In a beauty landscape that favors authenticity over perfection, it’s no surprise that photo retouching has come under fire.
This puts brands long known for their idealistic advertisements in a tricky spot: Continue promoting narrow-lensed perfection at the risk of offending consumers, or rewrite beauty’s blueprint with less aspirational, more inclusive imagery? To appeal to modern customers, big brands like Covergirl and Almay have begun revamping their entire marketing strategies to appear more authentic. Some brands are taking it a step further, by eliminating Photoshop and retouching from their campaigns altogether.
This week, the hair color startup Madison Reed announced it would use only “raw,” unaltered photography in all future advertising campaigns, including content posted on social media. The company was inspired to do so after getting photos back from a recent shoot featuring numerous models aged 50 or older.
An unretouched image from Madison Reed’s latest campaign
“When we received the digital files, we thought, ‘Why alter these photos?’ Yes, these women have wrinkles. Yes, they have smile lines. But these are all qualities that made the women even more beautiful to us,” said the brand’s chief of marketing, Heidi Dorosin, who is one of three women on Madison Reed’s executive team also in that age group.
But the events of the past year also made an impact on her team.
“Women are done with anything that shakes their self-esteem and confidence,” she said. “We want to support that — to be women’s biggest champion and encourage them to live their truth unapologetically.”
The news comes on the heels of CVS’s announcement in January that it would not alter any of its own marketing collateral across its stores, websites and social media.
“We believe we have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to think about the messages we send to our customers,” former CVS Health president Helena Foulkes told Glossy earlier this year, before decamping to Hudson’s Bay in February.
Beginning in April, a CVS Beauty Mark watermark will be placed on every product and image to confirm its lack of alteration. Conversely, outside products and marketing materials featured in the store from other brands that have been altered are set to receive a “digitally modified” label.
Those brands — which range from Covergirl to Revlon — have been supportive, said Foulkes: “Many of our beauty brand partners are already thinking about this important issue, and we’ve been inspired by their willingness to partner with us.” The goal is for a full transition to transparency by 2020.
Shortly after that news, the German skin-care brand Babor — which is in the midst of making a big U.S. push — launched an unretouched campaign in partnership with the All Women Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping girls and women feel good about themselves. Alongside a group of diverse models, the campaign also features AWP’s co-founders Charli Howard and Clementine Desseaux.
An unretouched image from Babor’s latest campaign
“It’s important that the beauty industry represents all kinds of beauties. Babor is setting an example amongst European beauty brands that have been very conservative with their casting choices and messaging,” said Desseaux in a press release at the time.
Women by and large are celebrating these changes, despite the inherent irony of them coming from brands behind products designed to improve on or cover up one’s flaws.
“Women do want to see more of themselves in the images their favorite brands are circulating,” said Cristina Black, the founder of C. Black Content, which works on brand voice with the likes of Givenchy and Jurlique.
“I think it can only be positive to see brands owning up to how their advertising affects culture and taking responsibility for the images they perpetuate,” agreed Victoria Buchanan, a strategic researcher focused on fashion and beauty at The Future Laboratory.
Still, both cautioned that some brands may be over-selling the message or embellishing the truth to garner attention.
“We will definitely see some fake authenticity around anti-ageism,” said Black. “Brands will create images to appear as though they are unretouched, leaving only some ‘flaws’ in the frame, but still presenting a somewhat unrealistic standard of beauty.”
“Brands need to be careful not to overstep the empowerment line,” said Buchanan. “I’d always ask the question: Is this campaign reducing ‘realness’ to a gimmick, or is the company really working to embed female empowerment into their overall business?”