When it comes to real-life beauty, fashion magazines and ad campaigns are among the last places I think to look, and Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson would be among the last people I'd consider as inspirations, honestly.
But after years of rocking hair extensions and elaborate outfits and full makeup, both of these women seem to be into authenticity all of a sudden. Simpson -- who has recently appeared on VH-1 show called The Price of Beauty, wherein she travels around the world in search of it -- is on the cover of the May issue of Marie Claire and in a photo spread inside, with air-dried hair and no makeup.
Image of Jessica Simpson: James White for Marie Claire. Image of Britney: Candie's
Spears supposedly requested that original images -- including cellulite, leg bruises, dry skin, a tattoo and her real-sized behind -- be shown alongside digitally altered ones in her new ad campaign for Candies.
Why now? Really, who knows, but Spears is reportedly proud of her imperfections and wants to show them off. Simpson sounds a little more resigned:
"I don't have anything to prove any more. What other people think of me is not my business."
Wondering who cares? Well yeah, it's a strange kind of day where we look to people who have been packaged six ways from Sunday as models of natural beauty. Or maybe the opposite is true. Maybe there is no one more appropriate than a previously entirely-airbrushed pop star who gets picked on for every extra pound and bad hair day and umbrella fight with paparazzi cars to talk about the importance of admitting that real women -- all women -- have flaws, and dammit that's okay.
It's a little confusing to me, honestly, and like all conversations about appearance and image and how women are packaged and defined for public consumption, it can get complicated really quickly. And it's really easy to be entirely cynical and say this is just a one-shot deal for some press, in a world where computers can make anyone three sizes too small (or large, conversely, I guess.) Appear in a major magazine with no makeup while working on a show about natural beauty? Check. And then next week (or maybe just when the cameras shut off), it's back to seven layers of foundation, false eyelashes and a Photoshop spray tan with no full disclosure -- so who cares?
But I still won't say that the efforts of these women to shed a little more natural light on themselves is entirely pointless or irrelevant. I'm not calling it revolutionary, but it's worth a little something -- or at least it can be -- even if it's just a conversation piece about why we're so hung up on this stuff in the first place.
And who knows what Jessica and Britney think, really? Who knows what it's like in their skins, in their worlds? I can't say we'd hang out or that I think they hold the keys to any great mystery for me or anyone else. But what I've also seen from a distance over the years is two young women who were children when they started out in arguably the most bizarre industry in the world, whose bodies were their central product -- as vehicles for song and dance, among other things. They have been adored and reviled, seemingly blessed and then repeatedly unlucky in matters of love and basic life choices.
I admit it. I felt bad for Britney when she fell apart in public, and felt like, as crazy as it looked, that shaving her head was an interesting statement. I cringed for Jessica when she wore those horrible jeans, and a media that loves to take down its idols got to finally call her fat.
I've seen them --- again, at a distance, because like I said, we don't hang out --- pick up themselves, their booty shorts and their headset microphones, and start over again. And while I'm not handing out any medals for that, I can say that although they are not in any way your average unknown woman, that in terms of basic humanity they're not so different from other girls who live and lose and, hopefully, eventually win again. Or at least I try to look at them that way.
And even if all these choices to present themselves without makeup and with bruises and cellulite do is rip a tiny snag in the fabric of perceived perfection, I still feel like it's better than never doing it at all.
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