeed, a practice that is both common and damaging. There has been a lively conversation around the industrial practice of making women’s bodies look impossibly tall, thin, and curvy and I want that conversation to continue until real changes are made. Interestingly, though, I feel like considerably less attention is paid to the Photoshopping of skin and faces. I mean, there will be some uproar when a 46-year-old celeb shows up on the cover of something-or-other with the complexion of a 20-year-old, but I actually find what’s shown in the image above to be slightly more insidious.

This is a very young woman, not an older woman made to look younger. AND SHE HAS NO PORES. There is not a single line on her lovely face, including in some key places where faces typically need lines, creases, or wrinkles in order to facilitate movement. This is not a celebrity or recognizable person (as far as I know), and I believe that the choice to use a non-celebrity is an intentional one, made to coax us into believing that she’s more “like us.” Closer to the everywoman than Gwyneth or Beyonce. We are supposed to look at her and think, “Holy cats, if I wore that foundation, I bet I could look just like her.”


But we cannot look just like her. She doesn’t even look just like her. This is not what a regular human being looks like, even with gobs of professionally applied makeup. No one’s face is entirely free of pores, creases, hairs, blemishes, freckles, discoloration, scars, warts, beauty marks, wrinkles, spots, acne, and all of the other decidedly human things that characterize human faces. Some cosmetics companies use celebrity spokeswomen in their ads and airbrush them beyond recognition, and others take extremely young models and retouch the very life out of them. Both are bad choices.

Think of a 13-year-old woman looking at this ad. She is already ravaged by hormones and, likely, acne. She sees the face of this other young woman staring back at her and thinks, “How will I ever look like that?” She may buy the makeup in question, apply it, and find that she STILL doesn’t look as smooth and poreless as the ad. She may blame herself, her skin, her genetics, her inability to apply the stuff correctly. In all likelihood, she will internalize this perceived failure.

Think of a 53-year-old woman looking at this ad. She is constantly fed messages about her fading beauty and unsightly signs of aging. She sees the face of this young woman staring back at her and thinks, “I want to look like that.” She may buy the makeup in question, apply it, and find that she STILL doesn’t look as smooth and poreless as the ad. Because the ad is offering an impossibility. She may blame herself, her skin, her genetics, her inability to apply the stuff correctly. In all likelihood, she will internalize this perceived failure.

Choose a woman of any age and watch her fall down the same rabbit hole.

Makeup can highlight and downplay, enhance and mask. Makeup can change how your skin looks, how your face looks, and how you feel about your complexion and looks. But makeup cannot truly and fundamentally change anything about our faces or skin. Photoshop, however, can.

The next time you see an ad like this and find yourself lamenting your “bad skin,” gently remind yourself that the vast majority of the “good skin” you’re being shown has been digitally improved. Beyond what is possible in nature. Open up conversations with young women about these ads so they don’t start longing for botox and microderm before graduating from high school. Open up conversations with older women about how lines, creases, and wrinkles needn’t be sources of shame. These messages about what a woman’s face should look like are insidious ones. But we can help defuse them.

This is a refreshed and revived post from the archive.

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