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.