Saturday morning, I made myself a coffee and opened Vanity Fair.
As I was turning the pages, I see a photo of Brad Pitt. His face is bare, the shot is head on, clearly not touched up, and the lighting is strangely not very flattering. That’s a surprising photo, I say to myself. I look up to see who the photographer is.
Ah yes, it’s the amazing Chuck Close.
I turn the page and see Kate Winslet.
Same thing. It hasn’t been touched up, she doesn’t have a lot of makeup on. She looks natural. I can see the detail of her wrinkles, the folds in her eyelids, the imperfections in her skin, the sincerity in her eyes — nothing like the seductive poses we usually see in magazines. Her humanity. She’s so beautiful.
On the next page, it’s Julia Roberts.
There again, her face is so familiar, but so different from what I’m used to seeing of her. Her skin hasn’t been photoshopped, her makeup is simple.
Then there is Scarlett Johansson. Such a juvenile expression on her face! So different from the Hollywood diva shots we usually see of her.
I suddenly feel like I know all three of them much better.
Finally, I turn the page and find Robert de Niro looking back at me. But with him, it’s nothing special. He may not be photoshopped, but there’s nothing surprising about it: it’s a familiar face I see in front of me.
That’s when I started to get annoyed: “This is proof that we don’t let women age naturally — we have to photoshop them to death. Why do I not even raise an eyebrow seeing De Niro in all his splendor at age 70 (yeah, 70!) but I feel like I’m seeing Julia Roberts (age 46) for the very first time?”
Who is imposing these standards on us?
I was talking about this recently with an artistic director friend who creates images for big fashion brands. She explained to me that no matter what she does, when she tries using older models in her campaigns, showing them as they really are, with less photoshop, sales go down right away. Wrinkles don’t sell.
If the same pants are worn by Lauren Hutton and Gisele Bundchen, they won’t sell equally – even if the pants are made for women closer in age to Lauren Hutton.
So it’s not necessarily the magazines and ad agencies that are at fault.
They’re showing us what we want to see.
It’s like a snake biting its own tail.
That’s what I found fascinating, recently, on Pinterest.
Pinterest is a media source where the content is generated by the users themselves – each person creates his or her own content, and decides which photos will be displayed there.
So we might imagine that there would be more diversity.
But it only takes one minute on the site to realize that most of the photos are of models and celebrities who are mostly young, thin, and white.
Besides, while we’re on the topic – how many 20-year-old girls can afford Céline or Balenciaga, anyway?
Not many. A friend of mine who is a buyer told me that during Balmania, the people who could really afford to buy a pair of $1500 jeans…didn’t exactly look like Daria. Most of them were in their 60s and had spent their whole lives on a diet so they could fit into those jeans.
To wrap up these observations, it’s surprising to see that Oprah herself (yes, she’s an actress too! and happens to be amazing in The Butler) was part of the cast. Oprah, who recently celebrated her 60th birthday very publicly on all of her channels (and she’s got a lot of them), was not at all afraid of Chuck Close’s lens – yet she appears on the cover of her magazine every month in ultra-photoshopped images.
I don’t think she wants to look younger than her age.
I have the feeling that she simply figured out that a natural, non-photoshopped Oprah wouldn’t sell as many magazines.
I don’t know what to think anymore.
Take me, for example – when I take photos, I always choose the best angle and the best lighting possible – the kind that takes 15 years off your age and makes your skin look gorgeous. I don’t touch up imperfections, but I correct the color and exposure of my photos to make people “beautiful.”
Does that make me an accomplice?
Are we all part of some kind of collective subconscious that makes us prefer false images? Will we ever be able to change that?
Photos by Chuck Close for March 2014 Vanity Fair.
Translation by Andrea Perdue.