In 2002 Jamie Lee Curtis famously posed for a magazine to expose what she really looked like. The mother of two appeared make-up free in a sports bra and spandex shorts, proudly displaying a softer, thicker physique rather than the perfect hard body she was known for.
She was 43-years-old at the time and felt compelled to reverse some of the harm she and her profession had subjected a trusting public to with it’s constant parade of impeccably airbrushed photos. She wanted women to discover that we shouldn’t try to look like celebrities and models because even they didn’t look the way they were presented.
After the unforgettable photograph was taken, 13 people worked their magic over the next three hours to transform her into the flawless movie star we were familiar with for the pages that followed. The enlightening pictorial made a powerful statement of truth to people everywhere.
A couple weeks ago it seemed like Cindy Crawford might be doing something similar when a shockingly untouched image of her began circulating the internet along with a story about it being part of a magazine feature designed to empower women. However, it quickly became unclear as to whether she intended it to be seen publicly or it was leaked without her permission. Regardless, the imperfect body shot of her wearing lingerie was out there for anyone to criticize or praise.
Also a mother of two, Cindy Crawford was 47-years-old at the time the picture was taken, and in contrast to the one of Jamie Lee Curtis, she was fully made up and only needed some digital tweaking to smooth out her visible flaws and make her look the way we’re accustomed.
I shared the photo with friends and posted it on Facebook asking people if they’d rather see real pictures like this in the magazines, or the thoroughly altered images of perfection that have become the norm. The reaction was mixed.
The vast majority of women said they’d prefer to look at un-doctored photographs, and many felt that seeing this iconic fashion star in a more honest state helped loosen the expectations they had for themselves measuring up to an unattainable standard of beauty.
Some of the men agreed and added that the excessive use of trickery before, during and after a photo shoot wasn’t lost on them.
Others, though, were revolted and one male friend responded with: “I just threw up a little.” If that’s the immediate reaction an incredibly gorgeous super model gets from an authentic picture of herself, what chance do the rest of us have?
In this day and age most people realize what’s involved in attaining the flawless images we’re used to seeing, but is that knowledge actually alleviating some of the unhealthy and unrealistic pressures we place on our own aesthetics?
I think it’s helped slightly, but as a society we continue to be negatively affected.
According to the Confidence Coalition and the Canadian Mental Health Association, only two percent of women think they are beautiful, one out of four college aged women has an eating disorder and 90% of girls say they feel pressured to be thin from what they see in the media.
Even without the issue of airbrushing this makes sense when we consider the average North American woman is 5’4” and weighs 166 pounds, yet the average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. A few celebrities might offer bona fide images of themselves, and there will always be unauthorized shots posted on the internet, or unflattering ones taken by the paparazzi – but until there’s a reputable magazine with a person of prominence leading a mission to present more truthful pictures, I don’t think attitudes will change much more than they have.
This is where someone like Oprah Winfrey could easily make a positive difference. Her popular self-titled magazine is heavily photo-shopped from cover to cover.
What would happen if she put a stop to that and started representing all kinds of people, including herself, without post-production tampering? Would sales drop or increase? Being a billionaire megastar intent on making constructive improvements to humanity, she’s in an optimal position to take the small risk and find out.
If my friends who prefer real over fake prove to be a good reflection of what the general public wants, her sales would increase and other magazines would follow suit.
For a woman who has personally suffered the ill effects the media has played on her own image, this seems like an amazing opportunity for her to reverse some of that damage, and help boost the self esteem of millions. If you have any ideas on other people who could help, please send them the suggestion.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com