When I first saw this ad for MAC's new "Strength" collection, it kind of stopped my in my browsing tracks. What an incredible figure that woman has — and what a striking image for a mainstream cosmetics brand to choose as an advertisement.
The woman in the photo is named Jelena Abbou. She is a Serbian-American competitive body builder and fitness model, and she is fucking impressive to look at. I really like seeing her in a makeup ad. Hers is a body that is so different from the usual physical ideal that is shoved down women's throats — the slim, uniformly "toned" but not muscular, waifish model body that we see in every other ad and magazine and T.V. show aimed at women. There's a pretty strong social stigma against women who are "too" muscular, as Samantha Escobar explains aptly here:
We all know that our society often fat shames people they deem overweight and sometimes body shame those declared too thin, but many men and women consider very muscular women to be "gross" or "unappealing." I find this strange, since — while I don't remotely condone it — fat and thin shamers tend to at least cite health as a typical reason for being assholes. When it comes to insulting muscular females, this logic makes no sense; typically, those women work out frequently and eat incredibly well in order to achieve the bodies they have. Why insult them?
Well-developed muscles are the embodiment of strength, and our culture doesn't value physical strength in women. It might even be a little suspicious of it. A man with a six-pack is supposed to be sexy; a woman with a six-pack is supposed to be "mannish." That stigma is why it's so shocking to see Abbou in a cosmetics ad: she's styled and photographed in a way that glamourizes her and highlights her beauty and her femininity, but the ad also does not camouflage or attempt to minimize her incredible body. (Which is the usual treatment that athletes, particularly female athletes, get in fashion photography — for reference, just consider any time Vogue picks a lovely, slender, female athlete to be in a fashion spread.) In fact, Abbou's muscular arms are the focus of this picture. That's what makes this ad so striking, and so incredibly beautiful.