You could say that it all started with Dove’s Real Beauty campaign in 2004, that ASOS’ 2017 move to make all beauty gender neutral and airbrushing redundant is setting a precedent and that ads finally showing real life phenomena such as body hair and period blood are pushing the envelope. The movement to shun the polished, idealistic marketing campaigns of the past is now well and truly in the mainstream, with highly influential, millennial focused brands in particular not only ditching digital manipulation but presenting people of all sizes, ages, identities and ethnicities, with real skin on show rather than a white and poreless status quo, married with greater inclusivity in terms of clothing sizing and cosmetic colour spectrums and complemented by a more transparent stance on product ingredients and real life benefits.
More and more brands are reflecting ‘real’ beauty and rejecting Photoshopped perfection, which can only boost our collective self-esteem. Here are the companies, campaigns and celebrities changing our vision of beauty standards, and what needs to happen next
Yet, while ‘fake news’ in fashion and cosmetics and Western ideals of beauty are being challenged, even by the big guns, there’s a danger of sitting all too pretty in our rose gold tinted spectacles. For starters, Facetune exists, mobile phones automatically default to ‘beauty mode’ and the likes of Love Island take us back to square one in terms of both body and racial diversity. Many brands and campaigns are genuinely changing the tired aesthetic record, albeit with some hiccups along the way, but it needs to become a staple, not a transient hashtag that disappears into the filtered Instagram ether. Here’s how companies and culture are presenting a new kind of aspirational image, one that’s a reflection rather than a doctored vision of what we ought to be.
6 anti-airbrushing brands and campaigns
ASOS Face + Body
ASOS announced a company wide ban on airbrushing last year, meaning that you’ll scroll over cellulite when purchasing your next pair of pants and see makeup on a hugely diverse range of faces- freckles, scars and moles are all all present and proud. Everything from eyeliner to foundation is showcased on cis men and women, trans men and women and non binary people from a wide array of ethnic groups.
ASOS even rejects the word beauty itself, as the brand argues that it implies a degree of judgement, rebranding cosmetics to Face + Body , and the brand’s social feeds are a refreshing celebration of these values- no filters, just real faces that will inspire your next makeup look. Take the new Face + Body Youtube channel launch- the first episode explores everything from bio-glitter to body confidence, with a diverse panel of experts and interviewers, taking the brand’s commitment to presenting young people as they are, rather than what they should be, off of the page further and into real life. No company offers up a marketing utopia, but ASOS is pretty close- the brand goes far beyond tokenism and jumping on bandwagons to make diversity and inclusivity part of their DNA. Bravo Face + Body.
How often do you see psoriasis , birthmarks, albinism and pretty much anything except egg shell smooth skin in advertising? Rare and hen’s teeth come to mind, which is why Missguided’s #InYourOwnSkin campaign was so inspiring when it debuted last year- women with scarring, rare skin conditions and distinctive features such as birthmarks and freckles were celebrated and given a voice, without an airbrushing wand in sight.
The campaign elicited a hugely positive response, and for good reason, and it’s encouraging that Missguided also has a blanket ban on airbrushing across the board. Slightly more problematic was the brand’s sponsoring of this year’s Love Island, and the subsequent association with a narrow representation of body types and skin colours, but here’s hoping that the brand uses its considerable consumer power for yet more empowering campaigns in future- sales soared by up to 9000 per cent after this year’s Mallorcan Villa outing.
Dove’s ‘No Digital Distortion’
Dove is arguably the pioneer of beauty advertising that promotes a wide and far less conventional beauty ideal- the brand’s Real Beauty campaign has been running for 14 years, with a fair few adverts causing controversy along the way, yet there’s an underlying commitment to portraying attainable beauty standards and improving self-esteem, rather than flogging you products that over-promise by way of airbrushed celebrities that subscribe to a restrictive, glossy aesthetic.
The company’s most recent campaign seeks to specifically call out excessive airbrushing, with the ‘No Digital Distortion’ watermark applied to all brand imagery and content across the world, from billboards to social media posts to print ads, with transparent detailing of what has and hasn’t been altered in the production process. Dove declares that it will never change permanent features, body size, wrinkles, pores, veins, freckles, moles, tattoos, stretch marks, cellulite, body hair, hair texture or misrepresent skin, eye or hair colour, alongside never whitening teeth, plumping lips or pulling other Photoshop tricks such as adding shine to hair or reshaping eyebrows.
They’ll remove food from your teeth (incidentally Dove doesn’t work with professional models as standard) and stains from your clothes, which seems reasonable, although the watermark doesn’t reflect the fact that ‘temporary marks’ such as blemishes, pimples and the ambiguous ‘blotches’ will be erased from campaign imagery. At least Dove is honest about it, and making far greater headway than many brands out there, but showing real skin, blotches and all, might be a more inclusive move. The brand primarily sells skincare, so it’s perhaps understandable why pimples aren’t part of the PR drive, but as such the company’s ads aren’t comprehensively retouch-free.
The high street giant put an end to swimwear airbrushing a few weeks ago, with body hair, stretch marks and scars all evident in advertising and online shopping pages, and fashion and beauty campaigns featuring models from a wide range of ethnicities and age ranges. The brand has been criticised for a lack of body diversity, and a scroll through the bikini range or Instagram page reveals a notable lack in body size representation, although the company did respond positively and quickly to recent customer demand to increase size ranges. Using women that reflect the masses across the board would make H&M’s approach more authentic, but they’ve gotten the ball rolling. Showing a moley bum shouldn’t really be revolutionary, but we are where we are, and customer voices are being heard- credit where credit’s due.
The underwear brand’s #MyBodyVictory campaign is to be celebrated for its genuine promotion of body positivity, featuring six women of all shapes and sizes who present a welcome and relevant contrast to the usual lad mag approach to lingerie advertising. From brain surgery survivors to mental health advocates and wheelchair users, the models in the campaign take the conversation away from airbrushed abs and Kardashian fuelled body insecurity both literally and aesthetically, and not before time.
This Girl Can
We’ll end with a blinder- Sport England’s This Girl Can Campaign not only gave us powerful and positive incentives to get active, whatever we’re into, but also a colourful, funny, inspiring and inclusive portrayal of what getting fit looks like, without a ‘before and after’ shot in sight. The campaign separated the benefits of sport from body image, and encouraged us to work up a sweat for the fun of it, for better mental health, to make new friends or spend time with old ones and to generally overcome the fear of judgement and failure that disproportionately affects women, probably partly because we’ve been measured up against airbrushed fitness models for the majority of our lives and been found wanting. No longer.
The two award-winning campaign adverts show women of all ages and abilities moving, sweating, kicking balls, scoring, celebrating, giving birth...basically a gamut of female human experience over a period of a minute and a half to the tune of Maya Angelou’s 'Phenomenal Woman' in the 2017 and Missy Elliot’s 'Get Your Freak On'. It’s the antithesis of the airbrushed adverts that attempt to body shame women into buying protein shakes or joining the gym and it’s awesome. The good work continues on the This Girl Can website.
The anti-airbrush celebrities
Kate Winslet’s insistence that her airbrushed legs be reversed on a GQ cover back in 2003, and ongoing stance and action against retouching, marked the beginning of the celebrity backlash. Since then general hero Helen Mirren has told Allure that she refused to be airbrushed in L’Oréal campaigns, while Ella Eyre expressed her rejection of airbrushing to the Telegraph when a magazine digitally altered her legs to make them appear slimmer. Zendaya has also used her enormous social media presence to highlight the dangerous impact of image manipulation on women’s mental health, while Lupita Nyong'o recently held a British weekly to account for digitally removing her afro hair post-production. Given that, according to JWT’s Women Index research in 2016, 87 per cent of UK women believe that advertising and media need to catch up with the real women in terms of female imagery in the public sphere, the more brands, celebrities, campaigns and social media stars breaking with the traditional and unrealistic depictions of women, the better. Incidentally, follow Style Me Sunday and Pink Bits on Instagram for starters to create a more balanced and incredibly beautiful vision of women on your feed, .