cover girls, take 2

April 16, 2008 at 9:20 pm (feminist thoughts)

i’ve spent some blogging time of late checking out shakesville’s excellent “impossibly beautiful” series, which examines the ridiculous amount of retouching applied to photographs of famous women, especially on magazine covers. it began with the dove “evolution” video and went on to include some of the more well-known examples of excessive retouching, such as the extreme thinning of normally-sized actress america ferrera, the enboobening of stick-skinny keira knightly (“those things certainly weren’t mine . . . i don’t have any tits,” quoth keira), and perhaps the most (in)famous, faith hill’s redbook cover. go look at the whole series at shakesville; you’ll never walk past the magazine shelves at the supermarket in the same way.

so, when i saw the cover of the current issue of “entertainment weekly,” featuring the generally normal-appearing tina fey, i was understandably annoyed:

okay, seriously, her wrist looks like you could snap it in half. seriously.

i then began flipping through the cache of all ew’s covers from previous issues, and started plucking out the worst examples of the “photoshopping the life out of some of the entertainment industry’s most successful women” phenomenon. i was particularly incensed by the unabashedly different treatment give to the women in the photographs as opposed to the men. i ended up going back three full years, to april 15th, 2005. below, i present the worst of the bunch for your consideration.

june 10th, 2005

to start, let’s contrast russell crowe’s undereye bags, “crow’s feet” eye-corner wrinkles, and deep laugh lines (we in medical school call ’em “nasolabial folds”) to renee zellweger’s perfectly porcelain visage. i guess the five-year age difference between 36-year-old renee and 41-year old russell really makes a difference, looks-wise, huh?

november 25th, 2005

here’s the same situation again: reese witherspoon doesn’t have a line on her, while joaquin phoenix sports a wrinkly forehead, undereye bags, and even some blemishes! except that reese is 29, and joaquin is 31. hmm. (see shakesville for pictures of a beautiful, normal-looking reese.)

march 2nd, 2007

whoa, 41-year-old kiefer sutherland is totally channeling clint eastwood with his craggy visage. clearly he hasn’t been retouched! maybe this means that next week’s cover girl, jennifer hudson, will also get a more realistic treatment . . .

march 9th, 2007

oh, just kidding. instead, we have jennifer looking preternaturally smooth! now, this is not to say that jennifer necessarily has wrinkles, as she’s still quite young at 26, but rather that 1) come on, she has NO PORES and 2) go find a mirror and just TRY pursing your lips like you’re gonna kiss someone WITHOUT creating any lines on your face. it’s not happening. by the way, the thinly veiled blowjob imagery doesn’t help this cover either.

september 17th, 2007:

wow, 40-year-old kate walsh’s face is perfectly wrinkle-free. but that can’t be right, since in person she clearly looks like a normal, beautiful, three-dimensional 40-year-old woman:

so, i think we can all agree that kate’s photo was massively retouched for her e.w. cover. so, surely when kate’s male co-star appears on the cover next month, they’ll retouch him in the same way, right?

october 19th, 2007

huh, that’s weird. kate’s “mcdreamy” co-star patrick dempsey (who, at 41, is essentially the same age) looks totally normal. check out his crow’s feet, and the nasolabial folds that show he’s actually smiling. so clearly he wasn’t photoshopped to the same extent that kate was. how odd!

november 16th, 2007

in this stylized cover, compare the flawless, wide-awake eyes of katherine heigl to the baggy, darkened, wrinkly peepers of conan o’brien and steve carrel. again, i know katherine’s a lot younger (29) than her male counterparts (44 and 45, respectively), but as we’ve seen time and time again, no woman of ANY age is permitted to have bags/wrinkles/etc.; so why are conan and steve allowed to have them???

december 21st, 2007

one final odd couple: porcelain, surreal julia roberts with wrinkly, baggy, scarred tom hanks.

so, i guess the closest thing to a moral for this story would be . . . the next time somebody tries to tell you that men have to deal with just as many unhealthy stereotypes about their appearances as women do . . . just walk them over to the magazine aisle.


  1. Dissenter said,

    Scary. Just scary. Reminds me of a segment I watched on Oprah about “older women” and “being positive about growing old” (which I watched specifically because I wanted to see how she approached the issue). She had 3 actresses on the show, ranging in age from about 50 to 70, not a grey hair among them, who were all desperately trying to look as if they were ten or twenty years younger, with the help of much hard-core make up and I don’t even want to know how much plastic surgery. And Oprah was all like, see, you too can look like these women, and then you’ll feel fantastic when you get old.

    How your average suburban woman is supposed to even be able to afford the treatments, clothes etc. of the actresses is the first problem, and saying that women should want to at all, and that disguising age is the only way to feel good as an older woman, is a much more serious problem. No woman is allowed a respite from the beauty standards.

  2. Carnival of Carnivals « Homo Academicus said,

    […] Cover Girls, Take 2, at unconventional beauty, the blogger deconstructs magazine covers, noticing in particular how […]

  3. Women and men ‘covered’ differently in Entertainment Weekly « don’t ya wish your girlfriend was smart like me? said,

    […] and men ‘covered’ differently in Entertainment Weekly Unconventional Beauty has an excellent and telling analysis of the past few years of Entertainment Weekly covers, and the difference in how women and men are […]

  4. Lindsay said,

    Those are great comparisons and expose the double standards that women (not to mention women on magazine covers) have to live with and live up to.

  5. Natalia said,

    You keep using the word “porcelain,” and I think that’s right — in most of these photos, the women are freakishly pale. It’s not their natural skin tone, and neither is it the light, because the men standing right next to them all have, you know, flesh tones. I guess in this industry women have to be made lighter in every sense. Ugh.

  6. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2008-05-19 said,

    […] cover girls, take 2 « unconventional beauty “so, i guess the closest thing to a moral for this story would be . . . the next time somebody tries to tell you that men have to deal with just as many unhealthy stereotypes about their appearances as women do . . . just walk them over to the magazine ai (tags: sexism bodyimage women men gender media) […]

  7. ladoctorita said,

    dissenter, that is SO true, that “looking good” as an older woman actually means “looking younger than your actual age”! there’s no beauty in actually looking like a woman who has aged normally. in that vein, entertainment weekly recently did a “33 hotties over age 50” feature, and i was struck by the fact that all the men who were deemed “hotties” actually LOOKED older than 50, whereas the women were more likely to be considered “hot” because they still looked young!

    natalia, yes. it’s the weirdly smooth, pale quality that makes the skin look unnatural and artificial . . . just like porcelain! i also think you’ve hit on something really important about the lightening of the skin . . . maybe next i’ll look at how the skin tones of women of color are altered in photoshopped pictures. i’d bet the subtle racism you pointed out is right on target.

    lindsay, and everyone else who linked– welcome, and thanks!

  8. nkwilson said,

    great examples — made me think of Desperate Housewives and how the men of the show are allowed to look human, while the woman are stepfordized mannequins

  9. ladoctorita said,

    nkwilson– excellent point that this unequal treatment extends beyond just photoshopped pictures! that also makes me think about how many people in the tv business started freaking out when stations started broadcasting in high def, because the actors’ wrinkles and flaws would be more obvious . . . i’d bet that’s more of an issue for the actresses rather than their male counterparts.

  10. more ‘cover girl’ analysis, via shapely prose « unconventional beauty said,

    […] 18, 2008 at 9:31 pm (drivel) i’ve done a couple posts analyzing how women are portrayed on magazine covers, so i was really excited to see kate […]

  11. Fourteenth Carnival of Radical Feminists « Carnival of Radical Feminists said,

    […] LaDoctorita at Unconventional Beauty, her essay “Cover Girls, Take 2″ picks up on the process started by Shakesville’s Impossibly Beautiful series and makes a […]

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