The beauty world was abuzz yesterday with news that a L’Oreal foundation ad has been banned for retouching images. But doesn’t this just highlight cracks in the industry that we already know are there?
The ad, which featured a rather flawless image of Julia Roberts, was challenged by MP Jo Swinson.
The original photograph was taken by Mario Testino.
Jo Swinson believed the flawless skin in the image was the result of digital manipulation, not the product, a complaint which was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The absurd nature of advertising
Reading L’Oreal’s defence on the ASA Adjudication was eye-opening. Here’s a small extract:
‘L’Oreal (UK) Ltd (Lancôme) said the image was taken by Mario Testino […] They said he used a lot of light, which was flattering, and reduced the appearance of imperfections by giving the image a soft focus and lower resolution.
‘Lancôme said the flawless skin in the image was also due to Julia Roberts’ naturally healthy and glowing skin, and supplied pictures of her on the red carpet to support that.’
I’m sure all this is true, and while it’s a suitable defence given the context of the complaint, I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Using an image of one of the world’s most beautiful women, photographed by one the world’s most famous photographers, doesn’t prove how great your beauty product is. Put it on a real woman and make her skin look flawless if you really want to prove your point.
Campaign for real ads
I’ve always been a big fan of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty for this very reason. Using real women in simple white underwear, it proves that you don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. The campaign has set up a Self-Esteem Fund and helped to educate over five million girls and young women about body image and self esteem, through charities such as B-eat.
It’s a shame that the leading cosmetics companies still use famous faces almost exclusively to advertise their products. And it’s a shame that it still seems to work. Most of us can spot an airbrushed image a mile off, but we’ve come to accept it as part and parcel of the advertising industry.
So I say, good on Jo Swinson for picking up on this issue, and I couldn’t agree more with her concerns:
‘Half of young women between 16 and 21 say they would consider cosmetic surgery and we’ve seen eating disorders more than double in the last 15 years. There’s a problem out there with body image and confidence. The way excessive retouching has become pervasive in our society is contributing to that problem.’
But if airbrushing and retouching have become embedded in our culture, how can we get rid of it again? I put this question to our health expert, Joanna Pearl, who said she welcomed the ASA ruling but felt it had come too late:
‘It comes after the ads have been shown, so people have already been influenced by images of possibly unobtainable beauty. I’d like to see manufacturers always behave responsibly so ads showing effects that cannot be backed up by sufficient evidence aren’t shown in the first place.’
Do you think this is a realistic solution? Should advertisers take more responsibility and have tougher regulations, or is it down to you and me to recognise when ads have been overworked?