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Apr. 14 2010 - 4:45 am | 6,902 views | 0 recommendations | 13 comments

Britney Spears’ unretouched photos: That’s ‘imperfect’?

Britney Spears is the latest celebrity to join the “here’s what I really look like” club, releasing before-and-after retouching photos of herself for her latest Candie’s ad. The Daily Mail proclaimed it “refreshing” that one of the world’s most famous pop stars would allow her imperfections to be highlighted.

Sure, I give her props — it must be scary to think about people who are used to seeing a carefully choreographed image getting to see the real thing. That of course supposes that the whole world hasn’t been privy to the unraveling and re-raveling of Britney Spears over the past couple of years. But put that aside for a minute. There’s nothing but upside to taking control of your image and saying hey, here’s what I look like before Photoshop comes into play. Whether or not it really is a way to talk about the unfair beauty expectations placed on women, it reads like an interesting statement, and that’s never bad.

But let’s take a look at the pics for a minute. Sure, there are definitely alterations that you can see — particularly given the giant arrows that point them out. But — and I realize it’s her job to look great — any sane human being would be hard-pressed to find much wrong in the unretouched picture. Spears’ body in the “before” picture practically screams, “Here, kids — this is what working out several hours a day can do for you!” She’s 29 years old with two kids, and she looks damn good. How insane are standards of beauty in advertising and show business that that body pre-airbrush is an example of imperfection?

The Spears pics follow the May issue of Marie Claire magazine, which feature Jessica Simpson sans makeup and looking a good 10 years younger than she does with a full layer of paint. She’s an undeniably beautiful girl, and even if this is all marketing in service of her show “The Price of Beauty,” she’s savvy enough to carry the message through. As some Jezebel commenters point out, professional lighting and a serious photographer are going to help anybody out, but I bet Simpson would look great even in the laptop webcam that makes me look like something out of “Paranormal Activity.” Ditto for Kim Kardashian, whose recent makeup-free pics are as good an endorsement for DNA and regular facials as anything out there.

They’re still not in the same league as Jamie Lee Curtis, who went without Spanx, makeup or airbrushing in More magazine’s September 2002 issue. She still looked fantastic, but let’s face it: Curtis chose to grin and bare it when she was past the metabolism heights that Spears and Kardashian are still enjoying, and who was closer to real women (ones who take good care of themselves) than virtually anyone in most magazines. And for my money, they’re not even close to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which actually did feature people of all shapes and sizes, rather than merely in ads for weight loss programs that continually point out why we’re not good enough.

I get that what’s being sold to us — including the unfair standards of beauty imposed both on celebrities and on all the rest of us — is fantasy, aspirational, and clearly unreal. We love the impossibly perfect because they’re not just like us. They’re compensated mightily for the trouble, so even with all of the added problems that fame and perfection bring, I don’t feel too bad for them. But I do encourage them to keep this kind of thing coming. While we gobble up the fantasy, it’s an utter relief to see behind the magic once in a while. And it’s important to to give credit to those who get it — if only to serve as a counterpoint to the 10-procedures-in-a-day nightmares who don’t.

P.S. Hat tip to Chloe Angyal — thanks, Chloe!


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  1. collapse expand

    You don’t really need airbrushing when you can convince people that lentigines are bruises. It’s interesting that the examples of airbrushing that are highlighted are actually airbrushing at all, and the actual airbrushing isn’t annotated or exceptional. Radically altered lighting is so ubiquitous that we don’t notice it.

  2. collapse expand

    You raise an excellent point, and that’s clearly a huge reason why the unretouched pics look so good. And the reason why I’d like to have a professional lighting person with me at all times.

    • collapse expand

      I meant the sorts of airbrushing that was commonplace in glamor photography and whatnot before Photoshop made it a breeze to change skin tones, waistlines, tattoos, etc. Lighting is actually less important now that you can fake it digitally (dodging and burning around Spears’ face to make it pop off the page, for instance).

      In the early days of Photoshop I had to Stalinize a photo containing an unpleasant relative… that was eye opening.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Also, the stink lines are missing.
    Just sayin.

  4. collapse expand

    Count me among the weirdos who think the un-madeup young women look better.

    Leave the 2 inch makeup to the drag queens who need it to cover their beards.

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    I wonder what the people who do the airbrushing think about their work? I mean, do they tend to lean towards their work as being art or just touch ups and more technical? I would think that they may want some recognition of their work, unless they are the photographer as well, then they get some credit.

    But the more before and after photos we see, the more people will realize what the airbrushers/photoshopers do and notice how their craft works and who is good and who is not. It really could become an industry, to have your pics taken and worked on by someone who can make you look good… many people would pay for that… I think.

    • collapse expand

      I wonder exactly the same thing. Can you do that gig and not be forever cynicized (is that a word?) by it? And I have to think that the really good airbrushers/photo editors have more business than they know what to do with. I bet headshots alone are enough to put someone’s kids through college. What I wouldn’t have given to be able to airbrush at least a couple of drivers license pics.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    What people have to realize is that people gracing the pages of magazines do not exist. This reminds me of a story a friend told me when I was visiting in San Francisco:

    She has 2 friends who are models, and they were taking turns changing in the humble abode. While one waited in the kitchen, she was flipping through a magazine, reached an ad, and exclaimed “Wow! I wish that I had legs like that!” My friend responded with “That IS you.” The model, who has a great body, didn’t even recognize her own picture. This story probably doesn’t surprise readers here. I tell it every time I have a student pining for a thinner body.

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    About Me

    I've always been obsessed with pop culture and celebrity, even as a political reporter by day at washingtonpost.com and ABC News. Even after leaving journalism for media relations and consulting (Need help with press releases, brochures, annual reports, or media strategy? E-mail me -- lisa.celebjungleATgmail.com.), I pretended to be mildly appalled by the antics of the beautiful and famous -- then gobbled up tabloids and all the gossip I could find. To date, I've preserved my amateur status as a celebrity news analyst so I could compete in the gossip Olympics, but now I've decided to go pro. As a recent transplant to Los Angeles, or Celebrity Ground Zero, I'm learning to live among them as they roam unfettered over the landscape -- while praying that a behind-the-wheel Lindsay Lohan stays out of my neighborhood.

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