In today's Times, there's a piece on Lauren Luke, a self-styled makeup maven, Internet sensation and fledgling cosmetics entrepreneur. And the analysis of some of the quoted experts is interesting; they don't seem able to comprehend liking someone "average":
Ruth La Ferla writes,
A 27-year-old single mother from South Shields near Newcastle in England, Ms. Luke is nothing if not approachable. She is the kind of open-faced, plain-spoken Englishwoman you might expect to encounter at the butcher shop or corner pub. With her plump proportions and pretty if nondescript features, she seems an unlikely candidate to shake up the beauty world. And yet it appears she is doing just that.
For those of you in the know, Luke's an internet cosmetics maven and YouTube sensation who's garnered millions of views, a book deal and a cosmetics line. The Times piece quotes a few experts explaining her trick: says one department store buying director, "Her appeal is that she is the Everywoman...She connects on an emotional level, and her quirky honesty is infectious." And the editor of Allure says women like her because she's "not a threat."
This sort of patronizing rhetoric reminds me of the hundreds of attempts to "analyze" Susan Boyle's appeal. How about the fact that we just like real people? A new study finds that celebrities have little to no effect on our buying power; why is it still some kind of revelation to these experts that a normal, straightforward person is appealing to us? "Normalcy" is not a novelty or a marketing gimmick to most of us. It's just...normal.
Sometimes it seems like many who make ads and magazines and generally create our perception of beauty actually don't understand this. They say they do, because that's what you're supposed to say. Everyone knows we're supposed to celebrate "real women" in all their beautiful diversity. But the mindset is genuinely different. I recently read the memoir by Jean Godfrey-June, the relatively down-to-earth beauty editor of Lucky, formerly of Elle. She paid lip-service to a variety of beauties, and to avoiding unnecessary procedures. But at the end of the day, the assumptions were: you want to be thin and look young. Everyone wants to look like models because they're the most beautiful. And I doubt she was even aware of it: she was so ingrained with these standards that the notion of anything else was literally inconceivable. The thinking seemed to be, "yes, lots of women are beautiful...but you do want to be thin, right?" Or take Liz Jones. A bit off her rocker, yes. But when she admits freely that she, as a magazine editor, found women who were not, like her, anorexic, "disgusting," one has the uncomfortable feeling that she may not be alone. And she, mind you, is a theoretical advocate of expanding the standards of fashionable beauty!
And yet, when Susan Boyle or Lauren Luke takes off, it's a novelty. It's an aberration. The thought goes, what's going on with us that this appeals to you? You're supposed to like models! Doesn't it strike people that, as soon as we have access to self-produced media, the opportunity to make our own choices, we're choosing "average?" Editors know that actors sell more magazines than models: does it occur to them that this has to do with accessibility and presuming to know a bit more about them? That we relate even more to regular joes? Or is this a bridge too far? Sure, people still love the aspirational ideal, and always will. But I believe part of this is because that's what's presented, not just as routine, but with conviction. When we see a Dove ad, we know we're being shown "real women" and the condescension and the self-congratulation are palpable. It's not merely showing a variety of people, Elle: it's believing it. Not because we're not threatened. But because we're not stupid.