Digitally-altered pictures on magazine covers are nothing new; nor is the controversy surrounding them. Pimples and wrinkles have been smoothed over for years, but lately, it’s gone too far. Now models are practically air-brushed into oblivion and consumers are bombarded with artificially perfect images that we know aren’t real, but still make us feel bad about ourselves.
The publication industry is routinely criticized for its ridiculous, offensive displays of women’s bodies, but with the release of September’s particularly controversial Self magazine, the issue—with two editors on opposite sides of the fence—is at the front burner again.
Thumbs Down: Lucy Danziger, Editor-in-Chief Self Magazine
This month’s Self features the beautiful and vivacious Kelly Clarkson with the tag line, “Stay True to You and Everyone Else Will Love You, Too!” Great sentiment—except her body’s extremely slimmed down on the cover. Clarkson’s weight is a consistent topic in the media. She’s not stick thin and—here’s the shocker—she’s not apologetic for it. As she puts it, “When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’” Hear, hear!
That’s just the kind of message that women need reinforced. Unfortunately, reading this and seeing her unrealistically whittled body creates a gross incongruity. The issue caused an immediate backlash once it hit the stands, prompting editor-in-chief Lucy Danziger to address it publically. On her blog, she writes that the cover “is meant to inspire women to want to be their best.” Danziger also shares that when she ran a marathon and put pictures from it in Self, she requested a touch up because her hips looked too big. That hardly sounds like the kind of “Total Body Confidence” encouraged on the cover.
In an interview on Good Morning America, she calls Clarkson the “most inspiring woman of 2009,” then explains why the altered cover is necessary. Apparently, satin isn’t “a forgiving fabric” and the cover should “capture the essence of you at your best.” In other words, though Kelly is fit and healthy (as Danziger stresses in the interview), a physical representation of her at her best doesn’t exist in reality.
And while Danziger feels Clarkson’s an apt role model for women because she’s confident and loves her body, she’s still not good enough as is. “Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best,” she blogs. Apparently at Self, personal best doesn’t mean self acceptance or fitness—it means constantly striving for an unattainable body; it means keeping self esteem as low as possible. After all, if readers start believing they’re fine just as they are, Self wouldn’t have an audience anymore. (And what a great day that would be.)
Thumbs Up: Valerie Toranian, Editor-in-Chief, Elle France
The creative heads of publications often argue that the public doesn’t want to see everyday people. But if we really want glammed-up images we can aspire toward, why was French Elle’s no-makeup issue met with such unprecedented enthusiasm both here and abroad?
In April of this year, editor-in-chief Valerie Toranian produced a “Stars Sans Fards” issue, which translates to “without makeup,” and featured female celebrities without tons of makeup or airbrushing. Granted, they had the help of a pro photographer, flattering lights, and are already abnormally gorgeous, but their pictures are by no means perfect. They look like beautiful women you’d see on the street, not wrinkleless aliens with twelve-packs.
U.S. consumers responded enthusiastically to the issue, with commenters at female-oriented Web sites like Jezebel and The Frisky celebrating the bare-faced beauties and bemoaning the fact that American editors are being out-classed abroad. Some believe that the women were wearing makeup, but even if that’s the case, it’s subtle and only enhances their beauty. It doesn’t create an entirely new person, a la the Self debacle.
A Step in the Right Direction
While I applaud Elle France’s successful innovation, it’s sad that realistic images are such an anomaly in the media. In America, they’re virtually unheard of. But even after this month’s disastrous Self cover, there’s a glimmer of hope—the September issue of Glamour features a woman sitting in her underwear. What’s remarkable about the shot is that her body looks like an average woman’s—she’s even got a belly! The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with one reader writing, “Thank you, Glamour, for reinforcing that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect body.’”
Danizger may think that the public wants images to envy and emulate, but we’re getting tired of bland, airbrushed shots that encourage poor self image. Based on the enthusiastic response to a picture buried near the back of Glamour, it’s clear the public craves more accurate depictions of women. (DivineCaroline readers feel the same way!) It’s not a cover shot, but we’re certainly getting closer.
The Media Malcontent is a monthly column dedicated to celebrating the positives and pointing out the negatives when it comes to female representation in the media. If you have a question or suggestion for Vicki, please send it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.