After unretouched images from Beyoncé’s 2013 L’Oreal cosmetic campaign were released earlier this week, there was public outcry. Reflecting upon this outrage, Zak Mahinfar looks at the pressure on celebrities to be flawless.
When images were released this week of Beyoncé, with *deep breath* spots… the internet went into meltdown. STOP THE WORLD! LIFE IS A LIE!
Beyoncé is a force of nature. Few other artists could boast popularity to the effect of being able to release an album with literally no promotion and it becoming the fast selling digital album ever. She’s the focus of male lusting and a vehicle for female empowerment. The planet is besotted by this voluptuous Goddess. She’s a cultural phenomenon, a celebrity that people will often refer to as ‘perfect’. To us mere mortals she has it all; talent, image, lifestyle, family. Let’s not kid ourselves, whoever you are, you probably wouldn’t mind being Beyoncé. But all these expectations undoubtedly come with a relentless pressure to try and maintain this ‘perfect’ façade at all costs.
Whatever the reality is behind her actual likeness to the representation of herself in the media, this ‘ideal’ still exists. Many media outlets expressed genuine astonishment at the images of Beyoncé, with, well… a few spots. It turns out that her face has not been weaved out of silk but is in fact of human origin, and consequently is susceptible to the occasional pimple. Definitely front page news. More worryingly is that the reaction to these images suggests that society genuinely believes that a ‘perfect’ human aesthetic can exist. Why else would we respond with such amazement when a human being is revealed to have, errr, skin?
It’s far from the first time Beyoncé has been scrutinised for imperfection. When she performed at the super bowl and photographers captured ‘unattractive’ photos of her mid intense physical exertion, the internet exploded. When she lip synced at President Obama’s inauguration there was international outcry from the media. Personal footage of a family dispute in an elevator is leaked resulted in millions of YouTube views and speculation for the following twelve months that her marriage is on the cusp of breakdown.
A headline reads ‘Beyoncé is probably fuming after leaked photos’. Once again we are reminded of the hypocrisy of the pressures placed upon females in the spotlight to maintain a literally flawless appearance. The minutest imperfections are considered front page news and scrutinised for days in the press. The irony is that despite expecting celebrities to be ‘perfect’, anyone who seems to have undergone plastic surgery to achieve this perfection is publicly shamed. Two recent examples being Renee Zellweger and Uma Therman, who were dubbed ‘unrecognisable’ at red carpet events having allegedly undergone cosmetic surgery procedures. Let’s not be melodramatic, they were both recognisable. It’s just that as humans we are constantly involved in this weird and wonderful process which sometimes makes us look different over extended periods of time, a process some refer to as ageing. Just something to mull over.
What society seems to be demanding from celebrities is that they maintain their youth and beauty, while simultaneously adapting to changing ideals of beauty, but without the aid of cosmetic surgery or deviating too far from their ‘original’ look. Quite a task. I wonder if even Beyoncé can pull it out the bag.
Why are we so fickle? Holding celebrities up to high standards far beyond what we would expect from ourselves. Commercial success and fame do not equate to supernatural powers. Everyone has unattractive days, and all families have problems. Do Beyoncé’s ‘imperfections’ make her achievements any less impressive? Once the mysterious veil of perfection has been thwarted, does the novelty of this wondrous being fade?
The original L’Oreal advert starring Beyonce that some of the leaked images were supposedly taken from
You’d be right to query how much an individual can be blamed for the standards they are expected to maintain. There has to be an element of narcissism involved, right? Another recent Beyonce-scandal erupted when a picture on her Instagram was Photoshopped to make her seem as if she had a thigh gap. And in her hit track Flawless she does proclaim, ‘I woke up like this, Flawless’. Is this the product of mounting pressure or just downright self-obsession and vanity?
I guess we’ll never truly know the answer to that question, but the problem behind this is the pressure within the music industry for artists to create a commercial brand. A brand which image is often very crucial to. Stars like Miley Cyrus and Arianne Grande have undergone transformations to boost sex appeal. But this superficial element is not essential for success. On the contrary, artists such as Adele and Sia have proved that you don’t need to sell your image nor your personal life for wide commercial success. I’m not trying to imply that they’re ugly, but they’re two artists who rely solely on their talent and the standard of their music to sell records and are still hugely successful. Few would refer to Adele as a celebrity in equal measure to her artistic status; this is a credit to her but also shows that it is possible to maintain privacy. You might argue that Adele and Beyoncé are a different kettle of fish, but musically, Adele is the bestselling artist of the 21st century and universally adored for her personality. We only see glimpses of this persona when she is promoting her latest musical endeavours, thus the focus remains on the music.
Ultimately, Beyoncé isn’t perfect because she’s human. Let’s not pretend that celebrities are anything less, to both starve their vanity and avoid deluding ourselves into thinking that we too may be able to achieve a perfect image or have a perfect life.
Zak Mahinfar, Online Features Columnistbookmark me