Models Without Makeup

Hmm… It’s good to see wrinkles, freckles, etc. And to see faces with wrinkles as beautiful. On the other hand, does it just set even more insane expectations? “They look fabulous even without makeup! I’m even more hideous than I thought!” Because, of course, they’re not just walking down the street: they’re being photographed by a top photographer. And although the photos are “without excessive retouching” there’s a lot of wiggle room in that phrase. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)

15 thoughts on “Models Without Makeup

  1. I don’t think it does set “more insane expectations.” There have been posts in a similar vein on this site before, and it seems to me that if you reason that way, then practically any photo shoot of people who look significantly better than average could be construed as simply exciting expectations in a different way. And it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to suggest that any shoot which doesn’t feature truly normal looking (or even “ugly”) people must suggest unhealthy beauty standards.

  2. i’m peeved that most of the ‘eight most enduring beauties’ are in their 30s! whatever about the makeup.

  3. elp: By my count, 4/8 are in their 40s. The youngest is 35. The others are 38/ or 39.

    I like this spread, and like it when models do things like it. Yes, they’re beautiful still–did one really expect them *not* to be? I enjoy this shoot, and also enjoy beautiful people (esp. in this way) as part of the spectrum of human beings.

  4. Personally I get exactly the reaction you decsribe when I see these pictures: “if they’re so gorgeous even with no makeup on, what hope could there be for me?”…

    As for reinforcing impossible standards of beauty, let’s look at the basics for a monet and forget that these are women who are professionlay beautiful, know how to pose for the camera, are professionlay lit and shot, etc. etc.:

    – They’re all white.
    – They’re all thin.
    – They’re all tall.
    – They’re all gender normative.
    – They’re all able bodied with no scars or blemishes

    What kind of message does that send about beauty? That makeup or no, most of the world’s population can’t possibly aspire to it, that’s what.

  5. (As a preface, these comments are directed toward people I’ve conversed with and a ‘general’ trend. Obvious counterexamples exist and those aren’t my focus. Nor is this a tirade against Jender and the commenters.)

    To what extent are we really bound to “insane expectations”?

    In the original context of a model in a glamour magazine (or pro shoot) the comment about expectations may be warranted. However, I am phrasing this question in a particular manner so that I can better understand when one is not justified in feeling the pressure of an “insane expectation”. Is it really necessary that you feel this “insane expectation” when you walk down the street, see a model with no make up, in sweat pants, appearing rather disheveled yet still are dumbfounded that they look better than you? My concern is with the latter and at with wondering at what point do we focus more on accepting who we are in a positive manner while also protesting a cultural bias.

    Yes, we live in a culture that promotes certain expectations and values, conditions us, etc. etc. Many of these familiar arguments are worth considering and do contain penetrating truth to them. I say this with due consideration to the controlling norms involved (ex. thin, white, gender ‘appropriate’, etc.).

    But at what point does the individual have to focus more on saying, “Fuck it!” to the established expectation and accept who they are and build their life, fashion, views, etc. around who they are instead of what a culture wants them to be? Even in spite of the dominating cultural narratives?

    One of my motivations in asking this is because, after a number of conversations with various people on this topic, there is often a buried jealousy and inability to accept who the individual is (Redundant note: Not always). As much as I appreciate and agree with the critiques of the unfair expectations of culture, too often I see these arguments _take the place_ of understanding who a person is and why it is okay to be who you are (based on conversation). These critiques are necessary but so is a positive focus on what we can do for ourselves since the cultural battle will be a long and difficult one. Too often my experience with others has shown great critiques yet little personal acceptance and improvement.

    Bravo on the fact that many a person can see through the guise of a superficial and cruel cultural and marketing scheme. It’s great that there are many attendees at the Schools of Suspicion. However, should we not be spending an equal amount of time at the Socratic School with a heathy emphasis upon knowing thyself? Sure, rage against the culture but also against the deficiencies we find within ourselves that we can control (regardless of how conditioned one may be). By “deficiencies” I mean envy, jealousy, weak moments that dupe us into thinking these “insane expectations” are ever necessary, etc. These are things, in spite of culture, that we can, and should, have more control over.

    The most penetrating critiques are those that point outward and within.


  6. True, TheLady–and a good point. But does being thusly described eliminate a person from possibly *being* beautiful? Is the message that you’d like to send such that none of them should be considered “beautiful” in the first place? Or how do you mean?

  7. I’m not really sure what’s going on with the original question: What’s the “it”? Is the website or Harper’s supposed to be setting more insane expectations?

    The issue is complicated, I think. Are the expectations insane? who’s responsible? etc. Sometimes it can help to try to vary just one factor and indeed today I in effect did for myself by having a comparable reaction on reading an obit. “O my life isn’t as great…”

    I think there’s a fairly standard view: of course, the newspaper printing that one obit is not responsible for my despair (shortlived, I hope, and the person wasn’t a philosopher). BUT there is a pervasive cultural view about what matters and it gets a great deal of emphasis. And by and large, to quote Bob Dylan from another context, it ain’t me. Or, presumably, most of us. And that is harmful.

    So we could be envious or spiteful at someone else’s success, wealth, beauty, but instead we turn against ourselves. Do we feel we are in a contest, like it or not, and most of us are faced with the fact that we’re losing? And so losers?

  8. Hmm. Previously, I’d been thinking of those awful paparazzi photos of “stars without makeup” that appear on the tabloid covers as a gross invasion of privacy, but I guess they’re also performing a valuable public service – since the photos they’re showing are never flattering.

  9. Mel, what I think the question boils down to is: are these women in a magazine because they are beautiful, or are they beautiful because they are in a magazine?

    I said in my earlier comment that they are professional beauties, but I think that was a misnomer. It’s worth going back and thinking about what it is that models actually do. They sell clothes. Clothes are easier to fit onto lean figures without too many bumps and curves, and they generally look more chic, according to our Western understanding of the word, on tall, slender figures. So the models are chosen based on the practical needs of the designers, and thus enter the culture as paragons of beauty via the back door.

    Even the most cursory ethnographic survey would immediately reveal that the tall, lean, white ideal is very far from universal, and therefore there is nothing fundamentally “right” about it. What we consider beautiful is conditioned into us rather than stemming from some underlying aesthetic absolutes. Not only that, but any attempt I’ve ever seen to identify universal absolutes comes a-cropper pretty darned quickly when sought in different cultures and at different times.

    To name just a couple of examples, the Maia liked large, bumpy noses and pointy skulls (they would deform the skulls of aristocratic newborns by pressing them in splints); in Edo era Japan, a woman was considered beautiful if she had the smallest, narrowest eyes possible; women in Renaissance Italy would stuff lambswool plugs under their eyelids for that elegant puffy look; and many cultures in South East Asia were totally crazy for that perfect set of jet black teeth.

    Yes, we seek out beauty, it pleases us and enchants us. There is no doubt about that. But what beauty actually is is a very ambiguous question and I don’t know that there is an answer to it (although I would recommend Umberto Eco’s book On Beauty, simply for being, ahem, a beautiful read!).

    The ideals of beauty that the corporate media outlets focus on are mind bogglingly narrow, and as long as they have a stranglehold on the definitions we have no hope of really exploring the above question on a society-wide level. I have no reason to maintain that Shalom Harlow is not beautiful, that’s true – my reservations don’t preclude her from being so. It’s more the fact that her commercially dictated look precludes me from being beautiful that I take issue with.

  10. “rage against the culture but also against the deficiencies we find within ourselves ”

    For which read “feminists have to be whiter than white or their observations have no validity”?

    Great advice: if you feel judged and dehumanised by society, internalise it rather than just wasting all that precious rage on other people! Hate thyself – after all, nobody will do it better.

  11. FYI, I just looked up Eco’s On Beauty in our library, and it looks like the U.S. edition is entitled History of Beauty instead.

  12. “rage against the culture but also against the deficiencies we find within ourselves ”

    For which read “feminists have to be whiter than white or their observations have no validity”?

    Great advice: if you feel judged and dehumanised by society, internalise it rather than just wasting all that precious rage on other people! Hate thyself – after all, nobody will do it better.

    To clarify that is NOT at all what I meant. My meaning was that we should rage against the idea that we should have conform to certain expectations.

    “Hate thyself”…I thought my post was rather innocuous. I was trying to avoid any suggestions that we should have low self esteem or become victims of a culture. Why this uncharitable reading, Lady? Especially considering I was trying to find a balance between appropriate blame and self acceptance?

  13. Wow, thanks for all the thought-provoking comments, which have really helped me work through these issues. I’m currently leaning toward the view that the photo-shoot is a small step in a good direction, but that it would be even better to follow it up with (a) the raw photos, before photoshop; (b) some photos by the same or a similarly skilled photographer of non-made-up, non-white, non-skinny, non-abled bodied people making them look similarly beautiful.

    Lady and Doofus– you’ve clearly misunderstood each other. I’d urge you not to try to work through how this could possibly have happened, etc, as that tends to just prolong the ordeal and lead to more misunderstandings.

  14. Interesting post! I think it’s worth mention too that these are photos of the original supermodels: before them models were, for the most part, nameless clothes racks. I read a lot of fashion magazines/blogs and lately there has been a lot of nostalgia for the age of the supermodel (Christy Turlington on the cover of August Vogue, par example).

    Given that these women are still a power to be reckoned with in an industry that is notoriously ephemeral and, of late, populated by anorexic looking fifteen year olds is a good thing.

    They may not be normal, average looking women, but they are naturally beautiful.

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