by Stefania Revelli
Most women (and perhaps men) have been there — staring, incredulous, at the perfection of women adorning magazine covers and uncertain whether they should feel inspired or insecure. Although airbrushing is no beauty secret, it turns out that most women still fall into the latter group. When polled, four out of five US women say that they’re dissatisfied with their appearance, and a third choose an “ideal” body shape that’s 20% underweight (RaderPrograms.com, 2011).
In the last several months, the absurdity of today’s beauty standards has been drawing not only attention but action. In mid-January, filmmaker Jesse Rosten created buzz with his mock commercial for “Fotoshop by Adobé,” poking fun at typical beauty ads filled with unrealistic results and hard-to-pronounce ingredients. The video received more than half a million views in its first four days. Dartmouth College is developing a Photoshop tool that will rank how much airbrushing has been done in a particular ad or photo spread. And beauty brand Make Up For Ever proudly called out, “You’re looking at the first unretouched makeup ad.” The ball that Dove got rolling with 2004’s Real Beauty campaign has really gained momentum.
As more consumers grow critical of modern standards of beauty and learn to balance aspiration and reality, brands are being held accountable. In fact, the Self-Esteem Act is a bill that would regulate heavy retouching in magazines and ads by requiring disclaimers. (Covergirl recently pulled ads for NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara for potentially misleading consumers on product performance.)
What does this mean to marketers?
New role models. Good: Replace picture-perfect ideals with the older heroines of Hollywood who stand their anti-surgery ground or age realistically (see Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton, per our IconoCommunities panel). Better: Use regular-consumer noncelebrities.
Keeping up appearances. Ditch inevitable disappointment by focusing less on the promise of perfection and more on a broader definition of beauty. Does this mean that women want to see every fine line or crow’s foot on a beauty spread? Probably not, but a few notches closer to the truth can recalibrate expectations.
A final word. Overused beauty-related terms like “transforms,” “revolutionary technology” and “breakthrough systems” are meaningless. Instead, try confidence-boosting words and concepts like “strength,” “energy” and “success.”