In Defense of the L'Or

The two photoshoppped makeup ads in questions--one of Julia Roberts and one of Christy Turlington

This week, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned two L’Oréal Comsmetics on the grounds that they were misleading to consumers. The ads, one for Maybelline “wrinkle eraser” featuring model Christy Turlington and another for Lancôme featuring Julia Roberts (both with eerily flawless skin), can now no longer be run as they constitute false advertising. This official measure against excessive Photoshopping in advertising could prove to pressure UK advertisers to ease up on the retouching and may set a precedent for advertisers all over the world to do the same, which would be great, given the media’s current unrealistic and harmful standards of beauty. Coming just a few years after the UK first considered banning airbrushing in advertisements and just one month after the American Medical Association adopted a policy against Photoshop, this decision marks a victory for… everyone! Perhaps soon we will have advertisements featuring natural human beings instead of the strange, disproportionate, alien lifeforms that companies want us to want to be. However, not everyone sees this ban as a victory. David Gianatasio, in his Adweek article “Julia Roberts, Christy Turlington Ads: So Photoshopped They’re Misleading?” disagrees that this is actually what consumers want. He writes:

Of course, the ads weren’t misleading in the slightest, since everyone with enough IQ points to properly operate a magazine surely knows such images are routinely altered, sweetened and enhanced. Who’d want to see Julia Roberts without retouching? She’d look like Eric Roberts in a wig.

I take issue with his remarks for a number of reasons. First of all, I take issue with his transphobic comment about Eric Roberts in a wig. Julia Roberts would not look like Eric Roberts in a wig without Photoshopping, she’d look like Julia Roberts (And if Eric Roberts wants to wear a wig, so be it). Secondly, the ads are misleading! The images are claiming to be results of the products, but they’re not. They are the results of hours of expensive digital photo manipulation and the discriminating eye of an advertising executive trying to make a profit. David Gianastasio questions the ban on the grounds that everyone is aware of the digital editing. But does everyone know? Does public knowledge (or lack thereof) excuse the advertisements and justify their continuance? No. While it’s true that more people are learning how images of celebrities and models are extremely manipulated, it is not true that “everyone with enough IQ points to properly operate a magazine” knows just how unrealistic the images barraging them everyday are. How can that possibly be true when advertisers are continually allowed to print such advertisements but media literacy is not even a part of the curriculum in most elementary, middle, and high schools?

The reality is, even while awareness of excessive Photoshopping increases, these images are still rampant in media today and still give people the message that this unattainable standard of beauty is something they should be aspiring to. People get the idea that if they don’t look thin enough or tall enough, or smooth enough or white enough then they have failed. I applaud the UK’s ASA for banning the L’Oréal ads and I approve the AMA’s decision to stand up against Photoshopping in advertising. In doing so, they are not only saying that they will not stand for false advertising but also that hey care how advertising is affecting viewers and they want standards to change. The ASA’s ruling is especially important for women and young girls, who for several generations have learned to hate themselves for not matching the standard of beauty presented by the media. David Gianatasio flippantly claiming Julia Roberts would not even look like a woman without digital alteration just shows how Photoshopping has affected society’s expectations of beauty. His argument is ultimately that consumers want the fantasy, that we look to advertisements, movies, and magazines for the perfection that can’t be found in our ugly reality. But can’t we show that the world around us can be beautiful, that we can be beautiful, and still sell a product?

As far as consumers wanting extreme Photoshopping, I can only speak on my own behalf. Firstly, I don’t want advertisers to be able to claim that their product is doing something it simply can’t. It is deceitful and harmful to consumers, not to mention completely unjust. Secondly, I do want to see images of naturally beautiful women and men in advertising because I want to see people as beautiful for what they are rather than what they could be. I want to open a magazine and see models that look like my friends, my mom, my coworkers, and my classmates, groups that include so many beautiful people! So, yes, David Gianatasio, ads are misleading. And while it’s great that the word is getting out on digital manipulation in advertising, the knowledge is not enough. If we condemn these ads but do nothing to remove them, are we really condemning them? Ads such as the L’Oréal ones should be removed not only so that companies don’t get away with lying to the public, but also so that when we tell our loved ones, and even strangers, how beautiful we think they are that they will actually start to believe it and love themselves.

Further Reading:

ASA Adjudication on L’Oréal (UK) Ltd [ASA]
Julia Roberts Ad Banned in the UK for Abuse of Photoshop
[PC World]
Billboards to Combat Body Image Issues Created by Media
[Cache Valley Daily]
Photoshopping: Altering Images and Our Minds
[Redefining Beauty]


by Ann-Derrick Gaillot
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I am a freelance writer and reporter who watches a lot of TV. I tweet at @methodann.

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8 Comments Have Been Posted


"Transphobic"? How is that comment transphobic? He didn't say anything NEGATIVE about Eric Roberts in a wig; he said that Eric's sister would look like Eric in a wig, were she not all prettied up for the public. Have you LOOKED at the Roberts' lately? He's right. Julia without makeup and photoshopping would be almost a dead-ringer for Eric. They could be twins (are they?).

I agree with you about the actual issue, and I think ads should have to be realistic in order to save the younger generations from the self-loathing and body image issues that the media seem to want them to be saddled with.

But I think claiming someone is "transphobic" simply for making a comment about a man in a wig is a bit of a stretch.

if the 'eric roberts in a

if the 'eric roberts in a wig' comment was not meant to imply some kind of negativity, then would it even make sense for him to use it in this context? really, though.

if the implication was '(she'd look like) eric roberts in a wig--who cares?' well then, WHO CARES? there would be no point in making that statement, and it would be confusing and weird.

but that's not the implication. what gianatasio is doing here is two-fold: he's challenging julia's status as a woman, and he's banking on the presumed discomfort he expects his reader to have at the thought of eric (a dude) in a wig (aka 'posing' as a woman). his whole point hinges on the idea that nobody wants to see julia without the shopping, because she'd look bad (using 'manly' here as a synonym). THAT'S transphobia, with a heaping side of gender essentialism.

"everyone knows"

"Everyone" does not know when they are 6 or 8 or 10. And children's ideas of what is "beautiful" form before they know about Photoshop or anorexia or plastic surgery.

"Everyone" needs to see what people _really_ look like. Old people, young people, fat people, differently-abled people, etc. So they won't grow up thinking they have to have breasts or an ass of a certain size or shape, or skin of a particular smoothness or color, or hair that can only look like "that" via significant applications of product and time.

I only saw women in

I only saw women in magazines, or my friends who looked similar enough to brave wearing a bikini in public. But actual, human, natural, naked women? Nope.

Until I went to public hot springs in Japan. Came back with a HUGE appreciation for the human form.

Now, I can't wait til my daughter is old enough to come to the local Korean spa (public women's bath). All races, ages, body types entirely nude-- I haven't seen beauty like that on a magazine cover . . . well, ever. :o)

warping perceptions

I think its way past time that the lack of appreciation for real beauty ends. One of the major magazines dared to show a real, honest to god woman naked. After I got over the shock of not seeing a six pack for a stomach I had to admit she WAS a real beauty! I can't remember when the last time was when I saw a real woman naked...probably in college art classes.
The pervasive imagery of naked barbie dolls is very hard to escape, even for someone like me who avoids mass media like the plague. Its at a point where my nine year old daughter questions her beauty and her weight, despite the fact that I don't buy magazines and we don't watch tv. Short of moving to mars, I'm running out of ideas to keep my daughter safe from eating disorders. As far as I'm concerned, advertising and cosmetics have teamed up to sell misery not beauty.

I agree with you that these

I agree with you that these beauty ads end up selling more misery than beauty. These ads show a side of unattainable beauty and makes a lot of young women and hey, even older, wiser women feel like they're not good enough. These ads are trying to sell something so unrealistic that it's actually quite unethical. They are selling a product that doesn't work to the extent that they claim, and all the while, making great beautiful women feel like absolute shi*t.

I really hope your daughter doesn't develop a eating disorder. I'm sure she's beautiful and she needs to believe that, despite the horrible "fantasy" that makeup ads have proposed.

Aside from the whole slew of

Aside from the whole slew of problems associated with photoshopped models, the false advertising really bugs me. if I'm buying makeup, I want a realistic picture of what that make up can and cannot do.

Funny note, When I first read the headline, I thought it said "In Defense of L'Oreal"

This will sound arrogant, but

This will sound arrogant, but is not intended as such at all. I have a master's degree and a high IQ. I have known since ... I don't know, puberty, that images are manipulated, but the thing is, it's an objective knowledge. It always floors me when I find out *how* manipulated those images are, when someone does a comparison or an in-depth analysis.

The awful thing is, on a day-to-day basis I naively and absentmindedly believe the images I see are only manipulated a little, instead of thinking, wow, that's not physically possible. And this is me being usually intelligent, perceptive and critical. I hate to think how the more average person perceives these ads - I believe they must be even more receptible. That's awful. Also because the extreme manipulation of images is so widespread. They all look alike, so we can't distinguish. maybe it'd be different if we saw un-manipulated ads next to manipulated ones... making the latter looking like a freak show.

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