Truth in Advertising? I Think Not!

I want to talk about the cosmetic industry and advertising. I want to start a movement for truth in advertising that says you must display the ‘after’ picture honestly.

Why? Because I don’t want any more young girls aspiring to the unattainable. Starving themselves to look like someone in a magazine who has been so enhanced by Photoshop their own family wouldn’t recognize them.

When I was a talent agent I would receive headshots on a regular basis from people requesting an interview for representation. It’s fair to say they quite often looked different in person but you would still recognize them.

We all put our best face forward for a professional photograph, don’t we? Why pay a photographer if you aren’t looking for professional results? This is true even for family photos.

A friend of mine told me once I was the only person she knew who could change so much with just a little bit of make-up. I knew she was correct. I’ve seen me in the morning…I know! So, it’s not unreasonable for anyone to go the extra mile for a photograph.

It is beyond reason, however, for a photographer to take someone’s photograph and erase every line, pore, and deemed imperfection to sell a product that will never be able to do the same.

I applaud the UK for banning ads for Maybelline and Lancôme because, and I quote:

“On the basis of the evidence we had received we could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques.”

Who was in those ads, you ask? Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts respectively. Those hideous women everyone shields their eyes from!

This is from an article in People magazine from 1993:

“When New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art needed the ideal features to grace the 120 mannequins in its revamped Costume Institute, it was Christy Turlington’s face that they chose to cast in fiberglass. “We wanted beauty that transcends time, like the faces on ancient Egyptian carvings,” explains associate curator Harold Koda. “Christy’s face is the most elegant I’ve seen, all in perfect balance.”

So you can see why her Maybelline ads need to be ‘touched up’, can’t you?

Below the neck a photographer or graphic artist can provide you with the fastest, easiest, diet you’ve ever experienced. Even Oprah has admitted to Photoshop manipulation to make her look thinner. She of all people should know better.

I don’t subscribe to Vogue any more but I sometimes pick it up at the newsstand. Hey, I’m not dead yet. I still care about style and what’s hot, current, etc. I also like to laugh at some of the totally crazy extremes they go to for ‘art’. Some things aren’t laughable, however.

Last April there was an article in Vogue by a woman who put her seven year old daughter on a strict diet. You can’t find the actual piece on Vogue’s website. Apparently they had second thoughts after it hit the stands. It was, however written about in Time and a few other places.

“Bea’s mom, Dara-Lynn Weiss, writes about publicly shaming her 7-year-old daughter in her quest for a slimmer, trimmer girl after the pediatrician advised her that Bea was clinically obese at 4 ft. 4 in. and 93 pounds.”

Of course the mother was only passing onto her daughter her own self-hatred. It’s a horrible legacy and too many mothers are doing the same thing in their own way.

My mother forced me to wear padded bras because…”You’re so flat chested you’ll never get a man!” She never thought I wore enough make-up either.  

Believe me, I had issues with my body and I still do. I’ve just gotten much better at loving myself for who I am rather than what I look like. I can’t even tell you how many years of self-loathing it took to reach a comfort zone.

Now when I see these ads or read about another mother shoving a distorted view of the ‘ideal woman’ down a little girl’s throat I want to scream…  STOP THE MADNESS!

Well, maybe it is up to us. We could boycott the companies that use these tactics to sell products that will never deliver their claims. (That would be all of them.) At the very least they should have to put a disclaimer in BOLD in the advertisement.

Unfortunately you have to hit them in the wallet to make your point. That bothers me because I use many of these products. I like them even though they will never make me flawless.

Perhaps a better idea is to enforce the laws already in place. That might mean more regulation, and I know that’s never popular, but do we really want to perpetuate this unrealistic vanity that has damaged too many generations already?

So there’s the conundrum. What do you suggest? I’m open to ideas.



  1. Good post Barb. I have felt this way for a long time and rarely look at those ads as a place to measure myself against. If I did, I’d probably remove all the mirrors from my home. It’s just criminal that they can doctor up photos to show false results. It’s a waste of money for the consumer and ultimately disappointing when you still wake up with wrinkles.

    • Barbara

      Honestly Catherine I think a majority of consumers know it’s B.S. but it’s the young vulnerable girls who don’t that we need to help. It’s such a crock and it needs to stop. You can’t tell me these women wouldn’t look fabulous without the digital help. It just needs to stop and I’m not sure how to make that happen.

  2. For me, I would be more than content to enforce the advertising laws in place. The industry standard is to break them. The theory goes…they cannot take us all. The fines are nothing, so there are not a lot of teeth to them, but with a charge for every picture they distribute (think website hits…plus magazines), I think it could get attention.
    Barbie-hater since 1972

    • Barbara

      I’m also thinking we should make our case to the models, especially the well known ones. Andie MacDowell has 2 daughters, they know for a fact she isn’t flawless at 54!

  3. We definitely need more stringent rules around false advertising… Sadly, until we take charge of the situation with our pocketbooks, not much will change. Every time I see anther emaciated child with her equally emaciated mother bitching in the supermarket about how fat they are, it makes me sad and sick. The self-hatred is deep in this society…
    Thanks for the POV piece.

    • Barbara

      Thanks for joining the discussion Elizabeth!

      • You are welcome… So lets stop buying those fantasy creams that promise everything and deliver nothing. 🙂

  4. As the father of two daughters, I was appalled by the images they were bombarded with day after day as they were growing up. Luckily, both understood the goals behind the marketing efforts and found them ridiculous.

    Obviously, many people seriouslyly believe that the hundreds of products at the cosmetic counter will do what they say they will, even if common sense says that’s silly.

    More rules won’t change human nature.

    • Barbara

      I agree to a point Bob. There are plenty of women who want to believe they can turn the clock back with a magic potion. But, it has ruined too many young girls lives who didn’t have the stability yours had. It’s time to stop it.

  5. Great topic – the only problem is unless the U.S. follows the U.K.’s lead, young girls to women of all ages will buy into the hype, the lies, and the dream of attaining the unattainable.

    I can only imagine what will be en vogue in a decade or so — I mean, teeth cannot get any whiter and lips any larger, right?

    • Barbara

      I know Lee! I’m hoping we can follow the UK’s lead on this. It has to stop!

  6. Great topic, Barbara. I completely agree with you. Though in our polarized, the corporation is king, regulations are evil country, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where these ads will be banned. I wish it were otherwise. Posts like yours go a long way toward that goal. In the meantime it’s up to parents to at least try to instill that first nugget of self-esteem. I don’t use cosmetics, never have. I never learned how, and don’t plan to start now. I do my best to persuade my young nieces it’s not necessary, but it usually falls on deaf ears. We need to start an ad campaign that says Embrace Your Age and show women of all ages without makeup and without photo touch ups. Great thought provoking post, as always.

    • Barbara

      The problem is too many mothers are just passing along their own poor self image issues to their daughters. It has to stop somewhere and holding the cosmetic companies and their spokespeople, like Julia Roberts, responsible is a place to start. There’s an interesting photo I’m going to put up on the fb page. Check it out.

  7. You KNOW what I think! And it all has to start with us! We have to support those companies that do the right thing and don’t photoshop their models/spokeswomen and who embrace aging instead of wanting to sell products that are “anti”! I do believe the tide is turning, and it will take consumers refusing to buy products from companies that buy into these practices to make it change. Of course, we’re all buying into it on some level.

    • Barbara

      Yes Karen I do know what you think. I agree with you, it does start with us. I think when you shine a light on something it does make a difference and that’s what I’m trying to do. I also think we should appeal to some of the ‘models’ and actresses who didn’t make the decisions but were ‘altered’. I don’t want to believe they condone this. Worth exploring.
      Thanks for joining the discussion and I know I can count on you for support.

  8. I’m all for looking your best, whatever you feel that is. But it’s incredibly dishonest to actually alter a model/actresses’ appearance in a photo. These are beautiful women just as they are – why can’t these companies show what they really look like with and without the product? Those pictures are so ridiculously airbrushed they’re meaningless. The ads should be banned if they’re distorting the person’s actual appearance.

    • Barbara

      I agree and I think the models should stand up and stop the madness! Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  9. –The media is continually telling us “WE ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”

    I’m SICK of it.

    It’s about time we fight back.

    The real woman is a size 12. When will we embrace her?

    Great post.

    • Barbara

      You are so right Kim. We have to figure out a way to fight this trend to stop the madness. I’m open to suggestions.

  10. There are plenty of men in my community that feel the effects of perfect beauty. I’ve struggled with the same body issues and have done some unhealthy things to mold myself into the ideal shape. I don’t know what it will take to change the marketing, but I do know what it took to change my bad self image, true love.

    • Barbara

      I so get that Bill. Unconditional love and acceptance makes all the difference. Sadly there are too many of us in bad relationships that don’t nurture that sense of self and then perpetuate the negative stereotypes onto our children. It has to stop!

  11. I so agree with you on this, Barb.

    Think about it — turkeys are shellacked with shoe polish to make them look tastier, then models are airbrushed to make them look like they haven’t eaten that same “tasty” turkey (or whatever). Kind of a vicious cycle. Should be labeled “fiction” not “advertising.”

    • Barbara

      I like that idea…fiction.

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