The pictures of Beyoncé un-Photoshopped that mysteriously leaked online Wednesday don’t make her look bad—of course not—but they make her look different.
It’s a moment of celebrity disconnect. She is still beautiful, she is still Beyoncé, but the weird thing is she’s not airbrushed Beyoncé. The pictures of Beyoncé—from a 2013 L’Oréal advertising campaign—show her made-up, but with, as the Daily Mail puts it, “uneven and pimply skin under heavily applied foundation.”
The Beyoncé we’re used to seeing and watching is absent. But the Beyoncé we watch is the imaginary one, and the one here, in these pictures, is the real one (albeit with makeup liberally applied), and it alarmed some of her fans.
It’s a mystery how the photos were leaked, yet they emerged at the end of a mini-cycle of moments, in which the twinned fashion and beauty worlds of make-believe showed signs of courting the reality of how women look, and of celebrating physical difference to the size-zero norm.
The release of Beyoncé’s picture follows another mysterious release of another un-retouched photo, this time of the ’90s supermodel Cindy Crawford posing for Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America.
Crawford is looking ecstatic, wearing a black bra and knickers, in a crazy-looking fringed coat, and with a stomach that has not been Photoshopped to sleek perfection. It has stretch marks, it is toned but not smooth and taut; the same for her legs.
There were many hurrahs when the photo was released, just as there will be for Beyoncé. Both pictures bring these idols of beauty down to relatable, sisterly earth: Vanity is one of the most off-putting aspects of celebrity, and these pictures appear to atomize that.
Given how controlled these celebrities are about what images are released of them, one wonders if they had anything to do with it. The pictures reflect as well on Beyoncé and Crawford as another set of pictures, contrasting doctored and undoctored images of Lady Gaga from a Versace campaign, did for the singer when they were released last April.
Periodically, the fashion world—for all its vanity and ridiculousness—likes to attempt “serious.” Or to puncture itself, not fatally, but enough to show the watching public it is not entirely wedded to crazy-thin body shapes.
“Serious” shows that fashion isn’t all hemlines and crazy hairdos, and baby North West crying on the front row.
During New York Fashion Week, orbiting the release of the Beyoncé and Crawford pictures, there were glimpses of normal that shouldn’t have been as surprising as they were, but because catwalks and magazines are generally so prescriptive about the faces and bodies they cover, these incidents were of note.
But are they, and the Crawford and Beyoncé more significant than that—is their presence meaningful, or are these merely tokenistic scraps from the table?
The American Horror Story actress Jamie Brewer, who has Down syndrome, modeled for Carrie Hammer at her show.
Hammer, quoted by Inquisitr, said: “Jamie is an incredible actress and also an activist, an artist and a writer who just happens to have Down syndrome… but that doesn’t define her. She’s an incredible role model for many, many people.”
At another show, Chantelle Brown-Young—also known as Winnie Harlow—who has vitiligo, modeled for Desigual. She told the BBC: “I feel like the industry is very much opening up, widening their eyes. Even the top models right now have a lot of personality. That’s what people are looking for, you know, something they can relate to, a real person.”
These vignettes are welcome, and also damning. Brewer and Harlow are excellent speakers, but—because their presence on the catwalk is so unusual—what is being asked of them is the same; essentially, “What does it feel like to be different modeling on the catwalk?” It’s a miracle both women didn’t simply scream answers in return. Why do they exist in isolation; why should their presence be so unusual?
Why should famous people like Beyoncé, Gaga, and Crawford be congratulated for showing their faces un-airbrushed? We all walk around ourselves every day with our faces un-airbrushed; and so it says something about our insane standards of beauty, and idolization of celebrity, that we see pictures that haven’t been doctored as something amazing, atypical—and the subjects of those pictures as brave cosmetic warriors.
As yet, there has been, tellingly, not a peep of an objection from Beyoncé or Crawford, compared with the indignation heaped on Jezebel when it posted pictures showing how Lena Dunham’s body was Photoshopped for Vogue in January 2014.
Jezebel said it did not do that to shame Dunham, but rather to shame Vogue and what it does digitally to the women’s bodies on its pages, and the anatomical lies that are then transmitted to readers.
It’s strange that from this flashpoint in January 2014 to now, the fashion for showing one’s body concordant with some kind of reality has become fashionable in itself.
These “real” pictures are not warts ’n’ all, but they strip enough away of the deceptive mystique to be an embedded critique of the worlds of beauty and fashion the women are ambassadors for. And fans love the “realness” of that.
However, like the models with Down syndrome and vitiligo—as well as the “plus-size models” used, again, as inoculations against criticism that all models are the same—these are mere splashes in a bigger, more unchallenged ocean.
The worlds of fashion and beauty allow these moments of insurrection to show a veneer of acceptance of difference. But note that the celebrities showing un-retouched pictures are still made-up and styled.
Note that the models of different size, or with a disability or skin disorder, are not just in a minority; they are one-offs, and some would say used as publicity-magnetizing totems. This isn’t to say they aren't welcome, it’s just they'd be more welcome if they weren't so isolated.
You can make the fashion and beauty industries into the calculating baddies in all this, but both industries and the public that pays for their goods have long colluded in the weird dream of selling and being sold size-zero female models, chiseled, hunky male ones, and heavily airbrushed models marketing cosmetics.
There is, on the part of the public, no collective knee-jerk of outrage or disappointment over these images, or the fashion and beauty companies wouldn’t persist in using them. We are complicit in helping create this lying, deceptive fashion and beauty monster. If we really hated airbrushing, we wouldn’t be encouraged to buy the gunk these companies are selling, and they would change their marketing campaigns accordingly.
If Beyoncé, Cindy Crawford, and Gaga spoke openly about the beauty myths they have been used to sell for so long, that would be something—alongside the jolting images of them generating column inches.
As for Dunham, she laid into Jezebel, claiming she had “never been bullied into anything…I don’t understand why, Photoshop or no, having a woman who is different than the typical Vogue cover girl, could be a bad thing.”
Dunham was supported for this, and Jezebel put into the stocks—but what the latter did was the braver stance. Whether it’s a celebrity’s image undoctored or models of all physical types in our magazines or on fashion runways, any little brick that shatters the wall of absurdity about the images we are fed to make our faces and bodies look a certain, unrealistic way should be welcomed.
But this will require the public to get just as real about what it is buying into, as much as the fashion and beauty industries getting real about what they are selling, and how they are selling it. I’d be amazed if the pages given over to undoctored shots of a celebrity’s pimply skin come to equal the number of pages accorded to smooth, shiny, taut features. For now at least, the multimillion-dollar dream machine devoted to dissatisfaction with our appearances rolls on.