Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Naked Truth About Celebrity Photo Spreads

It's been a hectic month and I've been behind on my magazine reading, so I was delighted to have a chance to catch up on all the fashion and beauty news during a much-needed trip to the pedicurist last week. Once comfortably situated with my feet in the bath and the chair set to "massage," I picked up the May issue of Allure. Lindsay Lohan was on the cover, complete with photoshopped freckles and the tag line "I was a Bit... Irresponsible," which was humorous considering the interview occurred last year and she was doing damage control on an event that's been eclipsed by the 12 even bigger mistakes she's made since then.

As I flipped through pages of nondescript beauty advice (Allure is the Cosmopolitan of beauty, with the same features, interviews and advice every month), I stopped short on page 231, where Vanessa William's perfectly round, smooth and naked ass appeared to emanate a soft glow. On the opposite page, Carla Gugino (yeah, I didn't know who she was either) stared seductively at the camera with her hand touching her bedroom hair, wearing nothing but a fishing net. Had I accidentally picked up the latest Maxim or GQ? What was this nudie spread doing in my beauty magazine?
I searched around for some text that might explain the purpose of such an erotic spread. I know the Europeans reading this right now are saying "what a prude!" but by American standards, this is sexually charged magazine fare. Here is a snippet from the brief introduction, written in tiny type next to a page and a half full color photograph of Kristen Chenoweth humping a log on the beach:

It doesn't matter how impeccable their taste: The simple act of getting dressed can be a career-making-or-breaking endeavour for an actress. Considering that the tablois' fashion police seem to lurk behind every light post, we'd like to think we're diong these five actresses a favor by sparing them the worry of wardrobe selection.

Uhh... what? Is Allure trying to suggest that they are featuring a bunch of hot, naked actresses in their magazine as a way of eliminating the stress of choosing an outfit for the shoot (not that celebs select their wardrobes anyway)? Why don't we just suggest that all famous people forgo clothes and become nudists to spare themselves the catty worst dressed color commentary in the back of trashy celeb weeklies?

My favorite part was the blurbs about each celebrity, which talked about how nervous and self-conscious they are about their bodies, but how empowering it was to strip down for the camera. It's easy to feel comfortable posing nude when you know they're going to use lighting, poses and makeup to make you look your best, and then photoshop the hell out of you anyway. And I don't care how many times Vanessa Williams insists that yoga and fish oil supplements give her a perfectly toned, cellulite and sag-free body after giving birth to 3 children, but I'm not buying it.

Try as I might, I could find no purpose to this article, except that Allure might have been hoping to encourage the boyfriends and younger brothers of their readers to steal the issue. Now, I can admire a nude woman's beauty as much as any other straight girl (I'm an art history major as well, so it's like a second job), but this spread did nothing for me. And when I flipped to the next page, where the headline "GET A BETTER BODY" screamed out at me, I even got a little angry. Was the point to make readers compare their bodies to those of Cassie, Marley Shelton and co. and then feel bad enough to buy the products advertised in the magazine, so we'll look and feel better? Thanks, Allure.

About 90 pages earlier in the issue is the "Total Makeover" feature, in which three women are followed as they undergo long-term makeovers to lose weight and improve their looks overall. Each month, they're photographed in a different outfit, next to a box featuring their before and after weight stats. But just as every magazine loves a dramatic before and after shot, all three women are pictured standing in a swimsuit at their highest weight, weakly smiling as every dimple, saddlebag and scar is present for the whole world to see. They don't appear to be wearing makeup, and have certainly never seen the touch of a photo editor's mouse. Seems a bit unfair, don't you think?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You don't know Carla Gugino? Dude, she was on that CLASSIC Pauly Shore oeuvre, "Son in Law".

Maggie

Anonymous said...

In, not on. Because I can spell before coffee. Really.

Maggie

Deja Pseu said...

Allure, Cosmo, Glamour, etc. are all basically selling insecurity, the premise being that the more insecure you feel, the more of their advertisers' products you will buy. That's their sole raison d'etre. "Lucky" at least is upfront about it, "hey, we're gonna sell ya some stuff."

Rapunzel said...

I was hoping you'd write about this article. When I first read it it just about made me gag. I thought of all the wonderful posts you make about how ridiculous and fake these sort of things are. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

True deja pseu- it all works hand in hand. It makes me sad how popular beauty magazines try to half fake empower women to make you think the magazine is there to help you, but really it does so much worse by giving the celebs photo editing advantages and pairing those spreads with ads for what products will make you glow like that.

franki durbin said...

ouch. I have to agree with deja pseu who feels the mags are serving up a recipe for insecurity and (as luck would have it) the pages are filled with 'solutions' to your lowered self esteem. All for but a small fee...

Between this and the 'stars without makeup' drivel I can only hope we've all built up a thick skin and a healthy dose of self worth. Lord knows we'll need it when next month's arrives. ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't know how magazines are supposed to be more depressing than a mirror. If what you see in a mirror depresses you, then work on it, sheesh... What's in the magazines are only clothing suggestion. Yes, they're on tall and thin girls, but that's because the designer clothes are cut sample size, and the models must fit them. All styles look good on tall and thin girls, not as many look good on bigger or smaller ones. Bigger and smaller don't necessarily mean uglier, it's just that tall and thin is more handy for photography. Know your body type. And use a mirror to judge if you like what you see, not a magazine.

Anonymous said...

Having never read an issue of Allure, I decided anyway to take advantage of the half-price subscription that was included in a recent Clinique GWP. This was the first issue to arrive. I had to wonder if Allure is actually for lesbians the way Playgirl is really for gays.

Selena said...

Ananymous #7, you seem to be very out of touch with reality. And by the way, these particular girls are not out there to give "clothing suggestions."

Anonymous said...

allure does this every year. they've had lots of actresses do it - you'd be surprised. personally i see nothing wrong with wanting to look good naked in a photoshoot. nice to know you looked good once. i guess for me being naked does not = sex. i encourage you to look up other actresses that have participated although in my opinion this year was not done as well as past years.

Anonymous said...

You think that's bad. I think it's the May or June issue of Marie Claire? that has a section on best porn sites for woman. Oh yes, and they rate from tame to hard core. I'm no prude by anymeans, but felt the article had no business in the magazine. Don't these magazines realize that very young 9/10 year old girls look at them? Like I would want my teenage daughter looking at these sites.

Bottom line is they don't care. No one takes responsiblity anymore. So sad where society is going.

Meg said...

(a different Meg)

That's why I hardly ever read magazines. Even at the doctor's office I try to read something more educational. Most of the fashion and style magazines read like one long ad. Books are usually better even in the same general genre. I prefer, though, to read blogs like yours because I like getting opinions and ideas from real people, not someone who is living in a bubble like many of the magazine 'writers' and clothes designers seem to be.

Cate said...

i think it's interesting that anonymous is exhorting all of us to look in the mirror to decide whether or not you like what you see. i mean, where do our standards come from? no matter what you think, what you like is in some way dictated by the cultural norms around you. it's not your "fault," per se, we're just all products of our environments to a certain extent (see the oft-noted reference to marilyn monroe being a size 12 (or a size 8 in today's sizes)).
i don't think it's bad to have beauty standards...i think it's human nature to compare things to determine what you like best. i just sincerely wish that the beauty standards weren't so difficult to achieve for your average american woman. the average height/weight ratio now is 5'4", 165 lbs. i'm 5'6" and weigh 145 lbs, and i see myself as too heavy, so what on earth is that standard doing to the women who trend even more closely to the norm? i think it's irresponsible for fashion magazines to consistently promote the kind of beauty standards seen in this article. i also think it's ridiculous for clothing designers to make things in these "sample sizes" (which used to be a size 6 - my grandmother was a model - granted that's a size 2 today but it's STILL larger that the miniscule articles of clothing sent to magazines). i ALSO wish that all of us would stop purchasing these magazines that are foisting this upon us. i know it sounds herculean, and it's hard sometimes because i can't help but want to be sold the shiny pretty things in the magazines, but seriously. if all three worked together - consumers, designers, and publishers - we might be able to modify what we see in the media so that what we see in the mirror seems more appealing. end rant.

coco_fiere said...

I love Vanessa Williams but I don't believe the yoga, vitamins lie about looking like THAT after three kids (even though they are damn near grown). I'd be more inclined to believe that she works her butt off with a tough trainer like David Kirsch (the man behind Heidi Klum's after baby snap back)and only ate clean foods for that body. Oh, and used body makeup, highlighters and photoshop to make the gnarly bits disappear. Kinda like how no one has underarm hair or roots in any ad. It's all a little fake. LOL