My mother never let me wear make-up. First it was because I was too young. Then it was because she was a feminist. Never having learned how to wear it in my formative years I have been a committed non-makeup wearer. So, although I do indeed desire ablution products to cleanse and moisturize, I have never understood products intended to cover and/or mask.
And that is the problem – not only do the products cover and mask, but the advertising that gets us to believe that they can indeed make us more beautiful covers and masks the truth. While makeup is an old as ancient civilization, the contemporary cosmetics marketing machinery really has convinced us that $400 jars of crème will erase our wrinkles, that we will be sexy and alluring only when our lips are glossed just the right way, and of course, that the man of our dreams will love us because we have perfect eyelashes. But this effective masking of the truth of life has gotten L’Oreal and Maybelline into a bit of trouble.
A gutsy Liberal Democrat MP in England filed a complaint against the digitally-enhanced advertising of both companies. L’Oreal had Julia Roberts in their ad for foundation, while Maybelline had Christy Turlington in an ad for a product called Eraser. The point of both products is that they can cover blemishes and wrinkles, giving wearers a clearer, more beautiful appearance.
The advertising oversight entity deemed that in both cases the women would not have been able to achieve their looks without “additional manipulation”. Both companies have pulled the ads in question.
There are three interesting things. First that digital manipulation is finally being outted when we have all known – industry and consumers alike – that everything we see is remastered and retouched to perfection. But now the myth is exposed.
Second is the response of the two companies. Maybelline continued to assert the scientific proof that their product can conceal imperfections. And L’Oreal also stated that their product has been proved scientifically to “provide luminosity to the skin”. Both companies denied that the advertising exaggerated the effects of the product. In the face of exposing the “myth” both companies clung to their truths. The reasons are obvious; not committing truth protects from legal liability and preserves the functional and quality reputational equity of both the companies, and the industry.
And third, the public response, which has truthfully amounted to virtually no response at all, is bewildering. Why are we either not interested or upset by any of this? The reason, I think, is that we really want to believe the myth. Notwithstanding the anxieties and attendant disorders the mythology creates, it is part of our cultural DNA. We want to believe that we can be that beautiful. Even more, we want to also believe that it is easy – all we have to do is put on a product. The most popular route to improvement is always the easiest.
Look at the world of weight and dieting. Notwithstanding the wide variety of exercise regimes and healthy eating guides and options, we opt for the pill and the surgery to “cure” our increasing girth. Or look at our increasing personal debt burdens – we want the Prada shoes and the Hermes bags and the trip to Rome and instead of taking the hard-work approach, we buy on credit. And so it is with beauty – we believe the myth and the myth can be true with easy products.
And perhaps most disturbingly, we want to believe in the myth of total beauty so we can avoid living in the world of the regular, the real, the aging and the slightly unfortunate looking. Look at the world of plastic surgery – increasing not only amongst men, but also amongst septuagenarians and octogenarians who believe that 70 is the new 40 and 80 the new 50.
Without the myth of attainable beauty we would be forced to live in the world of the real and that is unacceptable. And that is why the cosmetics world and their expert advertisers are not being castigated – they are simply helping us preserve the myth we want to believe.