We must fight fakery in the beauty industry

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The first two installments on Beauty Deception spoke of how far we go, how complicit celebrity culture is with, and how media enterprises fall into the trap of, the beauty industry. And when we speak of the latter we do mean the bigger ideology of perfection, one that’s achieved via treatments and plastic surgery and every nip and tuck imaginable; one that’s achieved by selling images of real women perfected via photoshop.

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Image is all, and yes our female celebrities are about the creation of this image. But it need not be a shameless display of skin whitening products and new cheekbones, of perfected skin and long sleek hair. It need not be tied to one kind of woman, with one particular look that is intertwined with success and freedom, happiness and woman power.

That no one seems to care, that there is no real intervention in media, is a dangerous thing. Imagine the generations of young girls who will think white(ned) armpits and vaginas, long black hair, a thin frame, are all important. Imagine the kinds of Pinays we raise when we intertwine gender equality with a shampoo advertisement selling long shiny black hair.

A public that cares
Elsewhere in the world a vigilant public is critical of plastic surgery in celebrities. The media question drastic weight loss (especially in young actresses). Photoshopped images are the enemy. This outlook is borne of a belief that these images are imbued with a particular set of standards for beauty, one that is intrinsic to any celebrity culture. These images are dangerous because these make people believe in an ideal which—given photoshop and cosmetic surgery—is also impossibly perfect and unattainable.

No one escapes these images, but publics elsewhere expect celebrities to care about how their (fake) images affect their audiences.

In 2008 and 2011, Beyonce was criticized for appearing lighter in print advertisements for products she was endorsing; in the 2011 photos she was also blonde. She was called out by writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for “betraying all Black and Asian women” as she talked about the dangers of these kinds of images. “Too many black and Asian children grow up understanding the sad truth that to have dark skin is to be somehow inferior. <…> when black celebrities appear to deny their heritage by trying to make themselves look white, I despair for the youngsters who see those images.” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1358119/Beyonce-Knowles-Why-I-believe-betraying-black-Asian-Women.html)

It might not be about racial tension and ethnicity in the Philippines, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. In fact what is particularly scary here is how the beauty industry is so intricately interwoven with celebrity and media culture, that one image already sells every product imaginable—and our celebrities take pride in that because it’s called being a tri-media star (TV and movie hits, and product endorsement deals).

Presidential sister Kris Aquino in fact, can be defined by all the things she sells, where one image of her is already a gamut of products that create her as a woman-of this-side-of-the-world, who is also mother, daughter, sister. It is selling the personality and everything else that she holds in her hands, as if what we are is merely the things we consume. She also sells whitening as if she were never a fair-skinned mestiza, her photoshopped images the more dominant images we have of her.

We let it get to this. Aquino is a monster because we let her become so, as we decided not to critique this enterprise of the person(ality) that she lives off. Now that it’s gone out of control, now that the talent of every actress is dissolved into her ability to sell a beauty product, we are still not speaking against it.

Now that there are no more morena celebrities, no more untouched photographs that are released of them, no more sense of being real and honest about how we look, of celebrating what we were born with and truly speaking of diversity; now that all we see are female actresses who have the same skin color and the same hair, the same impossibly flawless images on billboards and advertisements, we are still silent.

But it can only get worse: media enterprises do not intervene in this state of affairs, and worse they sometimes add on to the white noise, as when Rappler wanted to discuss gender equality but partnered with a beauty product like Pantene to do it.

Beyond (fake) beauty
In 2009 Brad Pitt had a cover with W magazine for which he agreed not to have his face photoshopped. Taken by photographer Chuck Close, Pitt was celebrated for taking a stand against Hollywood’s notions of perfection.

In 2009, Liberal Democrats in the UK asserted that children and teenagers need to be protected from “digital retouching technology” and airbrushed images, which are not only “unrealistic” but also “often trivializes their position within society.” (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/ sep/19/liberal-democrats-airbrush-ban?guni=Article:in%20body%20link&guni=Article:in% 20body%20link)

In 2011, the American Medical Association linked the manipulation of images to the creation—and destruction—of a positive body image. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vivian-diller-phd/photoshop-body-image_b_891095.html)

In May 2012, Julia Bluhm, all 14 years old of her, delivered 25,000 signatures to Seventeen magazine’s editor-in-chief. She had started a petition calling for the magazine to stop photoshopping the teenage girls in the magazine. “Photoshop hurts girls. We want to see pictures that look like us, in a magazine that’s supposed to be for us.”

In July, Seventeen heeded this call via an 8-point Body Peace Treaty signed by all its staff members, which promises that the magazine will “Never change girls’ bodies or face shapes” and will “Always feature real girls and models who are healthy.” Bluhm’s petition had collected 80,000 signatures across the world at that point.

On the cover of Glamour magazine in December 2013, Lady Gaga questioned the images the magazine published of her: “I felt my skin looked too perfect. I felt my hair looked too soft. I do not look like this when I wake up in the morning <…> It is fair to write about the change in your magazines. But what I want to see is the change on your covers… When the covers change, that’s when culture changes.”

Just last month, Lorde found a photo of herself singing on stage, her skin photoshopped into clarity. What did she do? She put that photo alongside another photo from the same performance, one that shows one real full cheek in all its glory and Tweets: “i find this curious—two photos from today, one edited so my skin is perfect and one real. remember flaws are ok :-) (https://twitter.com/lordemusic‎)

In Third World Philippines, teen star Kathryn Bernardo and tween star Julia Barretto sell whitening. Here, practically every female icon from ZsaZsa Padilla to Regine Velasquez, Sarah Geronimo to Kim Chiu to Anne Curtis, even Congesswoman Lucy Torres-Gomez! are selling the Belo Medical Group and its gamut of products and treatments to make every woman achieve perfection: white flawless skin to start off with (underarms included!), a thin svelte frame to boot. Every other celebrity from Marian Rivera to Angel Locsin are selling whitening products. Here, no magazine for teenagers looks free of photoshopped images, not Candy! of Summit Media, not Meg of MEGA Publishing, not Chalk of ABS-CBN Publishing.

Here, no one seems to care about the fakery and the impossible ideals that the beauty, celebrity and magazine industries live off. No one cares about how these perfected images affects the body image of the Pinay child or teenager, and how these create a world where one particular skin color, one kind of hair, is what’s considered beautiful. Here, the media and the rest of us are complicit in raising a nation of insecure and superficial Pinays, who will think looks are everything.

In the Philippines, the beauty industry is alive and kicking. It is here that the fight against fakery is in dire need of advocates.

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1 Comment

  1. Clarence Land on

    Would a white person be accused of fakery by getting a natural, healthy suntan?