Walking through the Boots cosmetic hall in High Street Kensington on Wednesday afternoon I noticed something strange. In among all the poster-sized pictures of pouting lovelies, gazing coyly over their shoulders or reclining in ecstasy in the arms of muscular young gentlemen, was a perfectly normal looking woman.
There she was, bold as brass, normal as normal can be. Normal not in the sense that she wasn't attractive; normal in the sense that a) she didn't appeal to be inviting the viewer to have sexual intercourse, b) she was fully clothed, c) she looked like she enjoyed regular meals and d) SHE HADN'T BEEN PHOTOSHOPPED.
I write that last bit in caps because it is, in its own way, a fact deserving of a headline. In all the years that I've been writing about make-up I don't think I have once witnessed a campaign featuring a woman who has not been retouched, airbrushed or generally tweaked to within an inch of reason.
That's because normal isn't considered aspirational enough. The idea behind most advertising aimed at women is to make them feel as insecure about themselves as possible by bombarding them with images of perfection - and then sell them the means with which to rectify the situation.
So for No7 to base an entire campaign around non-airbrushed women is thoroughly excellent. I'm not sure it's entirely guileless (in a way it's still manipulation, only of a less obvious kind), but it is a good sign, and something that should be wholeheartedly encouraged. After all, it’s very easy to make an already beautiful woman even more beautiful; making a normal woman look great without the help of technology is not only harder, but also far more useful from the point of view of the consumer.
The genius of this No7 campaign is that it’s not selling a dream, but a tangible reality. There are four women in the campaign, each with busy, ordinary lives and aspirations. They're not wearing make-up because they want to be someone else; they're wearing it because they want to be more glamorous/dynamic/glossy/wow versions of themselves. It works for them, not the other way around. Which is exactly how it should be.