Stars Sans Fards


French Elle is kind of outside my usual beat, but this post from Miriam at Feministing piqued my interest. Jennifer Romolini at Shine reports with a “Yay!” that:

The April issue of French Elle features eight female European celebrities–including Eva Herzigova, Monica Bellucci, Sophie Marceau, and Charlotte Rampling–all without makeup and, perhaps even more revealing, all entirely without Photoshopping or retouching of any kind.

Miriam says “I think this is great, particularly in an era when the only time you see celebrities without makeup is from terrible paparazzi shots.”

In some ways, I think this might actually be a step back. A lot of people have done a lot of work over the years to get people to understand that images you see on magazine covers are not images of actual human beings. They’re complicated collaborations between photographers, hairstylists, makeup people, and digital image-retouchers that use real people as an important element of source material. The results have an extremely vivid hyperreal quality to them that we intuitively respond to as if we’re just looking at pictures of people, but we can come to understand what’s really happening and that nobody ought to beat themselves up over not looking like a computer-retouched image.

The “stars sans fards” initiative seems, especially when you consider the meaning of the French idiom, to be a deliberate effort to re-inject the artifice into the conversation under guise of rejecting it. Obviously, artifice hasn’t, in fact, been done away with here. The lighting, the attire, etc. is all being professionally done; vast quantities of film is being shot and only the very best images selected; and the “stars” being presented “sans fards” are extreme outliers in the genetic lottery. All of which is no worse than conventional magazine cover art, but it’s not really any better. And just at a time when public awareness of the fakeness of magazine covers is growing, we get a new artifice presented as unadorned reality.