Winslet is considered a beautiful woman, even in celebrity culture which is notorious for impossible standards of perfection. Yet even her body apparently required retouching. Winslet’s public statements express a real sense of alienation from her body, or rather a sense of alienation from its representation in the media and her everyday experience of it. It is this gap that perhaps encourages patterned feelings of self-consciousness, shame and guilt. Rather than responding, however, with loathing and shame toward her own body for not conforming to the normative criteria of the Glossy Magazine Girl, she rejected the falsity of its image. As Kate Winslet said of her GQ cover: ‘I do not look like that and more importantly, I don’t desire to look like that.20’ This authenticity, however, appears to be rare in celebrity culture. Women consumers occupying the cultural space of the highly mediatised Global North feel compelled to make use of these new apps and technologies to appear more beautiful, to conform to beauty norms. However, the gap between the lived reality of women’s bodies and the representations through the photographic apparatus may not always result in a cycle of failure, guilt and shame. It is possible that the effect on women’s subjectivity is one of ‘buyer’s remorse’, so to speak. Women may feel alienated from the image produced by these apps and technologies, as the unreality they present is more and more divorced from their own lived experience of their active, bodily life.
Other celebrities have claimed a similar feeling of alienation at the way they were represented by the photographic lens. In 2016, Actress Kerry Washington shared a sentiment similar to Winslet’s via an Instagram post, following the release of an issue of Adweek Magazine with Washington on the cover. While Washington claimed to be ‘no stranger to Photoshopping,’ was familiar with the disjunct between her own bodily sense of self and her cover image, she expressed feeling ‘strange’ and ‘weary’ viewing herself through the eyes of the male gaze, an image ‘so different from what I look like in the mirror’21. Another experience of Washington’s is also suggestive of the complications that arise when the male gaze’s norms of beauty are racialized. For example, in 2015 an issue of Instyle magazine with Washington on the cover created a public backlash. The editing appeared to have lightened her usually dark skin, and her strong cheek bones had been flattened (Washington is of African-American and Jamaican-English descent). While the magazine apologised, claiming that the appearance of Washington’s skin was an unintentional effect of high-key studio lighting, this was not the first time a magazine cover of Washington has been scrutinized for apparent skin lightening.
Similarly, actress Lupita Nyong’o has taken to social media on several occasions to discuss her frustration at the ‘European standards of beauty…that plague the entire world’22. Vanity Fair (2014), People (2014) and Gracia UK (2017) have all been accused of lightening Nyong’o’s skin to fit ‘Eurocentric’ ideals of beauty'23. Grazia UK smoothed the kinks of Nyong’o hair, removing her naturally frizzy, Afro ponytail. What was left was a smooth dome of black hair, referencing the stereotypical, commercially-palatable ‘African’ woman in fashion. This act of hair removal (without consent) reduces Nyong’o’s individuality to an orientalised African trinket. The irony is that, in seeking to reproduce the orientalised object of ‘Africa’, the male gaze in fact elided symbols of Nyong’o’s heritage (and self-expression). Of the experience Nyong’o wrote:
I am disappointed that Grazia UK invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like. Had I been consulted I would have explained that I cannot support the omission of what is my native heritage. There is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against black women’s complexion, hair style and texture24.
Nyong’o rejects the notion that her hair, to be considered traditionally beautiful, must be soft, sleek and long. She uses her public position to agitate against the message ‘that dark skin is unacceptable’25. Growing up in Kenya, Nyong’o has discussed the negative effects that skin lightening products had on her self-worth and how she was ‘plagued by the idea that light skin was better skin’26. Today, skin-lightening creams have become a lucrative market. Global Industry Analysts predict the industry will be worth £14 billion by 201827. In 2010 Vaseline launched an app on their Facebook page in India that allowed users to whiten their profile pictures. The app was released to promote a new range of skin-lightening creams. Vaseline is a sub-brand of global conglomerate Unilever. Interestingly, Dove is also a sub-brand of Unilever, but unlike Vaseline, who ask their consumers, ‘do you see your skin the way we do?’28, Dove has promulgated ‘body positivity'29 campaigns since 2004. The launch of their ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’30 was a lauded campaign with a strong message encouraging parents to ‘talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does’31. Dove no longer use professional models for their advertisements and currently the brand has launched the ‘Self Esteem Project’32 that aims to educate young girls on the dangers of eating disorders. It seems unlikely that Unilever could hide behind the defence of sub-brands, with one brand advertising self-esteem to their UK consumers and skin-lightening cream to their Indian consumers.