I've been wondering a lot of late what must it be like to be thought of as "the most airbrushed woman in America"? So far this week alone I've watched two TV mock jocks tearing apart Demi Moore for her overly retouched Helena Rubinstein ad, wherein she looks nothing like herself... we all know it so there's no arguing against it; they're right. Lucky for her, she wasn't even part of the whole debacle with Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington awhile back or goodness knows where her self-esteem would lie. Now, it's the cosmetic companies that do this to our so-called "role models" (no I don't mean firemen and women; I mean celebrities), models and actresses, but they know what they are getting into when they accept money (and the accompanying notoriety) for the campaigns.
Not so the case with Ashley Judd, who this week wrote a scathingly penetrating expose on The Daily Beast on April 9 on the hurtful and untrue words written in blogs and news outlets about her appearance over the course of the last few months -- and a reflection on our broader self-concept as women and how we participate in victimizing ourselves. Judd said:
The Conversation about women's bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.
It seems these outlets had accused her of having "messed up" her face, having work done, having a "puffy face," and women in chat rooms regularly made comments of her losing the original beauty she was known for, gaining weight, becoming a "cow" and a "pig," and to "watch out" because... her... husband "is looking for his second wife." Ladies, please!
So Judd is right; how and why did a whole mess of people participate in a conversation about her "messy," "puffy" face? Why do we women regularly tear each other apart based on each other's physical appearances? Why -- when we know we are already tearing ourselves apart in our mirrors on a daily basis? Women especially, have the hardest time supporting each other and it's so sad when, if we teamed up, we could truly rule the world.
Back to the UK...
As you may or may not know, with Parliament's pushing, The Advertising Standards Authority, approached L'Oreal over the ridiculously over-touched Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington ad campaigns, but were ultimately unsatisfied with the company's response and considered all this a breach of advertising standards. The ads were pulled. Do you think that would ever happen in the USA? Two years ago in France, Valerie Boyer, a member of parliament, was so upset about the steady stream of altered photos that her teen daughters were exposed to, that she proposed the most radical response, legislation requiring advertisers and publishers put a warning on any image that has been retouched. Oh, Mon Dieu!
Just like you can pretty much walk into any country and not know where you are because you could be in the same square neighborhood of Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or by the same token, Designer row, I get a very similar feeling about human, physical beauty these days. It used to be about fitting in at high school, but now, beauty in an overarching way has become completely homogenized. The slightly wavy hair extensions, fake tan, breasts, same style of dress and handbag, pumps or wedges, whatever is in season, and if it's not whatever the magazines say to wear, it stands out and you don't want to stand OUT now do you?!
The thing with all this is it's no longer an issue with adult women, self-esteem and magazine ads. It's our young girls! I personally know kids, growing up somewhat sheltered from the media and this culture, and even they are showing signs of sheep behavior. "It's OK, they say only after a couple of weeks of lectures, to be yourself and dress edgy, or a little bit different, but you can't go TOO far or be TOO different," they tell me. "Why?" And... scene.
The girls are entirely too aware of their bodies already, and they don't even watch TV, aren't even exposed for the most part to the standard influx of media, magazines, movies and mega-commercial exposure.
Do we really believe our young girls are capable of processing the information they get handed on a moment to moment basis, every day, to know that these cut and photo-shopped actresses don't exist? Don't we owe them a chance? It's out of control.
I have a "cool gal" list and boy has the number shrunk. Even my cool gals Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon have given up the ghost to line-free looks in cosmetic ads. Do these advertisers really think we don't know the women in them are over 60? Have they gone into a time machine and are suddenly not only not over 60 but under 20? Like perfect porcelain dolls, they pose on the pages of our favorite "women's empowerment magazines" (HA) for us to try and emulate.
The point is no human person can ever achieve this perfection and no human girl should ever aspire to it. They are already hurting themselves in record numbers to be thin. Breast jobs have replaced nose jobs as the sweet 16 birthday gift of choice for rich chicks. Girls in PREpubescence are desperate with self-hate and seedy, mega cosmetic brands are taking full advantage, selling anti-aging creams to women in their 20s and anti-acne creams to girls in their -- well when they're 10!
And what I'm saying is, no one needs this stuff!
Young girls and teens simply don't have the sophistication to filter out these images and subliminal messages they're getting. All they can do is internalize that they aren't what they see and bring that feeling forward into adulthood -- counting calories and getting ready for that inevitable day when they ask the mirror or a trusted girlfriend, "Should I get this lifted?"
What do we do about it? Cause it really seems like legislation is the only way. The UK legislation they are going for will take forever, but at least they are banning ads that go too far. You know we'll never do that here in the U.S. Heck, we still allow the use of toxic ingredients long banned in many countries. So, it's all up to underpaid teachers, overworked school counselors and tired parents.
As Dr. Vivian Diller, a psychologist and author of Face it: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change said, "It's beginning to feel repulsive, annoying... I think people are angry even." Indeed that would be the best response and for those young girls getting angry instead of sad I say, get even too. Don't buy the brands that tell you anything short of the truth and every chance we get, tell a child they are beautiful, uncover the mask behind the Oz of Hollywood and Madison avenue.